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Hunter Grayson flits from job to job, relationship to relationship, continent to continent until thetragic death of her parents brings her back to her childhood home.While trying to figure out how to move forward, she meets wild, fun Natalya Haven, who quickly becomes the sister she never had. But when Natalya moves in, their friendship unravels.
A second tragedy sends Hunter to a small town in New Mexico, a town out of her own past. For Hunter, that's more than a coincidence, that's fate. Natalya's family will fill the void in her life. Natalya's parents will become her parents. She and Natalya's brother will fall in love. But nothing is ever that simple....

Author Topic: What is a "Good" Book?  (Read 6570 times)  

Online Dan C. Rinnert

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What is a "Good" Book?
« on: June 17, 2017, 12:00:25 AM »
The oft-touted piece of advice for selling lots of books is to "write a good book" but that advice can be so subjective and rather vague as to be almost useless.

For what is a "good" book?

Sometimes the answer is that it's not necessarily a well-written book but one that tells a "good story" which is another bit of advice that can trap us in the same near meaningless loop once more since that too can be subjective and vague.

What is a "good" story?

It's often suggested to read the topselling books in your genre to get an idea of reader expectations.  I sometimes find this counterproductive.  There are some books that rank highly, maintain that rank (or close to it) over time, and have decent numbers of positive reviews that I have purchased in order to study them and better understand reader expectations only to come to the conclusion that readers must expect to find mediocre writing, to notice an apparent lack of a hook to pull the reader into the story and to be bored out of their freaking minds before reaching chapter two.

Yet those books sell and continue to sell in spite of the fact that they are so, so boring or even just plain awful.

So I am left to wonder if it's just me.  Are those books not bad?  Am I too easily bored?  Have I become too picky to read modern books?

To me, a good book should draw you into the story.  You can see it playing out in your head as you read along.  Each page compels you to turn to the next.  Each chapter becomes the second to last chapter you want to read before putting the book down.  Eat?  Just one more chapter first!  Drink?  You can refill your glass later.  Mother Nature's calling?  Well, there is that empty glass . . .  The bottom line is that you cannot put the book down.

That's a good book.  That's the kind of book you want to emulate.

There is often debate over show vs. tell but I wonder if the real debate should be over push vs. pull.  Perhaps we need to ask of each paragraph we write if it is compelling the reader to keep going or giving them an out to put the book down.  It's not whether you are showing or telling but whether each line of your story is pulling the reader in or pushing them away.

What do you think makes for a "good" book?  What specific advice would you give to a first time writer who wants to write a "good" book?  Is it too subjective to define or are there specific and universal elements that make up a "good" book?  How can you pull the reader in rather than push them away?
« Last Edit: June 17, 2017, 12:26:31 AM by Dan C. Rinnert »
       
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Online Nic

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2017, 12:30:48 AM »
I'll start with that my lavatory looks a bit like this:



I agree with most of your statements, though I'll add that in my opinion a "good book" can never be less than well-written to make the cut. A book which sells on the story, rather than its entirety, has a good idea and a good story behind it, but isn't a "good book". I think the problem starts with the assumption that books which sell more than others are necessarily "good books". That's like saying Big Macs are excellent food.

Offline C. Gold

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2017, 12:36:35 AM »
I'd definitely watch the youtube videos of Brandon Sanderson's college lectures on writing if you need it broken down into something more concrete. He goes over everything you'd need and is a great, free resource.

I can say that most tell passages are boring because they tend to read like someone's diary and they don't let you get into the head of the character where you can see the emotions churning. Today I went into the woods to visit my mother's grave vs I slushed through the wet, fallen leaves and wrapped my sweater tighter when the stone monument came into view. "Mom, why did you leave me?"

I'm in the middle of a book right now that started off great but hit what Jim Butcher calls the Great Swampy Middle where stories tend to sag a bit. In this case the author set themselves up for a little failure by having a person who needs to train up their kill the evil goddess abilities but without any real problems except boy doing these pushups is hard. If there is no conflict of any type, the story feels boring.

There are also various levels of good for me ranging from I can put this down but I like the journey to Food? What's that? Different readers want different things from their story. It sounds like you want a lot of description in your story. However, I felt Robert Jordan went too far in that direction. I mean boy, I could build that first set based on the level of detail he provided, but most of the time I'd rather get on with the plot.

