What Makes a Good Book?

What elements make a good book? We all have our own take. Some readers like action, some prefer romance—a little of both. The one thing all readers share is their strong opinions.

This week, I conducted a (highly unscientific) survey, via Twitter and Facebook, to discover what you all had to say on the subject. As always, your thoughts were deep, funny, pithy, and challenging.

For Your Consideration: 6 Elements of a Good Book

So what elements make a good book?

1. Theme

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

>>Click here to read more about Theme.

2. 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

>>Click here to read more about Characters.

3. 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

>>Click here to read more Takeaway Value

4. 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

>>Click here to read more about Endings.

5. Good Mechanics


“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

>>Click here to read more about Good Mechanics.

6. Unpredictability

A story that is not predictable.–April ElshaHawk Schoffstall

>>Click here to read more about Unpredictability.

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

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What do you think are the must-have elements of a good book? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  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.


  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.


    • 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.

  16. For me, the good book is something that takes me out of my own skin and experience things I couldn’t have in my own life.

  17. Great books are harder to define, I believe, simply because greatness is an extremely personal element, vaguely different for everyone.

  18. The stories I cherish most are where you need to truly read between the lines. Extraordinary characters pushing a convincing plot and in the meantime talking emblematically about various parts of the human condition or a disputable and interesting point.

  19. I don’t want people to read my books…I want them to experience them.


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