Cute girl reading book Teddy bear1

The Re-Readability Factor: Does Your Book Have It? (5 Ways to Make It Happen)

When I was a young reader, I had a horrendously bad habit.

Whenever I started a new book, I would systematically read the front cover, the back cover, the front matter, the back matter–and then the final line of the book. I know, I know. Anathema.

I clearly remember the day I swore to never do this again. I was around fourteen years old, curled up on the window seat in my parents’ room, avoiding company so I could start the third and final book in Timothy Zahn’s original Star Wars trilogy. I did my usual routine, then flipped to the back and read the final line.

Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy Timothy Zahn Heir to the Empire Dark Force Rising Last Command

Immediately, I wanted to bang the book against my head. Why had I just done that? My silly momentary impatience had just ruined the whole book for me. I knew the ending. What was the point of reading the book now?

Except, of course, I did read it. And what’s more, I enjoyed it. Even though I had ruined the ending, I hadn’t ruined the book. How come?

Don’t Discount the Power of the Re-Readability Factor

Writers accept that what’s gonna happen next? is the most important question in fiction. Implicit in that question is the suggestion that writers need to prevent readers from guessing the story’s ending.

But that simply isn’t true.

Consider three very different story experiences that all defy the necessity of an unexpected ending.

1. Revisiting Favorite Stories

The one thing all my favorite stories have in common is that I visit them time and again. (In fact, I impose limits on myself to keep myself from visiting them too much.) My all-time favorite movie is John Sturges’s World War II classic The Great Escape. I’ve watched it every year since I was twelve. Am I tired of it yet? Nope. Am I ever bummed that I know how it’s going to end? Nope. Has my intellectual and emotional response to its characters and themes dulled over the years? Not at all. In fact, if anything, the response has only sharpened.

Great Escape Steve McQueen

2. Guessing Plot Twists Before the Reveal

When we think “surprising ending,” we often think “plot twist.” The plot twist is every writer’s favorite weapon in keep readers from guessing the ending. And it’s true readers love nothing better than a good, honest sting. But here’s the thing about a good plot twist: if it’s going to work, it has to be so awesome that readers care far more about the actual plot development than they do the twist.

When reading the opening book in Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer trilogy, I guessed the plot twist halfway through. How did I react? Was I upset with the clumsy author for writing such a dumb and obvious ending?

Absolutely not.

I was excited by the possibilities. I could only hope my guess was right and that the story would turn out like I guessed. It did, and it was awesome.

Brent Weeks Lightbringer Black Prism Blinding Knife Broken Eye

3. Knowing the Ending Going In

Okay, now, I’m going to tell you an appalling secret. I have a major soft spot for Michael Bay’s (rightfully) maligned Pearl Harbor. And here’s why: I saw it once, wasn’t too impressed, moved on with my life. Then I watched it again. I knew how it ended; I knew one of the best friends feuding over the same girl was going to die saving the life of the other. Been there, done that. Who needs to experience the same ol’ ending again?

And yet when I watched the ending a second time (the expected, familiar ending), I shocked myself. I bawled my eyes out. I’ve seen it multiple times since, and it’s one of the few movies that makes me cry every single time. The fact that I know how it ends makes absolutely no difference. If I hadn’t watched it a second time, knowing how it ended, I would never have reacted to it as I did.

Evelyn Rafe Danny Pearl Harbor Ending Kate Beckinsale Ben Affleck

The Truth: Readers Love Knowing the Ending

No doubt you can come up with many story experiences of your own that fit into any one of the previous three examples. As readers (and watchers), we love knowing the ending. This doesn’t mean we’ll let shoddy plotting or clichéd plot twists slide, but it does mean we crave the kind of amazing endings we want to read over and over again, long after the surprise has worn off.

That’s the kind of experience you and I should be creating in our own stories.

The 5 Steps to a Re-Readable Book

I’m a no-clutter freak. If I don’t need something, I chuck it. As a result, I have a simple rule for buying and keeping books: if I don’t want to re-read it, it goes to Goodwill instead of getting a slot on my bookshelf. This is true even of digital books. If I don’t love a book so much that I’m going to want to revisit it time and again, I delete it.

