Monday, September 5, 2011

What Makes a Good Book?

Anyone who's seen "The Sound of Music" knows that the beginning is the very best place to start. So, when I'm getting ready to spend six days ranting about good books, I figure I should begin by defining that term.

{My left temple is twitching. That has nothing to do with this whatsoever, it's just really weird.}

Personally, I'm a book snob. Does this narrow my field of enjoyment? Yes. Does it make me a better judge of what's actually good literature?

I think so. But that might just be the snob talking.

For me, a good book must have three main qualities:

1. A good plot. {Tight, realistic, timeless, moral.}
This is just a must, and it can go so wrong in so many different ways. You have the...

To simple: Sarah must rescue her dog. And so she spends the whole book, um, rescuing her dog. The end.

To complicated: Sarah's father used to have this dog when he was a kid that came from a lab in the future, but when his psychopathic grandfather created a time warp and send the dog back, he got lost and Sarah found him but now he's run away only he somehow had futuristic genes and so he's a hippo now and Sarah has to track him across the ocean because he also acquired gills and the power of speech but secretly the grandfather is now back and he's getting together with Sarah's sister, which is obviously gross because Sarah's sister is engaged to the owner of Sarah's dog's groomer, who Sarah is in love with but he's also a mad scientist and--


Unrealistic: The villain spends the whole book being an asshole, then conveniently has a change of heart and everything becomes hunky dory.

Inconsistent: The kind of story that has loose ends that drive you crazy because there's no good explanation for them.

Stupid: I don't think I have to explain this one. Some stories were just not meant to be told.

2. Good characters. {Enjoyable, real, well-developed, unique.}
This is probably my #1 most important quality in a book. If your plot sucks and you can't write, at least make me love your characters. That's actually a lot harder than it sounds, I think, because the characters must be...

Realistic - No one is an asshole for no reason, just like the villain doesn't give up assholery because you can't figure out how to end the story.

Original - The shy girl who's beautiful but doesn't know it and wants the hot guy to look at her. NAWWWWWWWW. Never met HER before.

Unpredictable - Let me guess. The girl shows a sign of "unexpected" courage and the boy notices her. I see. {And have seen since about page four.}

Engaging - If it's the main character, you have to be rooting for him/her. If it's the sidekick, you have to be feeling his/her struggle. If it's the villain, you have to be outraged/terrified/fascinated by his/her schemes.

Appreciable - You have to appreciate the character. Notice I didn't say "like" them. Hopefully you will hate the villain {although we writers sometimes like them because they represent good writing XD}, but you have to appreciate what a good job the author did on them.

Well-developed - If you character is realistic, original, unpredictable, engaging and appreciable but you don't really "get" them {and never do}, they still suck. You have to know why the character is the way he is, how he got there, what he cares about, his past, his hopes, his pet-peeves, his weaknesses. The character has to be a real, multidimensional, complex PERSON or he's nothing.

3. Good writing.
Of course, "good writing" has a lot to do with qualities 1 and 2, but what I mean is that the author has to have a way with words. It's as simple as that, but definitely more complicated than it sounds. It can be little things, like the way they make you see the room without spelling it out, or more obvious things like sentence structure. If every sentence is SUBJECT VERB DIRECT-OBJECT, it's boring as hell.

{Sarah looked at the dog. She walked to the dog. She bent down to the dog. She said to the dog, "Here boy." She put the leash on the dog.


The author needs to show and not tell, but we've all heard that before. Don't say Johnny was angry, say he drew his brows down in a narrow-eyed glare.

And then you have times when the author needed to just, er, shut up. The author has to realize that sometimes, LESS IS MORE. I love Cornelia Funke's "Inkheart," but she went down hill with "Inkspell" and absolutely lost it in "Inkdeath." Somehow she confused explaining the setting with giving the reader twenty years of backstory including every characters' facial twitch, sock color and greeting exchange. "Inkdeath" could literally have been half its size in my opinion.

Cut the fluff. It's annoying.

And there you have it. The three qualities that I say define "good books." I think this post might be very jumbled and possibly woefully incomplete, but it's quite late, and I have an early day tomorrow.


1 comment:

  1. I've read so many books on the good and bad side of this post. A few I couldn't finish because they were so inconsistent/stupid and others I stayed up way too late to finish them. I only read Inkheart and never got around to the second and third. Now I'm glad I did. I enjoyed it but already felt that the first one was too wordy in places.