Fiction Friday: What Makes it Good for You?

I just finished reading a novel that took me much longer to read than I anticipated. It was a second book in a series, and while it was in a genre I love, and I devoured the first book, this one hardly held my interest. Many times during this book, I had to force myself to read.

I realize that in our fast-paced society, we expect things to entertain us. I read so much at work that what I read in my spare time must entertain me. Sometimes, though, I have a hard time keeping to my reading. I might not like something about a book, and yet, when I read its reviews, people slather on about it as though it was the best thing ever written.

When I am faced with this, I can’t help but wonder: Is it me? Is this book actually pretty good, but I find it boring?

This led me to come up with my own list of things that I look for when I read a book. I thought I’d share it, in case you had your own things you look for too. These preferences will influence the way I review a book.

Things I look for in a good book:

  1. Genre – I have genres I prefer. While I tend to stay in the YA arena, I like paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dystopian fiction, fantasy, gritty YA, and some ‘chick lit’ type YA. I know these are my preferences, and it influences my book choices. I am also a little tired of some of the usual tropes.
  2. Pacing – the story has to progress in a way that I want to know what’s going on. There are no dragging bits where I ask the dreaded question: “what’s the point?”
  3. Characters – the characters in the book must intrigue me. I have to care about them. Ideally, the main character is someone I can relate to, and the other characters have depth too.
  4. Voice – the narrator’s voice must be entertaining and engaging. This is very personal. Some people prefer third-person narration, layered with detail. Others prefer a first-person narration with lots of humor.
  5. Romance – it may be a personal preference, but there has to be some romantic interest in a book. I enjoy what it tells me about the characters. I don’t need full-out action, but I like there to be some kind of spark between two characters.
  6. Questions – I have to WANT to read the story further to get my questions answered.
  7. Worldbuilding – the world of the story has to interest me in some way. Or, if the world is stark, the characters become the world of the story. But then the author didn’t waste my time with pages of description.
  8. Concise prose – Why say something in ten words when five will do?

I also found there are things I don’t like to read, like needless violence and cruelty to animals. But that’s another post.

What about you? What do you look for in fiction that makes it “good”?

Also, on a practical note, how do you get yourself to finish a book you don’t hate, but simply don’t enjoy? Any suggestions for me?


2 thoughts on “Fiction Friday: What Makes it Good for You?

  1. rlesliesnyder says:

    I really enjoyed your post, Lisa. I was talking to my twelve year old this morning about how much the book world has changed over the last several decades. I grew up reading the usual for a young boy of the time; The Walter Farley books, the Terhune series (Lad A Dog) then discovered the Conan and Gor books.

    Throughout my life (I’m 56) I read, was open to anything. Then two and a half years ago, I stopped. Got halfway through a best seller and decided I wouldn’t make the effort to finish it. Lee Child, Larry McMurtry, James Lee Burke, Patricia Cornwell and others, can only write so many books and I just found it really hard to sort through all of the books available now and stopped trying.

    I did start writing and since have only read a bit. I find, it would be my opinion, that most of the books written today (particularly within a genre) are so predictable that I only make it through a page or two before losing interest. I did read Game of Thrones, Song of Fire and Ice and enjoyed it. But Martin worked on that story for ten years and I don’t believe he was consciously -if at all, following whatever the latest….trend or trends in that genre.

    I’ve picked up books I read decades ago and found I still enjoy them. They don’t seem predictable, they’re not ‘pacey’ and they lack ‘witty and or cutting’ dialog. I think it was Stephen King who said a few years back that people no longer have the patience for a book that eases into the story. And then a book like Cold Mountain comes along and finds an audience.

    What makes fiction good? As you said, a good story with well defined characters that you take an interest in and begin to care about. It’s that simple.

    I find myself watching movies now looking for inspiration. In particular, how a scene is set up. Analyzing how the scene moves the story along, what the scene accomplishes. One movie in particular really touched me so that I’ve watched it several times now. Never Let Me Go. Then read the book by Kuzo Ishiguro. I thought the movie improved upon the story, or the telling of it, but the book was a great read and I got a very good idea from it.

    A great story, remains a great story, regardless of genre. Finding that book, takes some work.

    Best of luck on your upcoming book, Lisa. Look forward to taking a look.

    Last thought:

    Why say something in ten words when five will do??? Most books today are quite busy. I don’t think the effort is made much at all anymore to get the right words, and the right amount of words, no more, no less.

    • lvoisin says:

      Thanks so much for your well-thought-out post! I love this! “What makes fiction good? As you said, a good story with well defined characters that you take an interest in and begin to care about. It’s that simple.” As a fellow writer, you know that a good story with characters that make you care about them is simple, but it isn’t easy at all! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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