Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making it to the Top Shelf

Since I am quite busy, and not to mention a tad bit lazy, I thought that today instead of a normal Word Wednesday I'd share with you the essay I've been working on for English. It does talk about a few of the things I normally post about, but I thought you guys might enjoy it anyhow.

Making it to The Top Shelf

The other day my sister bought a new bookshelf. Being the big readers we are, our shelves were overflowing dog-eared copies of our beloved novels, so it was time to get a bigger shelf. We headed off to Ikea, came back toting a beautiful wooden shelf, and a couple hundred dollars poorer. After helping her assemble the “easy” DIY bookshelf, I took her ratty old shelf off her hands. With a good cleaning and a lick of paint, the shelf was as good as new. Eager, I unloaded the boxes that had been sitting stagnantly in my room since we moved. I was overwhelmed by emotions as I pulled out the cheap paperbacks that I had begged my mother to get me from the book order back in grade school. I had loved those books like they were part of my family. Needless to say, the shelves quickly filled up, but I saved the glorious top shelf for my favourites. After proudly displaying books like Harry Potter, Little Women, and the numerous Nancy Drew mysteries, I surveyed my selections wondering why I loved these books so.

Picture your favourite novel. Do you see it? Maybe it’s a worn leather covered classic. Maybe it’s a shiny new book you picked up from the nearest Chapters with the “new book” smell still lingering among the pages. Now, think about why you like it. Why do we find ourselves drawn to these top shelf books like Winnie the Pooh to honey? Well, I am convinced that good novels, the top shelvers, have three elements that have to be well: characters, plot, and writing.

Characters in a novel need to be well crafted and developed if an author wants to write a novel worthy of reading. Characters have to demand attention and emotions from the reader. A good character will reach through the pages and latch onto the readers’ hearts and make them care about where their fictional life ends up. They will also be relatable and entertaining. People read to escape the realities of this world and want to live vicariously through bold and fun characters. Take the popular (and not to mention wildly successful) Harry Potter series, those books are full of strong characters. You have Harry, the main character, who immediately draws on the reader’s emotions by being oppressed and parentless, and then you have the lovable Weasley twins that give us much needed comic relief. Readers invest in these characters and by book seven can’t wait to find out what happens to the magical crew. Top-shelf characters become our friends or enemies; either way they force us to turn the pages of their story and make us love them and dread the end of their tale.

Characters are nothing without plot, another aspect that must be there in order for a book to make it to the top shelf. Recently, I read a novel that had excellent characters, but the plot was non-existent. It had potential to be a favourite but because nothing actually happened it was a major flop. A great novel must have an inciting incident that grabs the reader’s attention and interesting rising action that leads to an amazing climax that no would see coming. For example, the classic Brontë novel, Jane Eyre, has a brilliant climax; the reader finds out that the love interest is hiding a deranged wife in the closet. Nobody would expect that! These types of plot twists are what we remember and what we love about our top-shelvers. Overall, a good novel needs a plot that can keep a reader involved. The actual mechanics of the written word and diction are often elements of top-shelf books that are overlooked, but contribute a great deal to a reader’s liking of a book.

EDIT: Haha, what a fail! I actually forgot to put the last paragraph in. So here it is:

We all have those favourite novels that we proudly display on our top-shelves, and we all love them for different reasons, but the staples of a good book (whether we realize it or not) are characters that tickle funny bones or make a home in a reader’s heart, plots that have readers sitting on the edge of their seats, and impeccable writing. So, once again I find myself where I started, admiring my bookshelf. Before I know it, the voices of Nancy Drew and Jo March are echoing in my ears, making me marvel at the quality of these top-shelf natives. I still wonder how these authors manage it, and then I realize that it is only when these three elements gel together with a perfect consistency that a wonderful novel is penned. And that, my friend, is easier said than done.


  1. Great point -- and essay! I hate it when a book has one of these elements down, but fails to deliver in another area. Definitely disappointing.

  2. @Jenna Blake Morris
    Thanks so much for the comment and compliment! And I agree, obviously, haha.


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