By Vikki Kestell
I wrote in my last blog that producing great Christian fiction is, as Gollum said, “Tricksy.” I discussed redemptive fiction, the art of writing characters who encounter Jesus in organic situations. IMHO, redemptive storytelling is the most powerful and effective method of presenting the Gospel.
In this follow-on article, I want to discuss the phenomenon of “repeat reads.” A repeat read refers to a booklover’s inclination to reread a book or a series because it has become a beloved companion and is “that good.” Why is dissecting the repeat read important to us as authors? Put simply, a reader who discovers a writer “that good” will seek out and devour every book that author has written.
I own books I’ve read multiple times, don’t you? And, yes. I’ve read everything these authors have written–which is exactly my point. When I study these books, I see structural similarities, certain shared commonalities that engage my interest and imagination long-term. In this article, I will touch on two qualities that I believe booklovers value in a repeat read.
Length and Complexity. It is my personal observation (viewed through the lens of the repeat read) that shorter written works–say, below 60,000 words–possess naturally occurring constraints. In the novella or novelette, we authors have adequate time or length to develop the primary characters and one plot line, a single credible crisis and resolution.
This is not a criticism; for the reader who has little time or who wishes a quick read, this length is perfect. Our audience devours our book like a good meal; they satisfy their need for a brief escape and a happy ending and thank us for our efforts, our gift to them.
Returning to observations from my personal repeat reads, I notice that these beloved authors favor longer books, full-length novels that permit them to develop elegantly complex and multithreaded plotlines. A 90,000–110,000-word (or longer) novel provides a creative pallet large enough to flesh out and support a multifaceted cast of characters; its length allows the author to breathe The Remarkable into their story.
In my own writing, I find that at around the 75,000-word mark, my books take on a life and a unique voice of their own that draw my readers deep into my characters’ realm of influence–and isn’t “influence” at the marrow of a repeat read? For good or ill, these books sway us.
I have a seven-book series titled, A Prairie Heritage, published over a four-year period. In the run up to the release of Book 6, Lost Are Found, I heard parallel themes from my followers: “I am rereading the whole series in preparation for your next book, and I’m loving it even more the second time around,” and “I have read the series three times now,” and “Please don’t ever stop writing about this family.”
These reviews and similar comments from face-to-face encounters with readers were the start of my thoughts on “repeat reads.” I began to ponder what it was that kept folks coming back–back to reread my books and to read everything else I’d written–even in other genres. That’s where my second point comes in.
Engaging, Authentic Characters. Our characters must live and breathe, love and ache, toil and fail, strive and overcome on the pages of our books. Their struggles must be as real and as relatable as our own. Here. I can’t stress this enough: Here lies our opportunity to develop men and women of memorable proportions!
Fellow authors, I beg you not to relegate your heroine to a pretty face and a saucy but in-need-of-rescue persona; please don’t paint your hero as a daring and dapper man, nicely muscled but confused about women and what they want. Endow your characters with, well, character rather than merely superficial physical and/or trite attributes.
Over the span of your *full-length* novel, engage your characters in real battle: Demonstrate how godly men and women deal with complex problems, how they maintain their honor and integrity even when they fail, when life gets real and, sometimes, when there is no happy outcome. Bestow your characters with eternal courage when confronted with the anguish of this temporal life.
Take the time to create a story that is vital and essential, that validates your readers’ greatest need and desire: hope for the future. Give them good reason to read your book again; influence them for God.
—Vikki Kestell, author of Faith-Filled Fiction™
One often-repeated sentiment of Vikki’s readers is, “I’m right there, in the book, experiencing what her characters experience.” In 2013 Vikki left a 20+ year career to pursue writing full time. “Writing is the best job ever,” she admits, “and the most demanding.”
Enjoy an example of Vikki’s redemptive fiction in A Rose Blooms Twice, A Prairie Heritage, Book 1, free on most eBook platforms, or her 2016 Selah Christian Book Award finalist, Tabitha, Girls from the Mountain, Book 1. Look for her next release, Stealth Power, Nanostealth, Book 2, February 2, 2017. Feel free to connect with Vikki on Facebook or through her website.