What I’m really saying here is that the best books are those worth more than just six hours of forgettable entertainment. Out of the 50+ novels I read each year, it’s those two or three re-readable ones that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

That’s exactly the kind of book I want to write for my readers. How about you?

Let’s explore five ways to do just that.

1. Create Characters Readers Want to Spend Time With

For me, good books start and end with the characters. That “good book hangover” feeling we all get after a great read is usually because we’ve just had to say goodbye to a bunch of people we’ve grown to love.

Book Hangover

Sometimes after closing the cover on a good book, I have this feeling of literal grief at the thought of having to say goodbye–even temporarily–from these wonderful characters with whom I’ve fallen in love. Even stories with less than perfect plots and prose can draw me back in again and again, just because I love the characters so much.

Your job: Get readers to fall in love with your characters so deeply they’ll never forget the first time they met them.

2. Up the Entertainment Quotient in Every Scene

Another thing all of my favorite stories have in common is that they touch me emotionally on some level: either they tug at my heartstrings (like Pearl Harbor) or they make me laugh. In short, they entertain me. They’re not boring. They don’t waste my time. Something interesting happens in every single scene.

In December, I was admiring Michael Curtiz’s classic White Christmas. This is another movie I’ve only seen about a gazillion times, and yet I still find it endlessly entertaining. Why? Because it doesn’t waste a single moment. Every single scene is entertaining: something new and interesting is happening, the characters are saying something funny or honest or heart-warming, the plot is leaping and bounding forward thanks to new catalysts and developments.

 White-Christmas-Bing-Crosby-Danny-Kaye-Rosemary-Clooney-Minstrel-Number-Mandy

I’ll admit there are a few books and movies I revisit just for specific scenes–and skip over the rest. But White Christmas isn’t one them. It’s wonderful from beginning to end, no matter how many times I watch it.

Your job: Evaluate every scene and make sure it gets a 10 out of 10 in the Entertainment category.

3. Make Readers a Promise

As we’ve already discovered, readers don’t care so much about being surprised in the ending as they do the opportunity to anticipate a wonderful climax. From the very beginning of the story and through every chapter to come, you need to be promising readers something wonderful is coming. That promise needs to be so solid and delicious they believe in it as much on their thirtieth read as their first.

Sometimes you can even go so far as to tell your story’s secrets upfront. When you pick up a rom-com, you know the leads are going to fall in love. When you pick up a horror novel, you know there’s going to be a murderous monster. Neither revelation in any way endangers readers’ enjoyment.

In fact, if you were to pretend away the obvious and try to turn the monster’s existence into a plot revelation, readers are more likely to yawn in boredom while you yell Gotcha! over a surprise they already saw coming. In a January 2016 interview with The Writer, novelist Julianna Baggott noted:

I also suggest sometimes that [writers] tell the plot–spill it. If there’s going to be a dead body, mention the dead body, and then the reader will be patient because you’ve made a promise.

Your job: Don’t needlessly withhold surprises just for the sake of surprise. Instead, tell readers just enough about your ending to promise them something wonderful–then do everything in your power to fulfill that promise.

4. Concentrate on Beautiful Prose

Beauty is reason enough to return to a piece of art. We hang lovely paintings in our homes because we want to be able to to see and appreciate them every day. We listen to the same songs over and over because they continue to be meaningful every time.

The same goes for beautiful prose.

After Dunkirk Milena McGrawEven apart from your characters and your plot, your prose has the ability to enchant readers and draw them back time and again. Melina McGraw’s Battle of Britain literary historical novel After Dunkirk earned a place on my bookshelf as much because of its haunting writing as because of its characters or story.

Your job: Dig behind utilitarian prose to create something beautiful and meaningful in every phrase. Pair that with solid characters and plot, and your story will be unstoppable.