I just chain watched two seasons of The Expanse because I literally had to know what happened next as things just went from bad to worse. (One of the episodes is up for a Hugo award which is how I got suckered in.) I haven't read the books they are based on, but I can imagine those would be like crack too. Do I expect that level of addiction in all my books? No. I'd be a hot mess if I did! Imagine - no shower, no food, barely any sleep. Yep... crazy train here I come!

Sometimes it's nice to curl up with a predictable romance because the journey is fun. I can put it down, but I want to see how the author gets the characters from a very set A to a very set B. To me that's a good book too but it's not the same level of intensity and it may not be a good book for others who want uncertainty.

So to me the basic good book requires decent grammar (I can survive a few mistakes), somewhat complex characters who experience growth of some kind throughout the story, an interesting conflict, and a satisfying resolution.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2017, 12:50:44 AM »
The bestselling books in your genre are more of a guide to good marketing than good writing, otherwise all those marketing threads on kboards are telling porkie pies. For a book to pull someone on to Chapter 2 a good story is not enough. It needs to be well-written so as to not put many readers off. It should also avoid Chapter 1 being some scene from childhood or a long ago romance because the author once read on the internet to avoid flashbacks. If the main character is confronting a foreign culture don't make them racist: most readers will not wait until chapter 16 to discover if the character has an epiphany and realises that racisim is a bad idea. The dialogue must be good: if a reader cringes at the dialogue in Chapter 1 they are not going to stick around. The marketers hunt after the voracious reader, but be warned we are also voracious abandoners of books before the end of Chapter 1.  There are plenty of better written books out there and most of them have free previews of their Chapter 1.
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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2017, 01:22:37 AM »
Definition of a good book. One that you read in one sitting right to the end and then get upset because there isn't a sequel.


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Offline Dolphin

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2017, 01:27:13 AM »
Let me begin by saying that I can relate to your plight, Dan. Most books I start are DNFs. It is very rare for me to find a book that really grips me, but the truth is that I'm weird. Most readers, and the most prolific readers, aren't like me. Their tastes aren't like mine. It's for that reason that I often think you can learn just as much or more about a book by going through reviews. It's certainly quicker than sitting down and trying to work the puzzle yourself. The puzzle probably wasn't even designed for you.

What do you think makes for a "good" book?  What specific advice would you give to a first time writer who wants to write a "good" book?  Is it too subjective to define or are there specific and universal elements that make up a "good" book?  How can you pull the reader in rather than push them away?

We're so good at reading past typos and hamfisted sentence-level craft that I wouldn't dwell on that.

Style and voice are important, but they're also deeply personal and subjective. If style and voice can be taught, I think it's only through a long, iterative process of mentorship, drawing it out of the writer over time. Let's not dwell on that either.

I think marketing is crucial. You've got to nail the blurb, title, and cover if you want this to work out, and like Mercia said, that's really where you have to look to the successes in your subgenre. I don't think that's quite what you're asking, though.

Where I would tell people to focus is on the structure of the story. What are your genres? Why do people read those genres? What experiences are they expecting you to deliver? Does your story have a beginning, middle, and end? Are each of those parts accomplishing what needs to be done? At every level of your story, are you introducing complications; prompting decisions; turning from good to bad, bad to good, bad to worse, or good to better? Are you pacing your story properly? Are you maintaining narrative momentum by hooking the reader instead of making things plain? Are you revealing character through plot? Is your story so innovative that you're sometimes able to surprise even the genre grognards who've seen everything at least twice before?

These are the things that are more susceptible to quantification and analysis. You can lay out every unit of your story on a spreadsheet and tick a box to say yes, this works, or no, this needs work. These are skills you can learn. It takes effort, and a kind of blue collar work ethic, but everybody can improve in these areas.

Of course, some people have more of a feel for this than others. Some people happen upon stories that work without any particular effort. Some people are successful even with stories that don't work at these levels. Some people write literary fiction that consciously averts or subverts conventions like these. I don't think any of those are valid reasons to shun this crucial area of craft if you're new, or if you're unsatisfied with your writing/sales.

Essentially what you need to do is learn how stories work, and how stories within your genres work. Then you have to nail the structure. Do that, and I think you've got most of the low-hanging fruit that goes into a "good" book.

