I really enjoyed this post by Patrick Brown. The only thing I would add is that the quality of the writing matters, which, to me, is not the same thing as style or editing. You can write in a very clear style (humorous, dark, witty, etc.) and be bad at it. Likewise, a story can be well edited and still not read well. Nonetheless, I thought this article was an excellent description of some of the key aspects that go into good storytelling. – R Scott Boyer
I had dinner with a friend of mine the other night, and the conversation turned to novels we had recently read. More specifically, we discussed what makes a book a good or interesting read. People like to read fiction for different reasons: some may want to laugh, while others desire a real tear-jerker. Some like action, while others want drama. Some readers may want to think, but others may need to feel. Some may want pieces of all of this. But we all, at the end of the day, want entertainment. Right? So when my pal brought this question up, I thought from both the standpoint of writing my own stuff and reading the work of others. I pinned it down to four main factors and a few minor ones that make a good book good.
This is number one. Good, strong, well-developed characters are a must. We don’t always have to like them, but they should stir some emotion in us from beginning to end. Personally, I prefer at least one likable character – a hero, if you will. Who wants to spend a few days or longer with someone they don’t like or admire? I guess those folks are out there, but I’m not one of them. Strong characters? Lee Child’s protagonist, Jack Reacher, comes to mind as well as Robert Crais’s, Joe Pike. Lawrence Sanders’s, Edward X. Delaney was another terrific guy you’d want on your side. How about Agatha Christie’s, Hercule Poirot? I’ll throw in my guy, Salem Reid, for good measure.
Stephen King may be the master at building solid characters. While less heroic usually, they are often regular folks that we can all relate to as King describes them in his folksy style.
An author can have a great story to tell, but if the characters are not interesting or inspiring, the book will not work.
Does it move? Does it flow? Is there action? Important questions. I prefer books that grab my attention in the first chapter. Hooked, I think the term is. Of course, there are other concerns. Is there consistency in the story? Did the girl with green eyes in chapter 4 end up with blue eyes in chapter 25? Not good, but it happens, you know. But my friend and I agreed that one of the most important aspects about a story is this: Does it make you think, feel, or re-assess your opinion or view about something? Did we learn something of value? And finally, the ending. If you’re like me, you’ve read a number of books that were really engaging throughout just to be disappointed at the end of the story because the ending was poor. Maybe it was contrived or unrealistic. Perhaps it didn’t end well for our favorite character, or we were left hanging. So endings are crucial to how we think about the book once we’ve finished. A lame ending to a novel can ruin an otherwise quality effort.
Dialogue is number three for me. Witty, clever, and thoughtful banter between characters makes a book come alive. I’ve heard it said that dialogue drives the story. Joseph Wambaugh creates some great characters in his books. The two surfer cops, Flotsam and Jetsam, who debut in “Hollywood Station”, are hysterical. Their dialogue with each other while cruising the seedy streets of Hollywood is some of the best I’ve encountered.
The four teenage boys in Stephen King’s “The Body” are so real to me because I had those same conversations with my young friends in my youth – it’s the way young guys talk to each other. And it’s timeless; nothing has changed over the years on that score in terms of content.
So slick dialogue moves the book along and keeps us turning pages.
Style is number four for me. A writer that can make you feel that you are “right there” with the characters, involved in the action and setting, is a talented writer indeed. Use of metaphor is the first one that comes to mind, and Gillian Flynn in “Gone Girl” used this tool wonderfully throughout the book.
Humor is my favorite though. I recently read “Casting Shadows Everywhere” by LT Vargus and Tim McBain. I laughed on damn near every page. It was Beavis and Butthead colliding with “Catcher in the Rye”. But despite the humor, the book was pretty dark most of the way through, but these two witty and clever writers pulled it off.
So style points are huge.
It’s worth mentioning that editing has some impact on the overall experience of reading a book too, but unless it is grossly flawed, stumbling through a few errors here and there is mostly tolerable. I want people to tolerate the ones in my novels (and any I make in this blog, please). I’ve yet to see the perfect book, so I think most of us can be a little forgiving in that regard.
So to sum it up, characters, storyline, dialogue, and style are the aspects of writing that will send me back to read an author over and over again, or send me away for good if they can’t pull it off.
What makes a good read to you?
About the Author:
Patrick Brown is a longtime Georgia resident. He currently lives in Northeast Atlanta with his wife and two children. “Varied Traits” is his first work of fiction. He is currently working on his second novel, “Heavy Hour”.