5. Write Two Different Stories Simultaneously

Usually, when you’re writing your first draft, you’re thinking of readers who will be experiencing this story for the first time. You’re crafting your chapters and your story structure to please and wow these first-time readers. And that’s important.

But don’t stop there. You should also be writing a second story: a story for those readers who will return to your book again and again. What will these repeat readers glean from your story on their second and third readings? Sometimes what they glean will be obvious clues they missed the first time around (such as in Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island). But, even more importantly, they should be able to immerse themselves more and more deeply in the rich subtext of your story.

Your job: Make it your goal to create a story so deep and rich and broad in subtext that readers can discover a new nugget every time they experience the story.

The re-readability factor is what separates the books that are just fun entertainment from the books that impact people’s lives on deep and meaningful levels. The only thing stopping a book in the first category from making the jump into that elite second category is a little extra thought and care on the author’s part. I’d say the return is worth the payout, wouldn’t you?

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What would you identify as the single greatest cause for the re-readability factor in your own favorite fiction? Tell me in the comments!

The Re-Readability Factor: Does Your Book Have It? (5 Reasons It Should)

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. A lovely post. A book that has stuck with me for a long time is Marguerite Henry’s San Domingo. It’s a children’s book, and in ways you don’t see in a lot of kid’s fiction anymore, it’s got so much between the lines, and the characters are so real and honest that it’s a book that I’ll still come back and reread, and not just for nostalgia.

    I think for me, the biggest factor in rereading, in books or movies, is character. The Hobbit movies admittedly have some plotting issues and verge on unrealistic sometimes, but the characters are so well done, both writing and acting wise, that I just adore them (and therefore the movies) and forgive the flaws.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I tend to think that, for obvious reasons, the stories we connect with as children will remain the most powerful stories for us throughout our lives. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons I continuously connect so strongly with The Great Escape, which rocked my world as a twelve-year-old and continues to rock it.

  2. Great post! I also have a soft sport for Pearl Harbor, though I think most of it involves Hans Zimmer’s stunning score. And the secondary stories (The real stories like Cuba Gooding Jr’s character), which I always find more fascinating. Titanic was the same way. I could take or leave Jack and Rose, but the real people (Molly Brown, the Astors, the Strausses, etc) that were basically set dressing, those were the stories I wanted.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, despite its manifold flaws, the attack on Pearl Harbor sequence at the Midpoint is worth the watch alone, IMO. I have to admit I can’t even listen to the score anymore, apart from the movie. Too emotional.

  3. You. hit. the. nail. on. the. head. (Again, of course. ;)) Every single line is so good!!!! THANK YOU!!

    Hee. Sometimes I keep myself from doing it, but I often like reading book endings on purpose — both to see whether the story’ll be worth my time (i.e. giving a solid, satisfying climax/conclusion) and also so I can sit back and //see// how the author got there, savoring both lyrical prose and the thrill of seeing all the ins and outs. 🙂

  4. Good thoughts.

    I do like the “promise” quote; I think it sums up a lot of why this level of writing works. A good story *is* a promise, that love will win out or tragedy will make heroism more vivid or whatever else is going on. The story’s pieces make a balance that’s worth seeing even once you know it. We like to say a good twist looks inevitable in hindsight, and this is taking that to the next level, of being able to re-enjoy a twisty tale.

    –And it especially helps if the scenes have that White Christmas craftsmanship where every moment is contributing to the whole. Or even contributing more clues than we noticed the first time, like Shutter Island.

    I hope you write more about this, and dig into what seems to make these work. Pulling off this appeal is the key to making the reader –and later the world– give a story that marvelous label: “Classic.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “We like to say a good twist looks inevitable in hindsight, and this is taking that to the next level, of being able to re-enjoy a twisty tale.”

      Yes! This is exactly right. A good twist is always the result of perfectly placed pieces that *reveal* Truth, rather than warping it. Everything fits perfectly in hindsight, which means it’s an equally perfect road to journey down time and again, even after you understand the destination.

