“What makes a good book?”
That question’s been popping up on my search list quite a bit in the last few months. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and maybe someone out there thinks I know what I’m talking about when I say I’ve read a good book.
Perhaps it’s not fair to ask a writer “What makes a book good?” because we write what we think are good stories, but there’s so many different opinions on what a good book is. All I can offer is my own opinions.
First of all I have to connect with a character. What this means is I can relate to someone in the book. Sometimes it is the age, or background. Other times it’s a situation or a way of thinking. But somewhere–and I hope it is sooner than later–there has to be someone that makes me feel comfortable.
For instance, one of my all time favorite books is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of all the people in the stories, I like Sam the best. Why? Because he’s a simple soul and very loyal to those he calls friends. I can relate to the fact that he’d rather be home in the garden with a stew cooking on the stove than off wandering the city and bowing to kings. He’d do anything for a friend even if it hurts him.
But besides that connection, I also like to see flawed characters. Now this doesn’t mean that they have physical flaws–though I do enjoy people with crooked teeth or a broken nose–but people who internalize problems, have addictions or other mental issues. Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), depression, broken homes and a sense of personal devastation all get my attention. But they can’t be used as a crutch. Oh no, these things have to lead to the character getting stronger or at least realizing that they just can’t keep on living this way.
I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and for me, many of the best stories have an external conflict and an internal one. For example, we can see fighting a dragon as an external conflict, but what if the hero was raised by dragons? How do you think she would feel if she had to kill one? That is something an internal conflict would bring. In many ways it’s an internal twist to the more obvious conflict.
Internal conflict often leads to character growth but it doesn’t happen all at once. A series of books might make that path meander along over several books. The character might at time backtrack or make little progress at all but in the end, they at least seem to overcome the inner demons.
Another thing that is important to a good story is setting. Settings very from a single room to an entire world and beyond. I want to know where the story takes place and if possible when. If there’s interesting facts about the world, it has to be set up so that it is believable. I can believe that magic exists, humans travel to the stars and even pigs can fly if it is set up properly in the story and as soon as possible. In other words, I don’t want to get half way through a book before the author drops hints on things (unless it’s a series and a refresher can be nice if it is important to the later part of the book.)
World building is another great factor that makes a book–or series– great. Even if a book happens in a single room, characters move in and out and interact with what is outside. They bring little pieces of it back in. What happens in the world outside does affect the story. Sometimes it’s little things like the hotdog stand outside the building, but other things can be huge, like an invading army of aliens.
Then of course there’s the plot, or why the story exists anyway. Most stories are boiled down to 3 things:Character V Character, Character v Nature and Character v Self.
Character v Character is pretty common as it involves a hero or main character and a villain or bad guy but some of the best stories are those that blend the good and the bad on both sides until those lines of good and evil are blurred.
Character v Nature can be a lot of things. Perhaps there’s a storm coming, or wolves are attacking. It could even mean a character is fighting against the gods or prophesy. Either way, a character must go up against an unstoppable force in order to survive.
Character v Self again is one of my favorites and it often appears in my own writing. I’ve seen various ways of approaching this. Multiple personalities and even mirror images have been some of the more unique, but mostly it’s the self doubt and character flaws that get the most attention.
Most authors try to combine at least two of these conflicts in a book but sometimes all three are thrown in.
Plot also gives way to action but it isn’t always what it seems. Of course we always think of action as fighting or car chases, but it can be other things too. People move when they speak, they roll their eyes, gesture with their hands and sometimes give little clues to what is going on without saying a word. Other types of action involve internal growth of a character.
There’s lots of other things that make a great book: believable characters, dialog, humor, tension, and a score of other things. Each story has it’s own individual combination of what makes or breaks it for an individual reader. I can’t say for sure what you are going to like, I can only offer my own opinions of what I like.
Thanks for reading