We are all still learning and growing as writers, whether we’ve been doing this a year, or twenty. Personally it's been about 12 years now for me, and I feel like I've picked up a few things along the way.
So I thought I would give my opinion on the 5 things I think you need to have to make your book work. These are my opinions on what I look for when I’m reading, but maybe it will help you when you look over your work to see what might need more work and what doesn’t.
1: Don’t give me characters that suck.
Ok – this is kind of subjective. But characters are oh so important. If I don’t care about your characters I’m not going to care about your book. If you can invest me in the characters then I will put up with a lot of other issues and keep reading. This doesn’t mean the character has to be perfect – quite the opposite, but I have to believe in their motivation. I have to respect their attitude and opinions. Let me give you an example from my own work. Lance in The Last Knight is an arrogant, sometimes chauvinistic git. However, his past, his experiences and his current life all give reasons for the way he behaves. And he grows and changes throughout the book. Growth is vital.
By all means create a character who is as nasty as they come, but as long as you give reasons and motivations for their behaviour, I’ll still enjoy reading about them.
2: Don’t drown me in description
This kind of goes back to what Kate was saying in one of her recent posts about not over-writing. But I will admit that there is nothing worse than reading a book that is literally stuffed with description that does nothing for the plot. I think sometimes as writers we worry that if we don’t describe it enough the reader won’t be able to appreciate it. I think that that is giving our readers too little credit. We don’t need every detail to appreciate what something looks like – particularly if it’s something we’ve all seen before. My mind will fill in the blanks quite nicely, and it will be a richer reading experience for it.
3: Don’t leave plot-holes big enough to drive a bus into
Plotting and world-building as essential. Even if your book is set in this world everything that happens in it must be consistent. I need to believe it, or at least have reasonable suspension of disbelief, no matter how fantastical your plot is.
You don’t have to explain every little thing, but I should be able to make the leap of understanding logically and easily based on what you’ve told me so far.
4: Conversely, don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m an idiot
There’s nothing worse than reading a book where the author feels the need to explain every little thing. Ok, so this kind of falls under the less is more point, but I’m talking more about plot and action. It’s also more about show vs tell. If you show me the world in the right way, you don’t need to explain why things happen a certain way, I should be able to work it out for myself. If I can’t the likelihood is not that I’m stupid, but that you haven’t shown me properly.
5: Don’t neglect the ending
Whether it’s a Happily Ever After, a bitter-sweet ending, a devastatingly sad ending, or even a cliff-hanging leading onto the next book, your ending needs to be satisfying to me as the reader. Otherwise I’m going to walk away from the book feeling disappointed. The ending needs to work with the rest of the book – even if there is a dramatic twist I need to look back and wonder how I didn’t see it coming. Unless you are purely writing for yourself (in which case you won’t be publishing) you have to consider the reader. I don’t need it all wrapped up with a neat bow – but I need to put it down with the feeling of a contentment, not frustration.
So there you have it. My 5 points for what I look for in a good book. Notice I didn’t mention the writing, I can overlook the writing if everything else is done well. For me writing a book is as much about storytelling as it is about writing.
Have a good weekend!