  5. Kinza Sheikh says:

    I had only discovered the first reason with my own evaluations. But I realized all the rest are true as well.
    But the best and most important reason still remain the first one. I know because while recently I had finished rewatching one of the anime I loved, even with a happy ending, I felt like crying because it was time to say goodbye. 🙁

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, totally. There’s a Japanese term called wabi-sabi that translates (very roughly) as a feeling that is simultaneously sad and happy. That’s the feeling my favorites stories always leave me with.

  6. Morning it’s Monday!

    Beautiful post here loved it head to toe. The subject matter is very fascinating. I’m semi-conscious here with a nice cup of coffee here. So I’ll enumerate my appreciation since my mind is kind of floundering.

    1. Funny hearing about your naughty experience with books as a child. I’ve never done it myself but definitely wanted to.

    2. Timothy Zahn- Forgive me for being a horrible padawan I’ve never read his original trilogy.

    3. I love what you said about not discounting the power of the re-readability factor. Precious.

    4. Revisiting favorite scenes- Wow! Can’t believe you’ve watched The Great Escape since you were twelve! That is utterly amazing. That is definitely impact. There’s movies I’d definitely rewatch over again, but I can’t say the same for book. Storming being an exception of course, especially a signed copy!

    5. Guessing plot twists before the reveal- What you said about this was very helpful. Having the reader care more for the actual plot development than the twist itself was an eye-opener. With movies and TV series I normally can sniff out a plot twist before it unravels unless the writing is pretty good. With books I’m still developing the discernment. Storming had a nice surprise towards the end. But you’re right about the build up and anticipation of the climax and development that matters most.

    6. I’ve never read Brent Weeks but this trilogy seems interesting.

    7. Interesting to hear of your experience with Pearl Bay. Curious as to why you went back to watch it again if you weren’t too impressed? What made you watch it again? Call me machismo, but If I knew it’d make me cry I’d avoid it like the plague.

    8. Rereadables- So only a few books that you read every year are inducted into the rereadable shelf of fame. That’s simply fascinating! That is better than a good book, it’s a classic.

    9. Book hangover- I love this concept!

    10. Beauty is reason enough to return to a piece of art- Lovely phrase! So true. When it’s all said and done, the story is a work of art to be appreciated. Hopefully we can craft stories that matter to our readers that “hang” on the walls of their hearts, and not like a car that depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot. Which to me is the true test of a classic, the value increases over time. Almost as if it were immune to the corrupting elements of aging. Awesome!

    Thanks
    Benjamin

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hope your caffeine has kicked in by now. 😉 Regarding rewatching/reading stories that make me cry: for me, this is a tremendously short list, so it’s always imprinted vividly in my memory when a story moves me to that extent. I like to be moved. 🙂 I like stories that push me emotionally and intellectually and make me *feel* things. If a story makes me cry, it’s almost certain to end up on my list of favorites.

      • True. Admittedly I like to be moved too, all machismo aside. I confess that I almost cried during Storming. Although there where no physical tears rolling, I definitely thought about it. You can chalk that up as a win in my book.

        Thanks! All the responses have been so helpful.

        Benjamin

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Aww. That’s the only compliment from a reader that’s better than hearing they laughed. 🙂

  7. To me, a really great book exudes wisdom and intelligence. It’s a pleasure to interact with the writer’s mind and observations, whether the writing is funny or sharply analytical or just lovely. I think it comes down to the writer perceiving and then conveying truth — which can be through great characters, themes, observations, or even perfectly chosen language. The greatest books have all of these and create a world that becomes part of my intellectual furniture, that I want to inhabit again and again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I agree with this so much. The heart of all great fiction *is* truth. That’s what makes it resonate with us the first time through–and that’s what makes it timeless, because truth is fundamentally unchanging.

  8. I loved this post! Good food for thought. For me, it’s usually the emotional journey of the characters that makes me come back. If I really cared about them, felt what they felt as I was reading, the book is an adventure I’ll want to experience again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, exactly. That emotional journey is something that, when done right, is as poignant on the hundredth read as it was the first. If anything, it should only grow deeper and more meaningful with time.

