what-elements-make-a-good-book

What Elements Make a Good Book?

What makes a good book? Everyone has his own take. Some readers like action, some prefer romance. Some like a little of both. The one thing all readers share is their strong opinions about what elements make a good book. As authors, these are opinions we can’t afford to ignore. This week, I conducted another fun (if highly unscientific) survey, via Twitter and Facebook, to discover what Wordplayers had to say on the subject. As always, your thoughts were deep, funny, pithy, and challenging. Let’s take a look at a few!

What elements must be present in a “good book”?

Theme

The book should mean something, or at least make you think about something in a new way.—@jontouchstone

Characters

Strong characters. I loathe reading cardboard characters.—@MaryAdkins

Good characters we care about. They can make the most tired or ridiculous plot seem fresh and absorbing.—@brokenvoice

Well-developed characters that I actually care about, not just flat names.—Christopher Michael Thompson

Takeaway Value

Besides the usual, a good story should [have] a nuerobic element; something to challenge the mind.—@Brahms41

Truth about human nature.—@stevepoling

A relevant message that speaks to the reader.—Sarah Holman

Satisfying Ending

A happy ending.—Sage Dahlby

@Sage: No, no, no, no, no, no!—Austin H. Williams

A happy ending isn’t as important as a satisfying ending. You can make me cry, but make me glad I read to The End.—Lorna G. Poston

Good Mechanics

Words—MillardthemkJones

“Good book” is so entirely relative. But I think when it gets right down to it a good book must have meaning behind the action, and action behind the characters. The world must work with the characters and story and vice versa, and the more intense this bond the better. I myself strongly prefer good timing, subtlety, and interwoven foreshadowing, though these aren’t strictly necessary.—Holly Heisey

“The most interesting story is always the story of the writer’s style,” said Nabokov.—@RayAHarvey

Unpredictability

A story that is not predictable.—April ElshaHawk Schoffstall

In Summation…

A good book slowly grabs you by the soul without your knowledge. By the time you’re in tears and laughing at the top of your lungs at the same time it’s too late. You’re hooked.—Tom Williams

Tell me your opinion: What do you think are the must-have elements of a good book?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. For me, the tone and mood of the story are the clearest indicators of whether or not I will like it. I think this is true for many people, although these are aspects of fiction most people seldom think of consciously. I did a couple posts on this subject not long ago. Links are below if you care to look at them.

    http://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/beyond-genre-tone-and-mood/
    http://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/beyond-genre-novels-and-emotional-needs/

  2. The thing is, there are so many things that go into making a good book good that it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. I would say layers and depth in all elements (characters, plot, etc.) and that the book reveals (or at least raises questions about) a deep truth of human nature/life. These stories stick with you longer.

    I agree that an ending doesn’t have to be happy, but must be satisfying. In the best stories, the protagonist will have an element of loss as well as triumph.

  3. Characters first, because if I don’t care about the characters I’m probably not going to like the book much and I may put it down. A decent story is second and better if I’m surprised in some way (this is always a treat), and third is a good ending which does not necessarily have to be happy but should be satisfying. One way to do this is make sure the characters change or evolve in some way.

    anyway, that’s my short answer :)

  4. @dlmoreese: Thanks for linking the posts! I’ll check them out.

    @Beth: I’ll definitely concur on the element of loss as well as triumph. Endings with a tinge of the bittersweet are the ones that grab me by the throat and refuse to let go.

    @Mshatch: Character and plot are so integrally related that it’s hard to separate them. But character always goes at the top of my list. Give me a character to love, and I’ll forget any host of problems.

  5. I think that characters are must-have elements. Without characters that I love (or hate!), the book can have the best story in the world, but I wouldn’t want to finish it. If I don’t care about the characters, how can I care about what happens to them?

  6. Totally agree. A book can have a terrible plot, but I’ll keep reading if I love the characters. That’s not necessarily going to be true if the plot is great but the characters don’t connect with me.

  7. A good book has a good balance of plot, characters, setting and theme. A good book is, honestly, nothing special or rare.

    A GREAT book however, is one that adds something to the world that makes it a better place, that has meaningful and constructive things to say about the world or the human condition.

  8. Great books are even harder to define, I think, just because greatness is a very personal element, vaguely different for each of us.

  9. The character is the most important to me. You can change the plot, the setting.. even the dialogue, but the character will stay the same, react the same way.. and get into the same trouble (or very similar troubles).

  10. We can’t overemphasize the importance of character – although it’s important that, in so doing, we don’t under-emphasize other important aspects too.

  11. I especially love Sarah Holman’s take. :)

  12. Me too. Theme is the heart of every story. The most powerful stories are inevitably those that are driven by powerful themes.

  13. The stories I love most are the ones where you have to really read between the lines. Great characters pushing a compelling plot and at the same time speaking symbolically about different aspects of the human condition or a controversial and thought-provoking topic. If you want to tell me a story about a heroic knight rescuing a damsel in distress give me a fresh spin on it. Give it real life parallels that make me see it in a new light. Take me out of my comfort zone and still keep me engaged! I always end up rambling on these blogs lol. Fun topic!

  14. Subtlety and depth, paired, are an unstoppable duo. When we open up the opportunity for interpretation (especially if we can do it without becoming too vague or obscure), we give the reader an opportunity to participate in the storytelling. If he’s participating, he’s hooked.

  15. I THINK A GOOD BOOK MUST HAVE ALL ELEMENTS THAT ARE IMPORTANT SUCH AS GOOD CHARACTERS ,INTRESTING THEMES AND PROBABLY A SATISFIED ENDING;P

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      I agree. Good endings, in particular, are important. The beginning hooks our readers into the book; the ending hooks them into all our other books.

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