What Makes a Book Good?

Photo credit: SimplyAbbey on Flickr
As novelists, our goal is, ultimately, to write good books. Or even better, fantastic, stupendously awesome books. But what, specifically, makes a book good?

This, of course, is an enormously subjective post. What I consider good and what you readers may consider good will sometimes overlap and many times veer away from each other quite a bit, which is to be expected. 

But I do think there are universal elements that can apply to just about any book or genre that readers tend to look for. 
  1. An interesting voice. For me, this is the single most important element. If I don’t connect to the voice, then it doesn’t matter how good the story is—I’m not going to buy it. I’ve put down an extraordinarily popular book for this reason in the past.

    Why? Because the voice is what carries you through the story. It’s an ever-present element that permeates every page, every paragraph, every sentence, every word. If I don’t connect to the voice in the first few pages, I’m not going to connect on the fiftieth page, or two-hundredth page. 

  2. Memorable characters. As a character-driven writer, I tend to remember characters best. Whenever I come across a book with a character (whether protagonist or side character) so memorable that I add them to my hall of favorite characters, chances are likely that book will make my list of favorites as well.

    Memorable characters make the story come alive. They’re unique to every book and they take us on a journey that (hopefully) we won’t forget. They make us laugh and cry and gasp and wince—they make us feel and see the world in a new way. And ultimately, isn’t that what writing and reading is all about?

  3. A vivid setting. Settings should feel equally real, whether it’s a Contemporary Romance in Indiana, or a Fantasy in a made-up world. Vivid settings help to ground the story, and not only that, they can often accentuate elements of the story through contrast, symbolism or well-placed details. Unique, interesting settings are part of the reason I love fantasies so much, but a vivid setting is equally important in any other genre. 

  4. A gripping story. I think this is the element that is the most subjective—a gripping story to me may not be so gripping to someone else. Regardless of what elements play into what a gripping story means to you, the point is that you don’t want to put the book down. You’re invested in the characters, in the plot, in the world of the book, and if that means staying up until two in the morning to find out what happens, so be it.  
What elements do you think are essential to a good book? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares four elements that she believes are essential to a good book. Do you agree? (Click to tweet)  
What elements do you think are essential to a good book? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet


Michelle Hauck said...

Characters, characters, characters. You can have the most exciting plot in the world set in a fascinating world, but it goes for nothing if I don't connect to the main characters.

I've come across too many of these flat characters lately.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! Gripping characters are inarguably essential to a good book.

J. A. Bennett said...

The first thing I thought of when I read the beginning of your post was voice, so I think you nailed it :)

Ava Jae said...

Thanks! Voice is definitely a hugenormous factor. :)

Ava Jae said...

Longer series especially require a bigger commitment—A Song of Ice and Fire, for example, is a very long series comprised of very long books and require much more of a commitment than, say, some trilogies. But even trilogies require more of a commitment time-wise than standalones, so I definitely understand that.

Ava Jae said...

I don't necessarily mind a story with an invisible voice (meaning that I don't really notice much about it), but if I dislike the voice, then it'll go back on the shelf. But I definitely agree that an interesting voice can take a good book to great.

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