  9. I loved this so much! And I totally agree! What I want as a reader is the unforgettable ending, not the unexected one. Actually, I never read a book without knowng how it will end (because I don´t want sad or tragic endings). That doesn´t mean you know everything. Plus, as in life, it´s all about the journey, right? 😀
    This all deserves to be kept in mind, re-readability is so important! I particularly agree with point 4, the beautiful prose! So hard to find this days…
    Thanks for the post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      These days, I do everything possible to avoid spoilers. I want to be able to experience the story for the first time, the way the author wants me to experience it. But I hear from a surprising number of readers who, like you, always check the ending first. It’s definitely something for us to keep in mind as authors.

  10. I loved this post. Great content and examples. Thank you KM!

  11. Loved this post and it’s certainly something I can identify with I don’t read the final pages before starting a book but when it comes to rereading, I enjoy doing so.

    Most books I read the first time are on my Kindle. When a book blows me away I get the print version and savor the time with the characters and inevitably see new details and insights the second time (or more) around.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Same here. If I love a book enough to re-read it, I’ll buy it in hardcover to put on my shelf.

  12. Because I have so many books I need to read, I rarely read books a second time. (I admit I am currently rereading “Dragonflight” by Anne McCaffrey, but I first read it 40 years ago, so it doesn’t count as a reread.)

    Then, I read “The Dragonet Prophecy” (Wings of Fire, Book #1) by Tui T. Sutherland. This is a middle-grade book series. So far, there are eight books, and a few shorter stories, with several more books yet to come. Judging by the number of copies the local library system has, and the number of readers queued to borrow the books, they are popular.

    “The Dragonet Prophecy” required me to re-read it more than any other book I have ever read. This urge was triggered by the big reveal near the end regarding the protagonist. After learning the truth and gaining an understanding about his behavior, I had to read the book again with that knowledge so I could see the story from a new perspective. During the reread, I found another aspect of his personality I had not clearly noticed the first time that is also explained by that big reveal near the end. I bet if I read the book again, I would discover even more gems.

    Books that can make me reread them are rare. I want my books to be like that.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Post-childhood, I think one of the books I’ve re-read most often is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights–and it’s funny because the first time I read it, I wasn’t wild about it. But something kept drawing me back, and every time I read it, I liked it more and more. *That* is the definition of a re-readable book.

  13. A+

  14. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Finally, someone else who believes a book doesn’t have to be unpredictable to be good! My top two favorite books EVER I reread over and over again even though I completely called all the plot twists the first time through.

    This advice is fantastic, especially for those who are going through revisions. I’ll definitely be revisiting this page many times this month.

    ~K.A.C.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The great movement against “unpredictability” stems mostly from the totally justifiable desire to avoid cliches and hackneyed storytelling. It’s one thing when readers know the ending because they guess it or re-experiencing it–and another when they’ve know it because they’ve read it a jillion times before in *other* stories.

      • This is a very good point in addition to the article. I’m attempting to plot my very first original novel, which is a mystery, and I’m struggling to come up with a mystery that is “unpredictable,” because as a reader, I like being surprised. But you make a good point: if I do figure it out, that doesn’t necessarily make me enjoy the book less. So perhaps I need to focus more on the characters figuring out the mystery, rather than trying to come up with some crazy twist.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          This is actually one reason I’m not personally a big fan of whodunits–if it’s all about the mystery, then it’s usually pretty easy for me to predict at least the essence of the ending. I need more than just the pretense of mystery to keep my attention. I need meaty characters and themes that I can chew on over and over again.

          • See, meaty characters and chewy themes I’ve got. It’s the mystery part that’s been stressing me out. I’ve found I’m much better at character moments than I am about plot logistics (at least in terms of the mystery my protagonist is trying to solve). But reading this makes me think I need to focus on what I know — characters and themes — and the rest will fall into place. Thanks for your response! It’s incredibly helpful!