Offline Captain Cranky

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2017, 01:38:51 AM »
I would agree that a good book is probably one that makes you feel something, that pulls you along and draws you into that world so that you don't want to put it down. But what pulls people along can be so subjective and difficult to quantify. I agree with Dolphin's post that there are certain things to do with structure etc that can be analysed, and it's a damn good place to start.

For me personally, as someone who reads and writes in the urban fantasy genre, I'm finding that a lot of the protagonists are the same snarky, trench-coat wearing cardboard cutouts of each other and frankly, I'm bored out of my brain. There doesn't seem to be a lot that separates these characters, and I'm abandoning these books part way through because though the story may contain certain elements I usually enjoy, I never really feel myself rooting for the main character. They have no depth.

So while I would say that a certain level of well-written prose and a good plot are definitely important factors for me, a protagonist that I can get to know on a deeper level is paramount. Otherwise I just won't continue the series.

Edited to fix my atrocious spelling  ::)
« Last Edit: June 17, 2017, 01:42:50 AM by Captain Cranky »
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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2017, 02:21:18 AM »
For me personally, as someone who reads and writes in the urban fantasy genre, I'm finding that a lot of the protagonists are the same snarky, trench-coat wearing cardboard cutouts of each other and frankly, I'm bored out of my brain. There doesn't seem to be a lot that separates these characters, and I'm abandoning these books part way through because though the story may contain certain elements I usually enjoy, I never really feel myself rooting for the main character. They have no depth.

Right, I think that's an area where you need to look at genre conventions and figure out where you can innovate them. Always gotta ask which conventions are genuine requirements for the reader, and which are just hackneyed, copycat tropes.

Anything that's surface-level and not related to the actions of a character is something you should examine with suspicion. Character is revealed through action much more than sartorial decisions. Something like that is almost certain to be superfluous to the genre, and a good opportunity to distinguish your protagonist.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2017, 02:42:47 AM »
A 'good book' is any book that you enjoy reading  :).

Many readers don't know about plot development, characterisation, hooks,or telling v showing etc, but they can recognise a 'good yarn', as my late mother used to say.

It's been my experience that bestsellers do not get to be bestsellers because of the writing (we all know of good books that haven't become bestsellers) but because of the marketing. I've been to many book launches by famous writers and it's the build-up and hype (and often the personality of the writer) that sells the book.

I've also seen reviews where the reviewer said they had to finish the book to see what happened in the end, but then gave it a poor rating. If the reader was hooked enough to want to read to the end, then surely the book couldn't have been that bad  ::).
« Last Edit: June 17, 2017, 02:45:39 AM by Jan Hurst-Nicholson »

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Offline firstdraft

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2017, 03:02:40 AM »
A good book:

1) reads well,
2) has something about it that's fresh or that has never been done before,
3) isn't confusing,
4) has interesting and relatable characters, and
5) has a decent story that has elements relevant to current day issues, events or trends.

You just have to tick those five points and you're all good, not hard ;).






Offline Captain Cranky

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2017, 04:00:44 AM »
Right, I think that's an area where you need to look at genre conventions and figure out where you can innovate them. Always gotta ask which conventions are genuine requirements for the reader, and which are just hackneyed, copycat tropes.

Yep, spot on. And it's not always simple for a novice like myself to figure out the difference, I can see how it can be all too easy for writers really wanting to make an income to see those things as necessary tropes for selling in the genre. I know for myself, I'm often tussling over what comes to me naturally when writing, and whether it will actually sell in my chosen genre.

You've really got me thinking though about my own current protagonist, and what it is that really hooks me when I find a good UF book, or any book for that matter. What makes a good book for me, is that I need to feel that the character is actually out there somewhere, living their life, dealing with life's struggles and victories (regardless of how fantastical those might be) and growing as a person/being. When the author can make me almost believe that, it's a good book. As an author how do you actually achieve that? F*$#ed if I know, I'm still trying to figure that one out for myself  ::)
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Offline BellaJames

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2017, 04:33:11 AM »
A 'good book' is any book that you enjoy reading  :).

Many readers don't know about plot development, characterisation, hooks,or telling v showing etc, but they can recognise a 'good yarn', as my late mother used to say.

It's been my experience that bestsellers do not get to be bestsellers because of the writing (we all know of good books that haven't become bestsellers) but because of the marketing. I've been to many book launches by famous writers and it's the build-up and hype (and often the personality of the writer) that sells the book.

