On a more upbeat note than my last post, I got the most wonderful compliment from a crit partner the other day. She said (and these are my words, in summary) she found my writing engaging and absorbing – unputdownable.

This is actually a word. Look:


Once I stopped beaming in delight and wrote back to thank her, I turned to wondering what it is that makes some writing unputdownable and others not. It isn’t something I’ve consciously strived for in my own work, though it is something I’ve always hoped my writing would be, more than any other possible literary quality.

It’s not like there’s a formula that’s easily followed – if you do x and y then readers will find it engrossing. There’re some obvious keys, of course: you need to have characters that the reader can and does care about, and you need to have an interesting, logical plot. High stakes, big risks, strong tension. Probably faster-paced books tend to be more unputdownable than slower-paced ones.

But I’ve read many books where all of these criteria have been met, and not all of them were unputdownable. There seems to be some X factor involved here that’s not easily defined, tied into the author’s writing style itself.

The most recent books I’ve read that I’ve found so engrossing as to be unputdownable are Cassandra Clare’s shadowhunter series, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. The authors write fairly differently, on the surface: one is present tense, the other past, one has a grittier feel than the other. But there’s some unidentified quality they both share that makes them both addictively absorbing.

My current hypothesis is that it’s tied in part to Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores. These measure sentence length, paragraph length, word length and syllables per word. Lower grade level and higher reading ease scores are obviously easier to read. But that’s not the whole story, is it? Just because something’s simple to read doesn’t mean you’re going to find it engaging.

And something else to consider is the subjectivity of creative arts, including writing. What one person loves, another may dislike entirely. Many people will be ambivalent. If one person finds an author’s writing unputdownable, that doesn’t automatically mean that everyone will. Not everyone finds Clare and Collins as absorbing as I do. But there are a lot of people who do agree with me, so obviously whatever their shared trait is, it’s something that works for many people.

So who knows? I sure don’t. I’m just happy that one reader, at least, finds my writing to have that quality.


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