            And I’m kind of fangirling a bit since I’ve been following your blog for a while and never commented 🙂

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            I’m glad you did! Thanks for joining the conversation. 🙂

  15. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia over and over and over again since I was little (Narnia for the first time when I was 8, and LotR when I was 10) and I’m still amazed at how the funny parts are still funny, the exciting parts still exciting, and the sad parts still break my heart.
    I was reading LotR with my sister the other day, at the Battle of the Pelennor, and it was so exciting and fun.

    Another book I loved and read quite a few times before it fell apart was The Perilous Gard. I love that book; the characters are really well developed, unusually so, and the story is really good.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The books I count as “favorites” are inevitability ones I read and loved as a child or young adult. The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter is at the forefront. I haven’t read it in years, but I have a feeling that when I do, I will find it objectively lacking in many areas–and I will still love it because its power was so ingrained in me as a child when I didn’t care about what was “objectively good” in storytelling.

  16. I agree with most of your points, so we’ll made about the composition of keeper books. Reading the end of a book first seems cheating oneself, somehow, lessening the beauty of a novel unfolding in the mind.

    I’m one of those readers who delay finishing a wonderful book, to postpone the loss of characters like best friends.

    Your articles are worth reading again and again, too. Thank you for all you do for writers.

  17. Lord of the Flies, The Stand, Wind in the Willows and Lightning are the ones that immediately come to mind and until you mentioned it, I couldn’t really figure out why I like reading them again and again because the end was always the same. I will say that with some, Like Lightning in particular, I picked up on things I didn’t the first time around so, sometimes, the second, third, fourth or fifth time around it still feels fresh somehow.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Rich subtext is something I’ve noticed all my favorite stories have in common. One of the best things about coming back to them is that there’s always *more* to discover!

  18. What a great analysis of what makes us want to re-read (or rewatch) something over and over. I especially like the last point about subtext and giving veteran fans of a story something to discover or enjoy after they’ve become familiar with the main plot. That’s quite a challenge for us writers, but I believe it’s an exciting one. 🙂

    Also, “White Christmas” and Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books are some of my age-old favorites, as well. My sister and I spend each Christmas quoting “White Christmas” back and forth to each other while we watch it. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hey, we both have good taste! 😉 And, yes, I think I could probably quote the entirety of White Christmas by now. Doesn’t make it any less wonderful to watch!

  19. Curtis Manges says:

    I’ve read CJ Cherryh’s “Chanur series three times through, and the fifth book a few more besides. I’m going to take a rough guess at a million words for the whole series.

    Part of the reason for the series reread was just for comprehension. The first two times, I thought there was some huge bunch of political intrigue going on—well, there was that, and it is dense. But until the third run-through I hadn’t understood that what I was looking at was more just total chaos: none of the big players really knew what the others were doing or why, but they were all busy trying to kill each other for it anyway. When I understood that, the impact was all the stronger. Pyanfar took the position of Grand Poohbah at the end, not because of any special qualifications, but just because she happened to be the only one still standing who saw the whole picture and knew it had to be stopped. All very razor’s-edge at the end of Book 4.

    The fifth book got a few extra reads just because I liked it more and it’s more of a stand-alone story.

    There are things about the series that I never did like, and some I could never comprehend because of missing information, but it held my attention quite well.

  20. Without a doubt, the single thing that keeps me coming back to re-read a book (and I’ve only done it a handful of times) is when I “feel” something as I’m reading it. I know, it’s so darn abstract. What you mean, feel something?

    I think that in itself is sometimes the mysterious piece that draws us back in as readers. We don’t know exactly why we reacted the way we did. The author has done such a superb job of drawing us in that we have not only made an emotional investment in the characters, we have become a part of the story, walking beside them.

    That emotion could be love, hate, fear, hope, or anything in between. The bottom line is that we want to experience that feeling again and again. Although it is completely unrelated to reading a book, I know exactly how this feels.

