Tuesday, 4 September 2012

What makes a good book good?

 Or... what can a book be missing before it becomes a bit crap?

So my recent Amy and Isabelle review made me wonder, out of plot, characters and writing ability/skill, if you could have two good elements and one just about ok element, what arrangement would make the best book. Obviously all three being great together makes the best books, but there are loads of books where one element just has not been as good as the other two. I really struggled to come up with a definitive opinion on this one, but here is my vague reasoning anyway.

Characters
I said at some point somewhere that the point of a book is to make you care about the characters- love them or hate them! Neutrality in my opinion is the sign of an underdeveloped character.

Feeling ALL of the emotions towards someone- Good!
Feeling none of the emotions = Bad!!

When I read about a character, I want to be made to feel all of the feelings! I kind of want a good book to be like a pantomime in my head- not the cheesiness or the bad jokes, but the sheer amount of energy that the audience puts into watching the characters, supporting them, hating them, and advising them ("He's behind you!!")

Writing Ability
This is the part that made me think of this question. Amy and Isabelle was written beautifully; Elizabeth Stroud had a clear sense of style, it was individual and well-formed and left you with a clear image/impression of what was going on. But, I didn't care about the characters or what was happening to them, and I really struggled to power through to the end of the book (and I ended up giving it a rating of 4). So all that would make me think that writing ability is not the most important aspect, as it couldn't make Amy and Isabelle a good book in my opinion.

But then on the other hand, in other books, missing out on small details or not mentioning them for ages really bugs me, especially if that detail changes/interrupts the way I am imagining the story. Fantasy Lover is, in my opinion, a very good book; its sexy and fun, with an interesting plot idea and characters I love, but whenever I read it, I imagine Grace with honey blonde curly hair; that is until the point when Grace's long dark straight hair does something that Julian finds sexy, and suddenly I feel robbed of the image in my head. Petty? Yes. But hey, I'm fussy.
I also want the images in my head to flow, and clunky writing causes (for me) stilted images in my head. So the quality of the writing is important to me.

Plot
Silly Mel Gibson is rather glum!
So this is kinda really necessary- if nothing happens to the characters, what is there to write about? Coming across a really unusual plot idea is fantastically exciting and I love books being unique enough for me to not guess what is going to happen as its going along. Slow burners are fine, but unless I get the sense that eventually something will happen, I will stop reading it.

And it also has to make sense. Like it was pointed out to me that the plot of the film Signs makes no sense what-so-ever. (Aliens who are killed by contact with water invade Earth, which is made primarily of water. They don't even go to the desert. Silly aliens. Silly writers. Silly Mel Gibson.) Logic (or a loose interpretation of it) is my friend.

Overall...
I think, if I had to pick, I would chose good characters every time, and a toss up between plot and writing ability as to what element is a bit naff and what one is good. Maybe good plot would win out, purely because it is easier for me to read a good plot written badly than a bad plot written prettily.

What do you think? This is just my vague interpretation- what parts of a book are most important to you? Obviously this is a very large generalisation, as I could split a book into many more than just these three categories. Is there another element that I have missed that you feel you absolutely need in the books you read? Let me know in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. I had to think about something like this only a couple days ago when I was asked what I care about the most, characters or plot? Talk about difficult. I agree though, I need to be invested in the characters, otherwise I'm not going to care what's happening. I don't know what I'd choose between plot and writing ability, I think maybe I'd care a bit more about the plot because then if it's good it'll keep me reading. It's a hard question to answer, but definitely something to think about. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing! :)

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