What Makes a Good Book?

I’ve come to a startling conclusion: what makes a good book is completely subjective. (gasp!)

What makes a book good to me won’t be what makes a book good for you. But I’ll still give you my opinion.

What makes a good book for me? Great characters.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve grabbed off the shelves, thinking the premise was great, the characters sounded great and together… they turned into either a boring or not believable read. I hate when this happens, but reading books that I thought would be good and having them turn into door-bangers has taught me one thing: to create characters I believe in for my own books.

Defining great characters is a bit more difficult. For me, a good character is believable. They may do fantastic things, have fantastic cars/homes/jobs but they are still people that as you’re reading turn into people you can see yourself talking to. Maybe they have traits (the way they talk/think; the people they have relationships with; unique idiosyncracies) that you recognize from people in your own life or relationship circle and that draws you to their “book person”. Above all, for me, great characters are people. They stop being someone you’re reading about and instead become someone you’re making a journey with. I’m starting to sound like Oprah, I know, but if you can’t identify with the characters in books, what are you identifying with?

My CPs and my fantabulous editor tell me I create solid, believable characters and I think so, too. Sometimes I want to throw my characters out the window and close their book, but I work through the anger.

So, by my own definition, I should be writing books that I would buy if I was a random shopper. Does that mean my books have a snowball’s chance in Jamaica of making it to the best seller’s list? Haven’t got a clue.

Will this make me stop writing the best books I can? Absolutely not.

So, my question to you: what makes a good book?

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8 Comments

  1. Great post! Let’s see, a good book… is one that makes me forget the world around me.

  2. yup, i agree, i like books that let me escape my current surroundings and hang out with new enjoyable people. not that they should be perfect–i prefer realistic characters with flaws and tics, but i have to like them.
    although well written, i hate the characters in “who’s afraid of virginia wolfe” and “long days journey into night” and will never willingly see another production of either show. life’s too short to waste your time with awful people real or imaginary. and if a story makes me burst out laughing, i am very happy.
    oh and i want an interesting premise and good pacing. not asking for much…

  3. My son used to rate them by the number of ‘mom’s’ he had to call out before he got my attention. The Stand – ranked highest with five!

    I think escapism is why I read. And why I don’t read true life stuff. I like my happy ever after.

  4. I need an emotional connection. Without that, it doesn’t much matter how intricate the plot is, how creative the premise is, etc. If I can’t connect emotionally, it is a slow, boring read. Give me something even if the emotions are negative (thank you, Stephen King)! I have to *feel* something or the book stays on the shelf.

  5. I’d have to agree with Irene. If the author can suck me into the emotional tide of the book, I’m probably hooked regardless of the plot or type of book. That’s not easy to do either. Characters that seem real enough that the emotions they feel are ones I can relate to, situations that escalate the tension, and an ending that doesn’t leave me hanging are what I like best. Although, I really like it when someone gets creative and introduces a scene, a situation, or an exchange between the characters that hasn’t been done before.

  6. What a great post! I definitely enjoy characters who speak to me. Drifting into the plot, caring for the people in the story and cheering at the end! Then I know I’ve read a wonderful book.

  7. Absolutely. I can read about people, even if there are big enough plot holes to drive a car through, but if you give me a great plot and people I can’t imagine talking to, I’m not going to read the book.

    Good post, Kristi, and good thoughts in the comments, too.

  8. I had received a copy of the “Second Chance” cover while I was doing the final edits. So I could see the main characters while I was finishing up their conversations. Suddenly, they were alive.


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