    There is a fireworks presentation that tells a wonderful story at Epcot, just a short trip from my home. I think the rest of my family gets tired of my obsession with it at times, but I could watch it over and over again. The combination of story, music, fireworks, and lasers provides an aura of emotional overload.

    And even though I know it’s coming – every single time – I involuntarily get goose bumps at the climax of the show. I can’t help but smile, inside and out. That is exactly what I look for in a book I read – involuntary joy. And, it’s what I will continuing striving to achieve in my writing too 😉

    Well done, K.M. – superb post, thanks for sharing and best wishes for an inspired day!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I know exactly what you’re talking about! As a writer, I’m always striving to quantify what it is that causes that feeling. But you’re right: it’s totally abstract and, in so many ways, impossible to quantify. It’s magic, and as a reader, I’m always incredibly thankful when it strikes.

  21. For re-readability, I think characters are important. I would also say a journey that you can identify with. I like re-reading stories because of the message and journey that characters take that mean something to me to. That encourage me.

    I actually just finished reading a series and already want to re-read it. The How to Train Your Dragon books. They are so good with a touch of sentimentality to them but the author just brought it all together in the end.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think I remember hearing the How to Train Your Dragon books were quite different from the movies, right?

      • Really different. In fact, I was reading the post on your site about coincidences and this book does it in spades. Yet, it does it so well that it is just a funny part of the story. And the dragons speak in Dragonese. A lot of tongue in cheek humor but great and really gets to the heart of some things in the end.

  22. Another dead-on post.

    In my experience, re-readability is synonymous with haunting. I want an idea, a character, a situation, to lean right out of the pages and punch me in the gut. Steal my breath, paralyze my mind with revelation. Make me believe.

    Recently, I read The Outsiders, whizzing through and feeling cheaply entertained. Then my favorite character died. It knocked me down. What I had taken for a shallow children’s story devastated me for days. I will be reading the book again, this time taking it a little more seriously.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s kinda how I felt about The Hunger Games. On the surface, I felt it to be pretty “pop,” but the word to describe the feeling I had at the end of the third one was “shattering.”

  23. This is a great post, and something that particularly resonates with me because it’s exactly what I’m attempting to do with my series. It’s good to get these reminders especially with advice on how to achieve it.

    Now, out of left field: David Bowie.

    Blackstar was released two days before his death. He knew what was coming (and wrote accordingly) but we didn’t. Listening to that album before he passed told one version of the story, and now it reveals another. Sometimes the ending completely changes the context of the events leading up to it (which is what happened to you with Pearl Harbor)

    I can’t write like I’m Bowie, but I can give it a red-hot go.

  24. Thanks for another great post!

    I have friends who love books and tell me they never reread, which puzzles me. Honestly, I don’t have time to find a new book every time I want to read (says the person who reads cereal boxes and warning labels). And in my favorite books, I fall in love with the characters, so that watching them act out the same story again and again is pure pleasure. Sometimes there’s a single chapter or scene that I love, love, love, and I read that part without the rest of the book. 🙂 I know, shame on me!

    The Thrawn trilogy is great, and nobody ever talks about it, so it was fun to see you mention that in a blog post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I was obsessed with Star Wars books when I was young. I read them all–and most of them were awful. :p But the Thrawn trilogy stands out. As I was flipping through it while writing this post, I found myself saying, “Hey, this really is good!”

  25. You know I’ve never really thought about this before but you definitely make good points. I hate spoilers and knowing how a book or movie will end, but on the other hand I’ve seen Ghostbusters, Airplane 2, and Naked Gun like a thousand times each, all three for the reasons you mention 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I hate spoilers as well. I basically went incommunicado on Facebook for a week after Star Wars came out so I could avoid spoilers! We all want to experience the purity of a story’s evolution for ourselves *the first time*, because that is going to influence every subsequent time we read or watch that story. The experience definitely isn’t the same if you go into a story having already emotionally reacted to something while outside the context of the actual evolution of the story itself.

  26. Thanks K.M. I always leave this blog with one of two things, either an education or a sense of relief. I don’t know why I didn’t think of the re-readability factor before today. My stacks of books and DVD’s should’ve given me a clue.