I agree with all this.

A good book is a book which a reader enjoys so much that they read it through as quick as they can (because they cannot put it down) and then want to read it again and/or tell their friends about it. Some readers feel moved to write a review to tell the whole world how much they enjoyed the book.

If a ton of other readers feel the same way, then that book will usually sell quite well and have some buzz about it.

A good book does not have to be a big bestseller too. There are many bestsellers which I DNF. I have not finished quite a few huge bestselling romance books.  I think 'how did this become a top 100 bestseller?'

Each reader out there wants to get something slightly different out of a novel. You could question a bunch of readers who love contemporary romance or cozy mystery and you'd get many different reasons why they loved a particular book. However, you will also see that many people point out the same things that make that book a good read, that's how you end up with a reviewer getting 100 comments and likes on Goodreads or Amazon.

You see it in reading groups or on blogs where all these readers are agreeing with each other about why the book was so enjoyable. You see the same thing with movies.

I always look at the entertainment industry as a whole. Why do so many people think this blockbuster movie was so good or that indie movie was so good. The first thing a book or movie has to do is hold your attention. It has to be entertaining and readable/watchable. If it can move you emotionally even better. If it can open your eyes to something new, great.

If I am feeling down, I might want to read a light hearted sweet inspirational romance or a rom com. If that book satisfies me emotionally and makes me laugh or feel a little more reassured that life is not all that bad. If that book is edited to a decent standard (it does not have to be a perfect edit) and it has entertained me, then that book is a good book in my eyes.


« Last Edit: June 17, 2017, 04:40:37 AM by BellaJames »

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2017, 05:26:30 AM »
Following this thread I'm perplexed at the over complication and attempts to analyse the subject.

I've said and a few others have said that a good book is one you can't put down until the end. So, you think you will be able to break that down until you have the component parts, then write a bestseller? 'You're havin a larf, mate' as they say in the East end of London when you ask for 'Quiche Lorraine' in a transport Cafe. :D

JUST. TELL. A. GOOD. STORY. (and hope for the best). :D


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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2017, 05:29:54 AM »
You've really got me thinking though about my own current protagonist, and what it is that really hooks me when I find a good UF book, or any book for that matter. What makes a good book for me, is that I need to feel that the character is actually out there somewhere, living their life, dealing with life's struggles and victories (regardless of how fantastical those might be) and growing as a person/being. When the author can make me almost believe that, it's a good book. As an author how do you actually achieve that? F*$#ed if I know, I'm still trying to figure that one out for myself  ::)

Structure can handle the struggles, victories, and growth part. What you're looking for is stories where the character is challenged to make choices. Through those choices they demonstrate character, and through the consequences of those choices, they come to change. That kind of thing takes care of itself if you're structuring each part of your story to push the protagonist forward through the plot (and pulling the reader close behind!).

The verisimilitude part can be trickier.

First, I'd emphasize the importance of specificity. What I mean by that is including the specific details and touches that clue the reader into the world. Mark Dawson set his most recent Milton novel in New York City. That meant visiting for research, poring over Google Maps, and generally doing his homework so that he could get all of those details right from his lair in Wiltshire. No big deal, right? What're the odds that he has a reader or two in NYC?

Details like that help the readers to lose themselves in the characters. It gives their lives a believable texture. That gets lost if the author tries to fob off another duster-clad stereotype to whom you can't relate. Readers see through that kind of faux specificity easily--especially the genre-savvy power readers and subject matter experts.

Domino Finn's Black Magic Outlaw series is a good example of using specificity to flesh out a different kind of UF protagonist. A tradpub epic fantasy example that springs to mind is Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series. Her Iberian-inspired setting is...frustratingly deft.

Second, trust your readers. This part is gonna seem contradictory, so stick with me.

Readers know a lot about humans, since they're mostly humans themselves. They can infer a lot of things. They can read between the lines. They can pluck out subtext, and they can tell when a character isn't being entirely forthright. You gotta trust them to do those things.

If you don't, and you belabor everything, and you have everybody speaking their minds at all times, it's not going to ring true. You're going to give us enough details that sooner or later, we're gonna call [bullcrap]. Sooner or later, you're going to have your protagonist click off the safety on her Glock. Your dialogue is going to come out stilted. Your attempts to hide exposition in dialogue will be so transparent as to be wasted entirely.

