Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Makes a Good Novel?

Good question, right? But really, what does make a good novel? I've shared some thoughts on the topic below. I'm sure this list isn't comprehensive, but it's a good start.

What would this book be without Anne?  She is everything.  The plot is obscure without her, the reasons for writing lost.  And Prince Edward Island?  Who doesn't want to go there after reading this book?  A good main character should be STRONG, CONSISTENT in their actions and voice, and someone you would want for your BEST FRIEND.  The setting should be REAL, VIVID, and LURING.  Your readers should feel like they've been there, and have a desire to go back again and again.

As a reader, if I can predict what is coming next, I am dissatisfied.  Completely.  But take me on an enjoyable journey that keeps me guessing, most of the time incorrectly, and I am a happy reader.  An effective plot should be UNPREDICTABLE, FUN, THRILLING, WEAVING, and at times, IRONIC.

Sometimes all you need is a good idea.  I'm not saying that's all this book is; it has good characters and a fun plot and a great message, etc.  But with this one, I think the leading factor in its success is simply the idea of it.  Brilliant.  Completely brilliant.  A good idea comes from ORIGINALITY and RELEVANCY.

It has taken most of my life to figure out why I never liked reading as a kid.  I hate fluff.  I much prefer books that have underlying profound meanings and that leave a lasting mark by making me think about the ideas and messages the author has placed before me.  I don't remember the names of the characters in this book, or much more than the basic plot.  But the meaning will stay with me forever.  A good message should strike your readers as being TRUTH.

I just loved how this book was ingeniously crafted. Death the narrator, which I totally would have done someday if Zusak hadn't gotten there first. Creative. Inventive. Different. Fun. Smart. I think modern readers can be a little narrow in their preferences for point of view, which is sad.  If you always want to be in close third person, or if you get confused reading omniscient or narrative or anything else, put your thinking cap on and try again.  You're missing out on some great stuff!  Some of the elements of excellent craft are CONSISTENCY, CREATIVITY, and making everyone believe YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU'RE DOING.

Can you imagine a book where all of these things are put together? Honestly, I can't think of one that stands out in all of these areas irrefutably, but one does come to mind.

 Strong character and amazing setting? Check, except Harry is a little too perfect.
Story? Check, except it's the same basic story in every book. But honestly, did you ever get bored in the battle between Harry and Valdemort? I didn't.
Idea? Check, check. One of the few times an author banked on just aligning all the stars. A lot of ideas are great, but they would be even better at the right time. For Harry, the timing was perfect.
Message? Check, and the reason I loved these books so much. I love me some battling between good and evil.
Craft? It definitely works, and it's definitely done well. Maybe not super stand out or creative, but it is well done.

Can you think of any books that stand out in all 5 of these categories?

1 comment:

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

I just read Carla Kelly's Borrowed Light, which I think fits all these categories. Thanks for the list. I'm in revisions right now, so it's helpful to think about overriding things like these.