Saturday, October 27, 2018

9 Things That Make a Book Good (For Me)

1. Compelling female characters.  I prefer a female protagonist or antagonist, but I accept a strong supporting character too.  They don’t have to kick ass (though that’s cool too); they have to be themselves without fear or shame.

2. Believable complex characters.  Ideally, I want diversity of gender, race, and ability.  I realize not every story allows for this, but I am always looking for it.  I like both large and small casts, but whatever happens, keep it character centric.

3. Choice.  I want characters to choose things.  If your character is the chosen one or doesn’t have agency, chances are good no matter what else you have that’s working, it doesn’t work for me.

4. Female authors.  This is controversial.  People should be judged through the quality of their work and not from the circumstances of birth.  Here’s the thing: I want the female perspective, and it‘s hard for men to master that view.  This is not a dig.  I bet women don’t capture the “male” experience. I tire of following a male lead who sexualize every woman he sees.  And there are female authors who do the reverse (and I tear them apart for it) but women sexualizing men is an annoying eye roll where men sexualizing women can make me few panicky.

5. Good writing.  I prefer poetic prose but I appreciate any style that compliments the tone and theme of the piece.  I read a book with marvelous technical prose.  It’s a style I admire from a far most days.  Here, it fit the story so well I reveled in it.  I also enjoy direct terse writing when it fits the story.  An example: I read a story set in Victorian times and the writing jumped from a more formal tone that matched the Victorian setting to an informal modern vibe, and it threw me out of the story.  I like both styles, but GOOD WRITING in this case would have been to pick to one of those styles and to stick to it.

6. Good pacing.  I want to be engaged the whole time.  I don’t want to be overstimulated in some places and bored out of my mind in others.  Sounds simple, but it’s a surprising art to keep writing balanced between description, down time, and action elements.

7. Passion.  I want the writer to be into whatever they are writing and I want it to come through on the page.  This applies to series books (or things written by Stephen King) but sometimes you can see the will to keep writing drain out of the author.  Like they started strong with a premise they wanted to explore and lost steam.  The book wanders aimless.  This relates to pacing, but is its own category.  I’ve read books where the pacing works but it feels like the author didn’t care.  They wrote the simplest version of the story, but not a version of the story they loved.

8. Fantasy or science fiction genre.  I read other genres but a straight mystery, historical fiction, or other sub genre without the weird elements that exist in fantasy and scifi is a harder sell.  When I read off genre, it takes more to hold and keep my attention.

9. A plot.  It’s low on my list because I love character studies, but I think it’s easier to study character when they are doing something.  Now I don’t need epic sweeping drama.  It could be a trip to the store, but I want to know what the goal is and I want it to be clean why that’s meaningful to the characters in the story.


  1. Awesome article! I would add "gore galore" to the list, but I know that's not for everybody :)

  2. One more time trying to write a comment. I'm just realizing now how difficult blogger makes holding conversation, or at least the default settings I allowed makes things.

    But yes! Personally I could take or leave gore in a story. Sometimes it feels right and sometimes I'm just as happy it isn't present. You should make your own list of elements you enjoy in a story Lionel!