Discussion: The Secrets to a Good Book

Hello, friends!

I’ve recently started a new Work in Progress (WIP) and, obviously, I want it to be the best book I’ve written so far. Or the best book ever for that matter. In my dreams, I write it in a couple of months, edit it until I can’t stand to read another word of it, query it, and publish it. It then goes on to become a huge best-seller and I’ll get to quit my job and write full-time.

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Sounds great, right?

There’s only problem: writing “the best book ever” implies that I know what that means. Which then got me to thinking: “What is it that makes a book good? Are there elements or plot points that you have to include to make for a good book? Or is it all subjective?

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject at all, but I’d like to share my opinion with you and open this topic open for discussion.

For me, “good books” are mostly subjective. By mostly, I mean this: everyone has different tastes. Some people like books with fantasy worlds that are described in great detail. Others like space operas or a good sword fight or a steaming romance or … You get the point. Everyone likes different things. What I like and think is amazing, you might hate and vice versa. I think we can all agree on that.

But, to me, that’s just the top layer.

I wanted to dig deeper and find out if universally acclaimed books from any genre or demographic have certain things in common.

Here’s what I came up with…

The secrets to a good book

1. A Main Character You Can Sympathise With

Note that I’m not talking about a likeable character. Why not? Because I don’t think you need one. There are plenty of good books and even some classics with unlikeable characters. This, again, depends on taste since not everyone has the same opinion on a character.

For example: I don’t particularly like Holden Caufield but Catcher in the Rye is still a great book. Why? Because, to me, Holden is relatable. I can sympathise with him and with his struggles. This is absolutely key. Why else would you follow the main character’s journey if you couldn’t sympathise with them?

Main take-away: good books don’t need a likeable main character. They’ve got a main character you can sympathise and root for.

2. A Journey I’m Invested In

So, you have a main character who might or might not be likeable but is definitely relatable. Great. But that’s obviously not going to be enough. Something needs to happen. You can’t just have a character living his life while nothing interesting happens to them. That would be boring.

No, the main character needs to go on a journey. This can be either a literal journey and / or a metaphorical one. To me, that’s the main difference between a plot-driven book and a character-driven one. In a plot-driven book, you’ll have lots of plot.

– A boy discovers he’s a wizard and must go through different trials before he can defeat the most evil wizard of all time
– A girl volunteers to take part in a dangerous game to save her sister’s life but ends up becoming a role model for a rebellion against a tyranny government
– …

You get the point. Lots of out-of-the-ordinary and / or dangerous things happen to the main character.

But there are also character-driven plots where your main character goes on an emotional journey. In Catcher in the Rye, not much happens to Holden. He spends most of his time wandering around the city on his own, thinking about his family, his past, and his future. But the important thing is that he changes throughout the book. He’s not the same person at the end of the book, which means he’s “been on a journey”.

Something must happen to the main character to make them change, which is key in both plot-driven and character-driven stories.

Main take-away: good books have main characters who go on a journey the readers are invested in.

3. Good writing

This one is nearly impossible to define. After all, what makes for good writing? Sure, there are certain things that are universally frowned upon (using too many adverbs, showing vs. Telling, etc) and things that are praised (three-dimensional characters, beautiful descriptions, etc.).

But that’s all subjective. For one, times change. You can’t expect to write like Charles Dickens and have his success. Second, not everyone agrees on what makes for good writing. Some like purple prose, others can’t stand it. Some hate info dumps, others don’t mind.

So, the question is: “Is there such a thing as a style of writing that’s objectively “good”?

To me, there is, but it’s got nothing to do with the words the author chooses to use or in what order he puts them. For me, good writing need to inspire emotion (of any kind). If the author’s writing can elicite emotion from its readers, it’s good writing.

Main take-away: good books have a range of styles, but they all inspire emotion in the reader

That’s it!

Main Character I Can Sympathise with + Journey I’m Invested in + Good Writing = Good Book

***

Now, let’s open this up for discussion. Do you agree with me? What do you think a good book can’t do without?

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20 thoughts on “Discussion: The Secrets to a Good Book

  1. I REALLY LIKE YOUR INTRODUCTION!!! I fail at my intros but this one just described my dreams personally. I definitely agree with an MC that you can root for! But to be honest, if I don’t like the MC then…I can’t really sympathise with them. IF THAT MAKES SENSE? Like they don’t have to be the most loveable, most amazing sweet MC but I don’t want to HATE them basically. Good writing IS SO KEY! I cannot read a book with dry and dull writing style so it’s just basic! And obviously journies so they’re hard to come up with. As in coming up with a unique plot is just…HELP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! It’s funny you should say that because I NEVER know what to write in my introduction. I’m always like, “how do I start?” ; “what should I say?” xD

      I used to struggle with the “unique plot” idea too but you’ve got to remember that there’s no such thing as a unique plot anymore. Everything has been done before. The only thing you can do is give your readers your unique take on it. 5 people can write a book with the same boring old plot, but they’ll all be different and unique because no two people are the same 🙂
      Did that make sense? 😀

      Like

  2. I agree, Now days is really hard to find something original or unique,everything it’s pretty much derived
    or inspired by something else. And “A Good Book” it’s tied to personal preference, we all enjoyed different things but You did hit the points that really make up for an interesting story..Good Characters (at least that you can relate to) an intriguing story line even if it’s not quite original, and good writing (I have read books with so many mistakes that it was hard to keep reading and understanding what was going on) This is a very accurate summary of the main things that a book should have to keep us invested in it…Really good post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all, I want to read whatever you write (even if it’s a grocery list). 🙂 this is a great discussion topic, I agree with all your points. I find it’s so important to establish a relatable main character hat even if you don’t like them you can relate to them. I think that’s why most authors when they write, they use events from their own lives to make their characters more relatable and real. I can’t stand when a character is just so sweet that you feel like you have no choice but to like them but they are so fake and you can see the fairness within seconds of starting the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am all about the characters. I can read a book with almost no plot, if I love the characters. I often speak of appreciating “the journey”. I read a lot of YA, and sort of expect the character to grow. I am HUGE on endings. I like closure. I also like HEAs, but I get that sometimes I can’t have them. However, if the ending isn’t happy, I need it to be hopeful. I have a few books that immediately popped into my head, because the character regressed by the end of the book, and the ending was hopeless. That killed anything I liked about the book. Those of things that make a book good for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh YESSSS I love this post, Lauren! I definitely agree with ALL of your points here. I definitely think you need to sympathize with the main character — you have to CARE about what happens to them, or what’s the point of reading about them? They have to change, too, and that journey needs to be something I’m interested in reading. Great post! ❤

    Like

  6. Great post, Lauren! I agree with you on everything here – I don’t necessarily have to fall in love with the main character to like a book, but I have to FEEL something towards him, her, I have to sympathize and want to know what happens and everything, to care, overall, to like the boook. And I’m all for the journey as well, development, changes, evolutions. It’s what makes me want to read a book from beginning to end 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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