Trust your readers. Trust that they'll puzzle out why your characters are holding things back from each other, or outright lying. Trust that even if they can't, they'll sense the deception and be drawn even deeper into the story. Holding things back gives them a mystery to savor.

The rub with trust and specificity is that the details you do provide should be chosen carefully. When you call those shots and make them count, you're able to ply the reader with enough context to suspend disbelief, and enough curiosity to keep turning the pages.

I think that developing this sense of trust is one of the most difficult things for new writers. Your readers are never going to come to you and say, "Hey man, I wish you'd stop giving me so many details." No. They're going to say things like, "Dialog sux," or, "I just never felt anything for the characters." They can sense when it's happening, they can feel when it's wrong, but they'll never articulate it. That disconnect between what we feel when we read and what we can articulate about it is the difference between a reader and an editor.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2017, 05:37:35 AM »
To me, a good book is one that isn't rubbish, which dismisses most genre fiction. I like Daniel Silva and Lee Child, but that's about the end of it.

It's not that I'm a snob, or not entirely. There are highly touted writers -- Joseph McElroy, David Foster Wallace -- who I just can't read, or anyhow not read through to the end. Indeed, that's true of most literary fiction. I grew up on Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald, and I just can't view these Iowa Writing School novels as anything real. The last really impressive novel I've read was Valery Grossman, Life and Fate.

I'm amused that most of the responses here assume we're talking about fiction. Most of what I read now is non-fiction.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #15 on: June 17, 2017, 05:46:05 AM »
To me, a good book is one that isn't rubbish, which dismisses most genre fiction. I like Daniel Silva and Lee Child, but that's about the end of it.

It's not that I'm a snob, or not entirely. There are highly touted writers -- Joseph McElroy, David Foster Wallace -- who I just can't read, or anyhow not read through to the end. Indeed, that's true of most literary fiction. I grew up on Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald, and I just can't view these Iowa Writing School novels as anything real. The last really impressive novel I've read was Valery Grossman, Life and Fate.

It doesn't concern me if you're a snob or not, but broadening your blacklist is entirely counterproductive as a defense.

I'm amused that most of the responses here assume we're talking about fiction. Most of what I read now is non-fiction.

Most authors here write fiction. That said, I think most of the thread applies to nonfiction thus far. The rules of storytelling apply equally whether your stories are truths or lies.

Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #16 on: June 17, 2017, 05:46:34 AM »
The oft-touted piece of advice for selling lots of books is to "write a good book" but that advice can be so subjective and rather vague as to be almost useless.

For what is a "good" book?

Sometimes the answer is that it's not necessarily a well-written book but one that tells a "good story" which is another bit of advice that can trap us in the same near meaningless loop once more since that too can be subjective and vague.

What is a "good" story?

It's often suggested to read the topselling books in your genre to get an idea of reader expectations.  I sometimes find this counterproductive.  There are some books that rank highly, maintain that rank (or close to it) over time, and have decent numbers of positive reviews that I have purchased in order to study them and better understand reader expectations only to come to the conclusion that readers must expect to find mediocre writing, to notice an apparent lack of a hook to pull the reader into the story and to be bored out of their freaking minds before reaching chapter two.

Yet those books sell and continue to sell in spite of the fact that they are so, so boring or even just plain awful.

So I am left to wonder if it's just me.  Are those books not bad?  Am I too easily bored?  Have I become too picky to read modern books?

To me, a good book should draw you into the story.  You can see it playing out in your head as you read along.  Each page compels you to turn to the next.  Each chapter becomes the second to last chapter you want to read before putting the book down.  Eat?  Just one more chapter first!  Drink?  You can refill your glass later.  Mother Nature's calling?  Well, there is that empty glass . . .  The bottom line is that you cannot put the book down.

That's a good book.  That's the kind of book you want to emulate.

There is often debate over show vs. tell but I wonder if the real debate should be over push vs. pull.  Perhaps we need to ask of each paragraph we write if it is compelling the reader to keep going or giving them an out to put the book down.  It's not whether you are showing or telling but whether each line of your story is pulling the reader in or pushing them away.