    P.S. Sometimes I post list of my favorite films. The Great Escape is on my list of fav. films from the ’60s. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think part of the “problem” with the emphasis on unexpected endings, vs. re-readable ones (not that there’s really a “versus”) is the “I want it now” mentality of our current culture. Entertainers are under pressure to give audiences immediate gratification, which sometimes ends up translating into a pressure to compromise long-term value. But there’s no reason we can’t write stories that are great on both the first and fiftieth read-through.

  27. Great stuff, K.M.

    I sense that the books/movies we re-read are like good friends whose conversation we do not tire from, and I wonder if the reason we return to certain stories/friends again and again is because they hold values/truths meaningful, things that resonate deeply within, that are dear to us, and the story/friend creates in us a fulfilling experience every time it is experienced. Emotional. True. Personal. Books, music, friends…

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours, K.M. I’m happy to say that I will come back to read it again and again in the future for inspiration. Wonderful! Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is a good point. My conversations with friends and family frequently circle familiar ground. We tell the same stories over and over–and laugh at them every time. If something is good, it’s worth experiencing more than once, no matter what it is!

  28. For the sake of re-readery, I had to come back and make a comment. The books of mortals is the best trilogy I’ve ever read. Ok it’s the only trilogy I’ve read, but it’s still the best and I’d definitely read it again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ll have to check it out! Who’s it by?

      • It’s the Books of Mortals by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. Very fascinating story. I’d say more but I don’t do spoilers.

        Currently reading the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer which is a page turner thus far. I read your review and agree the angle and setting is enjoyable. Do you normally read through the entire trilogy or do you alternate books? I’m probably ADHD, but I’ve been alternating books in between. I’m afraid I’ll get sick of the story line so I’ll bounce around.

  29. Margaret Adelle says:

    I have always loved rereading mysteries, especially Agatha Christie. Knowing “who done it” when you’re reading the story makes every clue the detective (usually Hercule Poirot for me) that much more important.

    The singular book that I’ve reread the most is The Secret Garden. Even though I know it’s Collin making those strange cries in the night, I still feel the thrill and suspense as Mary looks through the hall for the strange noise’s origins.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I read A Little Princess (by the same author as Secret Garde) over and over when I was young. So rich and wonderful.

  30. Although this isn’t a book, the classic example of this is ‘The Sixth Sense.” Once you know the ending, you have to watch the film again to see how it could have happened. What did you miss that pointed to the resolution? Then when you re-watch it, you are in awe of how all of the pieces fit together. I like to write mysteries, and it is my goal to cause the same phenomenon.

  31. I keep reading Eric Flint’s 1632 books, especially he first one in the series for it’s characters. Now from reading your articles I’m reading it again to see what it is exactly he wrote that makes these characters and conversations so appealing. I’m still enjoying so much I forget to be analytical and just enjoy the story! AGAIN !!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great approach! It’s incredibly useful to study what it is about our favorite stories that makes them work for us–so we can do the same in our own writing.

  32. Great blog post! A few years ago, my cousin had come and spent a few weeks at my house and she told me that she never read a book twice and a part of me felt sad for her and for her books, haha. I have read a lot of my books twice. Oftentimes, the ones that make me cry are the ones that I read at least five times. Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, The Hiding Place (Corrie ten Boom), and The Final Storm (Wayne Thomas Batson).

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Re-Readability Factor: Does Your Book Have It? (5 Ways to Make It Happen) K M WEILAND […]

  2. […] Sometimes we writers struggle with the overarching parts of writing. Matt Herron shows us how to use Scrivener to start and finish a rough draft, David Corbett explores what to do when your story arc is impossible to fulfill, Janice Hardy tells us what we need to know about “show, don’t tell,” and K.M. Weiland gives us 5 ways to give your book the re-readability factor. […]

  3. […] Do you re-read your favourite books? K.M. Weiland shares five tips on how you can up the re-readability factor for your novel. […]

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