The quote in the title actually comes from here and is truly one of those “out of the mouths of babes” moments. Spoken, I’m sure, in tones of disgusted superiority by an irate third grader. It’s now going up on my list of writing quotes I keep on my desk, right under Hemmingway’s “Those who say they want to be writers, and aren’t writing, don’t,” bringing my list of writing quotes to… two.
But I couldn’t not add it, because it’s simply too true to ignore. Books where the characters aren’t doing something cool, suck! They’re boring, and boring, more than bad writing, annoying characters, or thin world building, is the death of a novel.
Now, of course, cool means different things to different people, or different things to the same person through different books. One person may think explosions are awesome, another may think startling and numinous revelations about the tangled knot of family life are the bee’s knees, but it doesn’t really matter. Cool is cool, you’ll know it when you see it. Cool is, basically, what keeps people interested in writing – the imaginative touches, the scenes you have to tell your friends about, the things that make you put down the book and go “damn, that was cool.”
When I first wrote the novel that became The Spirit Thief, the main complaint was that it was too thin. People liked the characters and the action, but there just wasn’t enough there. So, bit by stumbling bit, I started adding things that I hoped would make people cackle, or go “OOOOOH!” Looking back, I was adding cool. Sure I did other things, I ratcheted up the tension and took out some navel gazing, but mostly I was stuffing the novel full of cool happenings like a thanksgiving turkey. The more I added, the more people liked my book, and the more I liked my book.
For sure, a novel is more than coolness. You need all that other stuff like plot and characters and whatnot. But I’ve put down so many books that were well written simply because I got bored. It wasn’t the story’s fault, it was going along just fine, but there just wasn’t enough cool to keep me interested. Cool is like salt. No one wants to eat straight salt, but even the most delicious food is bland without it (and quickly ruined gratuitous overuse).
Maybe I have a short attention span, to give up on decent books because I get bored, but I’m not too different from your average reader in that, I think. When I read, I want to be entertained. I want to read about cool people doing cool things. I want to be excited, to call my husband and read him a passage over the phone because it was SO COOL. Of course, a book doesn’t have to have that level of cool for me to like it a lot, but it has to have some, or else it’s just people doing stuff.
Still, books that overflow with coolness are the books that stay on my shelf and never get resold. Those are the books I tell my friends about, and those are the books I try to write. I don’t know if I succeed, as I said, cool is a pretty subjective thing. But, then again, if there was a solid recipe for cool I could share on this blog, we’d all be millionaires. All we can do is keep trying to make our books as interesting and cool as possible, and hopefully, other people will agree.