What do you think makes for a "good" book?  What specific advice would you give to a first time writer who wants to write a "good" book?  Is it too subjective to define or are there specific and universal elements that make up a "good" book?  How can you pull the reader in rather than push them away?

Dan,

I think you're describing a great book!  A book that is worthy of a five star review. 

A good book (to me) can be a four star book, but it's enjoyable and makes you want to see what else the author has written. Maybe even read another one of their books.

A great book has you thinking about the story long after you've finished reading it.  Three weeks later you see something that reminds you of the book, whether it's a character, plot twist, phrase, etc.  The story has stayed with you...it's made an impression.

I read books that author/friends have written, but not specifically to find out what's popular in a genre.  I like older books (and movies) so I tend to use those for research.  Or sci-fi.  Even though I don't write it, I do love it! :)


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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #17 on: June 17, 2017, 05:49:59 AM »
A good book is one that I don't want to part with. When I read a good book, I get to the end and am disappointed because there is no more. When I came to the end of my absolute favourite book the first time, I went back to the beginning and started again. I have read it seven times since then; that is a good book.


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Online Mercia McMahon

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #18 on: June 17, 2017, 05:52:20 AM »
That said, I think most of the thread applies to nonfiction thus far. The rules of storytelling apply equally whether your stories are truths or lies.

You couldn't be more wrong. Many non-fiction readers only want to read a chapter or two or want to read the whole book but read the chapters in a different order. It has nothing to do with story telling and pulling the read on to continue into the next chapter.
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Offline Dolphin

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #19 on: June 17, 2017, 05:57:39 AM »
You couldn't be more wrong. Many non-fiction readers only want to read a chapter or two or want to read the whole book but read the chapters in a different order. It has nothing to do with story telling and pulling the read on to continue into the next chapter.

Tell that to Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin.

This isn't controversial. I mean for Pete's sake, we live in a world where copywriters get together at conferences and talk about how they can write better email subject lines by studying soap opera narratives. Storytelling is always an option, and very often the best one.

Online Jena H

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #20 on: June 17, 2017, 06:04:17 AM »
As has been said by others, a "good book" is a book I enjoy reading.  When I'm not reading it, maybe I wonder what might happen next, or what the characters would do in XYZ situation.  I don't read it all in one sitting, as I like to draw out and savor things I enjoy.  But I'm interested in and thinking about what's going to happen and what the characters will do.

Maybe being a writer has 'spoiled' reading for me, but I dislike any book that takes me out of the story and makes me aware that I'm reading someone's work of fiction.  So to me a 'good book' is one that seems very natural and reasonable, even if it's scifi or paranormal. It's well written and flows smoothly.  Bottom line: if I become aware that I'm reading a book (rather than being immersed in a story) then it's not a good book. 
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Offline Captain Cranky

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #21 on: June 17, 2017, 06:14:12 AM »
Structure can handle the struggles, victories, and growth part. What you're looking for is stories where the character is challenged to make choices. Through those choices they demonstrate character, and through the consequences of those choices, they come to change. That kind of thing takes care of itself if you're structuring each part of your story to push the protagonist forward through the plot (and pulling the reader close behind!).

The verisimilitude part can be trickier.

First, I'd emphasize the importance of specificity. What I mean by that is including the specific details and touches that clue the reader into the world. Mark Dawson set his most recent Milton novel in New York City. That meant visiting for research, poring over Google Maps, and generally doing his homework so that he could get all of those details right from his lair in Wiltshire. No big deal, right? What're the odds that he has a reader or two in NYC?

Details like that help the readers to lose themselves in the characters. It gives their lives a believable texture. That gets lost if the author tries to fob off another duster-clad stereotype to whom you can't relate. Readers see through that kind of faux specificity easily--especially the genre-savvy power readers and subject matter experts.

Domino Finn's Black Magic Outlaw series is a good example of using specificity to flesh out a different kind of UF protagonist. A tradpub epic fantasy example that springs to mind is Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series. Her Iberian-inspired setting is...frustratingly deft.

Second, trust your readers. This part is gonna seem contradictory, so stick with me.

Readers know a lot about humans, since they're mostly humans themselves. They can infer a lot of things. They can read between the lines. They can pluck out subtext, and they can tell when a character isn't being entirely forthright. You gotta trust them to do those things.

