What Makes a Book Good?

Ah, the ultimate question for writers. We spend so much of our time crafting our writing: plotting, character sketches, writing that first draft, editing and revising, rewriting, getting our work critiqued…the list goes on.5780584814_b5b11f73d8_z

Yet, say two people, Person A and Person B, have spent equal time working on their writing, why does one story come out better than the other?

Let’s rule out different genres and say that both Persons A and B are writing adult science fiction, and that both of their stories take place in space. Their story plots may even be very similar.

Let’s go with the premise of a young woman, stranded in space, who runs across an ascended being. This being winds up as part of an ancient race that has acted as various gods throughout human history, and who is now bored and feels like it’s time for the human race to end and another life form to rise to prominence.

Both stories sound interesting, however after reading the stories, Person A’s is the clear winner.

Why?

For both objective and subjective reasons.

Let’s go with some of the more objective ones:

  • 3086655956_201ab2b89e_zAttention to detail plays a huge role in how well a story turns out. It’s basically an umbrella phrase for the following reasons, because if you don’t pay attention to the small things, your readers won’t be able to picture what’s going on, and then they won’t be invested in the story.
  • World building is an aspect of writing that I’m seeing less and less of in fiction, especially young adult fiction. This is tragic, because the environment in which your story takes place is vital. It’s where everything happens. Some of my favorite books have such detailed environments that the place becomes a living, breathing character.
  • Internal Consistency is a key component as well. You can’t have a plot that jumps all over the place. I once read a book, where, on page 100, Character 9 was one of my favorite characters of the story, and then suddenly, on page 101, Character 9 was a complete jerk, who ended up being the villain of the piece. This switcheroo made no sense. I felt that the author realized readers liked Character 9 more than the main characters, and so the author had to make Character 9 evil. That novel lost all credibility.

Another example (and this one happens to be popular in young adult fiction): the main 4496975747_1e0b661a31_zcharacter is supposedly the chosen one/the one to save everyone, however the protagonist trips over her feet during every fight and must be saved by the handsome, yet jerk of a romantic interest. This is ridiculous because, unless you’re writing a comedy, how can someone be elite or the epitome of something, if she constantly needs saving?

  • Well-developed characters can make a story. As I stated earlier, world building is utterly important to the story. However, sometimes you can get away with poor world building, if you have phenomenal characters. There are multiple books I’ve read, where I knew the world building was awful, but it didn’t matter because I was invested in the characters. Granted, most of these novels were in first-person, so that the view I had of the overall story was narrowed to one character.

A problem with these type of stories, is that if you don’t like the main character, then nothing is holding you to the book, and you’ll most likely put it down and never look at it again.

  • No little misspellings or poor grammar. Readers will notice a lack of editing. They’ll pick up on all the bad punctuation, poor spelling, and grammatical mistakes. If there are too many linguistic errors, readers may get pulled out of the story. They may not return. (I once saw a novel with a misspelled title; I didn’t go past the title page.)
  • Originality. While it’s difficult to be completely original, you can take a well-used premise and make it your own. It’s too often that I see one book or book series get popular and suddenly there’s a flood of copy-cat novels, and each one seems to be worse than the predecessor.

Back to Persons A and B. Now, while most people preferred Person A’s story, a few liked Person B’s more. Though Person A’s work had better world building and more developed characters, not everyone liked Person A’s story for subjective reasons. Let’s say that one person didn’t like the story because the protagonist reminded him too much of an ex-girlfriend he had back in college. Another individual enjoyed Person B’s writing style over Person A’s.

There’s nothing Person A can do about these reasons. It’s like asking someone if contemporary art is really art. The answer will vary according to each individual.

I’ve read novels where, if I hadn’t been in the right mood, I would have greatly disliked them. I probably would have ranted to my friends about them, because, in reality, they were horribly written. But since I was in the mood for some light fluff that would make me laugh at the ridiculousness of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed those novels.

Ask me to read them today and the answer would be “no.”

What makes a good book to you?

(Photos courtesy of Stefano CorsoRob, and David Urbanke.)

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