September 8, 2016

Writing Tips (XIX) To be or not to be a good book?




The question What makes a good book? has been popping up in my head quite a bit lately, while  reading or especially writing my own books. 
 I stop writing only to reread what I've written and wonder, “Is this good?”

         Now, what is a good book? I think it's a legitimate question to ask ourselves. What defines good? Should it be my own definition, someone else's, or the general popular opinion?

The opinion of what makes a good book is almost entirely subjective.

Think of an old favorite book that you could read again and again. Can you picture it in your head almost as if you had a copy in your hands to open and start reading right now?  Think about it for a while. Pick the story apart in your head and mull over it a bit. What makes  you love the story? What makes you keep coming back to it time and again? What makes your mind wander back to the story and just muse about it? What qualities of that book do you just love and cherish?

What are the elements of a good book for me? Well, here’s what I have in mind and I speak now from  a reader’s POV:
1. Plot
The best kind of plot is one that keeps people reading because they are so engrossed and intrigued that they just can't put the book down. Personally, I like when I don't know what's going to happen in a plot. Predictability is something I tend to dislike because, in my eyes, nothing kills a story faster than too much predictability. Predictability in small doses is fine – but readers don't want to be right all the time. Unnecessary scenes that don't add to the plot or character growth in any way, shape, or form should be edited – or cut out completely.
2. Relatability  

It doesn't matter whether I'm reading  mystery, paranormal, fantasy as long as there are realistic and relatable elements to the plot and characters. Realism may not apply to realms of fiction, but elements of realism always should. Nothing is perfect, not even in a utopian setting, because people are not perfect. The imperfections add a relatable element whatever story is being told.

Emotion is probably the highest relatable factor for me when I'm reading. I may never have met a vampire or kissed a shapeshifter, but I know the tugs of love and the irrational thoughts and passions that come with it. The circumstances don't matter as long as readers feel along with the characters. It's a challenge for writers, yes, but it leads to more of a deep and meaningful story.

3. Consistency
Storytelling needs to have a flow to the writing – and there's nothing that breaks a flow in storytelling like inconsistencies in characters, backstories, or the writing style itself.

Don't you hate it when you're reading a book that's keeping you guessing – only to hit a snag and get thrown out of the story completely because you read something that just didn't make sense?  Writers need to know their worlds, the worlds' rules, and the characters inhabiting said worlds. Readers will settle for the  easy resolution but they don't like them because they don't reflect real life, which almost always bears struggle and conflict. Happily ever afters are preferred by readers, but they're much more meaningful if the characters have 'paid their dues' to earn the HEA.

4. Writing
I often know a book will be good if I am envious of the writing. While that sounds a weird thing to say, keep in mind that I am a writer myself. If I can read a first passage in a book and think, "Wow, I wish I could write like this," then that's saying something, isn't it?

Though tastes vary, descriptions aren't a bad thing since a writing style can help give a book its own specific kind of atmosphere. The point, is less is more. Not many readers like to barrel through paragraphs of description, no matter how beautifully written, because it slogs down the story.

5. Characters
I'm a critical, but I always fall hard for characters. I look at it this way: why read about characters I don't like? I want to root for that character no matter what. I want to stand behind him/her and his/her decisions. I want to follow him/her on whatever journey is unfolding in his/her life.

Flaws. Ambiguity. They're necessary. Why did so many of us Pride and Prejudice fans come out loving  Darcy, arrogant man that he could be? Because he was flawed and ambiguous only to show greater depth and emotion than any reader had likely imagined.

To conclude - I leave the question to all my followers: what makes a good book for you? Make it a big question of the day, because, honestly, isn't a good book what anyone is hoping for any time they sit down and open a book to read?
                           Keep your reader reading.

8 comments:

  1. A most excellent post, Carmen, with very valid points. What makes me fall in love with a book is definitely characters. If I don't care about the characters, then the plot doesn't matter. And I do love characters who are flawed. That's what keeps me flipping pages.

    Right now I am reading You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone by Kevin O'Brien. I'm about halfway through and it's so darn good I hate putting it down at night to go to bed. I'm normally pretty good at figuring things out (to a degree) in a mystery, but this one has me totally stumped. I just love it!

    And weird as it seems, I'm one of those readers who doesn't mind lengthy description. If that's the author's voice and they do it well, I actually love sinking into all that prose. Of course, in tight suspense scenes, you don't want that type of writing bogging down the moment, so I think it definitely also has to work with the genre.

    Wow! Loved this post. Is it going on Marcia's blog, too?

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    1. I don't skip lengthy excerpts of description, either. It often helps you better locate the place the action takes place , or highlights a character's mood.
      But as you say, it depends on the type of story, too.
      I'm glad you enjoyed the post.
      Regarding the last question. No. She said she was busy so I don't impose myself on anybody any longer, and published it here.
      I wrote several things regarding writing/publishing/marketing along these years and I thought why not use the stuff on my own blog, after all?

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    2. PS I corrected the addressing with "my followers."

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  2. By all means use the stuff on your blog (I noticed Marcia hasn't been posting this week). This was a really good post and should generate a lot of discussion. I don't reblog, but if you want to send it to me, I'd be happy to place it on my blog for you with you as a guest blogger. You have my email :)

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  3. Excellent post, Carmen, with really good information. I'm so glad you are publishing this on your own blog, as you have such insights to share. You're right about our preferences being subjective, buy you've done a great job of pointing out the primary categories that matter most. I especially appreciate books that pull me into the story right away. Usually hooking me is accomplished through immediate identification with the characters or their situation, or a moment of being "spellbound" by whatever is going on at the beginning of a book. As for description, I can get caught up in it for sure. As a lover of old novels, even 19th century melodramas where the description of the grounds of a house could span several pages, it enables me to "be" in that time and place.

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    1. Thank you Flossie for encouraging me!

      I am glad you found the post interesting info. I think I will post each month something on writing.
      I also love classical fiction and was even tributary to its form of writing not understanding why omniscient isn't good any more. Why it's considered outfashioned.

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  4. You hit all the salient points. Good post.

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    1. Thank you for checking my post!
      Sometimes, though, I realize that there are books that reach the bestsellers list without following any of the rules!

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