If you don't, and you belabor everything, and you have everybody speaking their minds at all times, it's not going to ring true. You're going to give us enough details that sooner or later, we're gonna call [bullcrap]. Sooner or later, you're going to have your protagonist click off the safety on her Glock. Your dialogue is going to come out stilted. Your attempts to hide exposition in dialogue will be so transparent as to be wasted entirely.

Trust your readers. Trust that they'll puzzle out why your characters are holding things back from each other, or outright lying. Trust that even if they can't, they'll sense the deception and be drawn even deeper into the story. Holding things back gives them a mystery to savor.

The rub with trust and specificity is that the details you do provide should be chosen carefully. When you call those shots and make them count, you're able to ply the reader with enough context to suspend disbelief, and enough curiosity to keep turning the pages.

I think that developing this sense of trust is one of the most difficult things for new writers. Your readers are never going to come to you and say, "Hey man, I wish you'd stop giving me so many details." No. They're going to say things like, "Dialog sux," or, "I just never felt anything for the characters." They can sense when it's happening, they can feel when it's wrong, but they'll never articulate it. That disconnect between what we feel when we read and what we can articulate about it is the difference between a reader and an editor.

I agree with a lot of what you've said here, and you've given me plenty to think about. Thanks so much for the thorough and thoughtful reply.  :) And for the word verisimilitude, I'll try and work that one into a conversation tomorrow  :P
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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #22 on: June 17, 2017, 06:15:11 AM »
I read a lot of nonfiction, too, and I occasionally write nonfiction. For that, I absolutely want every sentence to be the truth, not mere opinion, and certainly not puffery. Both of those are common in diet and personal finance books. For science books, I want elegant and clear writing, but I'll settle for pedestrian and clear. Don't mangle the English language so badly the reader can't tell if the scientific statement applies to all instances or to just one, for instance.

My standards for fiction, especially literary fiction, are different. Do not ever drag me again through your 1950s childhood. Literary fiction is consumed with that, and it's usually boring and annoying. I fell asleep reading Hemingway years ago and I haven't changed my mind since. Fitzgerald's dreams were so doomed I abandoned them and moved on. As for pop literary fiction of today, I'm not interested in yet another young woman who depends on the kindness of strangers to become a new family for her because she's without anything herself. Those stories are lies.

I prefer the outright lies of genre fiction, in which the heroine does turn from ugly duckling to swan, and the hero from a beast to a well-behaved and loving spouse. Or the heroes save the universe, or whatever. Hamfisted language works for me, as long as the characters and situation are set up to create the basic conflict and resolution I'm looking for. A good book is a story that delivers what I'm looking for in the mood I'm in--or better yet, changes my mood to one of exaltation. That rarely happens for me anymore, which is why I read so little now after a lifetime of gobbling up books as fast as possible.

This is a good, serious discussion, and it may help some authors, but readers don't usually approach books seriously. They want what they want, or they want to know what everybody else is talking about, which is why lots of bestsellers are born and then are set aside half-read. There are so few stylists in genre who are capable of lifting me beyond mere plot that I can't even name ten I've encountered in decades of reading. Sometimes, authors are masters of a setting. Others use beautiful language. Still others manage to delve deep into emotions or philosophy while seemingly writing a simple mystery plot. But these are the true outliers. Almost everything else is pedestrian or worse, with a few instances of being just one step above. I include my own writing. But we keep trying, both to deliver on the implied and obvious promises of our books, and with the best writing we can muster.

Offline C. Gold

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #23 on: June 17, 2017, 06:15:27 AM »
Tell that to Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin.

This isn't controversial. I mean for Pete's sake, we live in a world where copywriters get together at conferences and talk about how they can write better email subject lines by studying soap opera narratives. Storytelling is always an option, and very often the best one.

Well said. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but if the writing is anything like my history books in school, chances are I won't be reading your non-fiction book especially if there's a more entertaining version available. Take for example, Windows 10 for Dummies. This book could have contained very dry text on how to do x when y happens. Instead it takes a humorous approach that can ease frustrated readers and turns the author into a best friend. It also makes for an enjoyable read even when reading that one chapter that has the info you seek. Good information presented in a well organized manner done with a humorous touch - good non-fiction book in my eyes.

Offline This_Way_Down

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #24 on: June 17, 2017, 06:22:30 AM »
I refer you to Justice Potter Stewart: "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it."