Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What makes a book good?

I think this is a tougher question than meets the eye. We can talk a lot about stellar writing and larger than life characters and interesting plot. But sometimes it's hard to express in words what makes a story work.

This has been on my mind a lot because I just finished reading a vampire book that I'm not going to name because I'm not going to speak in a very complimentary way about it. The only vampire book experience I'd previously had was the Twilight saga.

Here's the thing - I love Twilight. It's the only series I've taken time to reread. When I'm reading them, I become completely obsessed, can't put them down, and can hardly think about anything else. And even though it's been months since I touched them, I still find my mind wandering to my favorite scenes.

But I don't know why. It's not that it's a genre I generally like, because I don't. It isn't that Edward Cullen is "the perfect man," like I hear some girls talk about. It isn't that the writing sparkles. I honestly have no idea what it is. But Stephenie Meyer has really hit on something with those books.

I picked up this other vampire book mostly because I have a connection to the author. Plus it hit the NY Times Bestseller list before it even released. I figured there had to be something to that.

The book was better written than the Twilight series. It had big twists, an intriguing plot, and interesting characters.

And yet, I was left with the feeling of, "This isn't that great." I didn't particularly care about having time to read it, or what happened to the main character, of if The Couple wound up together. It was good enough that I wanted to finish reading it, but I was already trying to figure out what I wanted to read next. Not a good sign.

What do you think makes a book good? What is it about the books you reread over and over that makes you want to do that?


  1. For me it often comes down to two elusive things--characterization and voice. In the Twilight books, those two were combined to such awesome effect. I mean, Bella is an amazing narrator. We are SO in her head through the whole thing--then when we get Jake too?? Sweet!

    But sometimes, even when a character is perfectly fleshed out according to all the charts and stuff we authors get to fill out, they have no compelling voice that pulls me into their heads. But when they do--the plot is just a support system, the writing just a conveyance. Those can have their weak spots and I'll still love the book if I love the characters.

  2. Not to turn this into a Twilight discussion, but I actually kinda felt like it was cheating when we were in Jake's head. You know I love Jacob, and I enjoyed his sections (especially his chapter headings) but I kept thinking, "The whole series has been in Bella's head ... is this the best way for this to be handled?"

  3. True. . . but given that Bella was out of it for a good portion of Jacob's POV, it made sense. And, well, they were just fun. =) So I fall down on the "in favor of" side of that debate. I'm not sure how we ever would have gotten the understanding of the wolves without it.

  4. I know, I know. That's what I always come back to as well. But I still find myself thinking, "Was there no other way...?"

  5. Well, I'm also accustomed to multiple POVs. That may be part of the reason I loved the addition of his. Not that this has turned into a Twilight discussion. Noooooo. ;-)

  6. It's my fault for not responding to your response to the actual question. I accept full responsibility :)

    Character voice is a biggie, I think.

    I've been sitting here thinking about The Da Vinci Code, which I wasn't a fan of, but so many people were. Then it occurred to me that the topic is really what makes a book so good you keep rereading it, and I've never heard anyone talk about rereading The Da Vinci Code.