Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What makes a great book?



I'm judging a couple of writing contests: one for unpublished writers, another for published. I don't claim to be a writing expert, but I am a reader who knows a good story.

I read an average of two to three books a week. Most of them are romance, but I do like to throw in the occasional mystery, suspense, sci fi, depending on my mood. I used to make a point of reading a whole book even if I didn't like it. Now if I'm not into the story by page fifty, the book gets donated or returned to the library.

I share all this to say that there are certain universal elements that make a great story. Characters I care about. A setting that I would want to visit (or depending on the story, avoid). A conflict that might be something I've seen before, but brings something new. A writer's voice that grabs me through their use of language and imagery.

As I judge the unpublished entries, I look for those things. Sometimes, I see the potential of a great storyteller in those few pages, so I try to encourage that spark into a flame. I hope that they will take the criticism I offer to make them a better writer.

So as you read the next book, what do you look for? What is it about a book that makes the story stick with you long after you've closed the cover? What do you love about your favorite book?

PS - One of my favorite books is "Gone with the Wind" because I loved the spunky Scarlett and wanted her to find true love someday.

14 comments:

  1. The older I get the less time I have for books that don't made the grade. Most do, though, make the grade. Right now I'm reading Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. I'm enjoying every moment, especially the faction that involves Kit Marlow and Walter Raliegh.

    I read romance, too.

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    1. Interesting book choice, Pamela. I might have to add that to my book list.

      Do you do that? Keep a list of books that other friends have enjoyed? I think mine is about four pages long right now and that doesn't include the dozens I've torn out of the book because I read all the books on them LOL.

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  2. Hi Syndi!

    My favorite book will always be Pride and Prejudice-no other hero I've ever read can compare to Mr. Darcy:) But I just recently started Something From Tiffany's by Melissa Hill and the first scene so cleverly grabbed me, I'm really enjoying this author I've never read before.

    xo
    Jen

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    1. I love love love "Pride and Prejudice" too.

      And thanks for another book suggestion.

      I must admit that I do have a fascination with books LOL.

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  3. Good Morning, Syndi! Everybody! I love DREAM A LITTLE DREAM by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The heroine was so strong, willing to do anything for her child, and triumphed despite the odds. She'd been married to a phoney evangelist, but in the end she was able to heal a child because her faith was sincere. Gotta love a woman who hangs in there, no matter what. And there are some very funny moments. I love humor that surprises.

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    1. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of the best romance authors in my opinion. I loved her "Natural Born Charmer"! And I have "Ain't She Sweet" on my reading list.

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  4. I'm going to try writing a note again. I am drawn by characters. But I have too many books I love to give a title.
    (This is much shorter than my last post, but in case this one gets lost I don't want to waste too much energy. ha ha)

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    1. LOL, Roz. We got this one!

      I love being taken in by a character. I love falling in love with them: Anne Shirley, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Scarlett of course. I want them to live beyond the pages of the book.

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  5. Great post Syndi- and I'm not just saying that because GWTW is my all time favorite book!!!! Okay- maybe a little. But you are absolutely right about what makes a good book. I wanted to check off everything you mentioned. For me, characters are the most important- and in a romance- it means falling for the couple as well as the characters. I need a reason to root for the pair to be together and when they end of together, I'm cheering. When they don't- like Scarlett and Rhett- I'm heartbroken. Seriously. I was just as crushed as Scarlett when he said he didn't give a damn because I KNOW he still did. Ahhhhhhhh- he was as devastated walking away as she was to be left behind. Every reader knows it. Rather than write a sequel, I wish Margaret had given us another chapter because that was such a black moment- Him catching her kiss with Ashley, the funeral, losing her friends... it was a chance for Scarlett to really grow as a character and come to the realizations she needed to come to. And Rhett, on his own, might have realized that his nonchalant attitude wasn't fooling anyone-even himself. He should have gone back to fight for Scarlett and she should have been ready to rush into his arms, ready, at last to be the partner he needed. (can you tell how much I LOVE this book!!)

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    1. I've always wondered if Margaret Mitchell had intended to write a sequel. She couldn't have wanted to end with Rhett and Scarlett apart. These were two people who loved each other completely, but also knew how to hurt each other the most. It broke my heart when he left, but I cheered when Scarlett promised that she'd get him back. And I believed her. She was determined enough to make it happen!!!

      PS - I knew we were kindred spirits :)

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  6. I'm not sure this is a good thing, but good writing and characterization can hold me even if the story's not too strong.

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    1. Liz, that is so true. I can fall in love with a character without loving the story.

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  7. Liz! I agree with you! I can read a book with a weak story if it's well written and the characters are appealing more easily than I can read a good story that's badly written. (but editors say they'll choose the storyteller over the wordsmith every time. I don't get that. Unless the reader looking for a good story doesn't really notice things that leap out at us.)

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    1. My mom is one who loves a good story even if it's in a genre she doesn't normally read. For me, it's mostly about the characters. I find that if I don't care about them, I struggle to read the story. So who's right? LOL

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