Sweetness. Juiciness. Texture.
One of the saddest parts of saying goodbye to summer is the end of watermelon. Pretty much every week all summer long I haul a fat green ball home from the store, chill it in the fridge, and then crack it open with my biggest knife, breath held. Is this a good one?
I even put off buying that first watermelon of the summer, eyeing the date, wondering: is it too soon? I'd hate for that first juicy experience to disappoint, setting the stage badly for a season of less than perfect fruity bliss.
This is what I look for in that first melon, and every one afterward: Sweetness. Juiciness. Texture. They all matter, and the failure in even one of those can ruin the whole melon experience. A weakness in one is acceptable, depending on the level of inferiority, but you gotta have two of the three be right or the melon is getting returned. A sweet, juicy melon that is just a little too chewy? We'll finish it off. A sweet, juicy melon with a bite like rubber? Back to the store, and may I please have another.
In reading, and writing, it's kind of the same. You get all the elements in there, and the book is perfect. Story. Characters. Writing. They all have to be there, and they have to be enough. I can think of books I adore with really adequate writing, but with characters so vivid, so beloved, so real, and storytelling so outstanding, that the mere competence of the writing is fine. Books with a story that might not quite shine, but memorable characters and beautiful, elegant writing that are wonderful nonetheless. You get the picture.
But a book with no real story, boring characters? I don't care how gorgeously the writer can string together words, I'm not going to read the whole thing. Or if I do, I'll finish disappointed, wishing I hadn't wasted my time when there are so many books I'll never find time to read.
This is something that, as writers, aspiring or successful, we should all keep our minds on as we advance from our first drafts in which anything is fine, even the driest, most rubbery, sour watermelon a month too early into our real works. Is it juicy? Is it sweet? Is the texture just right, that hint of graininess in the crisp first bite making it the best watermelon of the summer?
Two out of three ain't bad. But get it all right? That's magic.