What Makes A Good Book?

How long do you give a book before you give up on it? Two pages? A couple of chapters? Or are you more precise, like a woman I once knew in a reading group, who gave a book ‘to page 40’. If it hadn’t grabbed her by then, she put it down for good.

These days I give up on more books than I finish. I used to feel guilty about it but no more! There are zillions of books in the world – far more than I will ever get to read in a lifetime – so why should I waste time on one that I’m not enjoying?

I’m reading a good ‘un at the moment, though: Ordinary Thunderstorms, by William Boyd. (I’d call it an ‘intelligent thriller’ if you want to know the genre). I don’t usually read thrillers but this has got pace, suspense and intrigue (and some proper scary bits!) combined with real-life characters that you can actually believe in.

It had me hooked from the very first page (hurrah!) AND I can’t wait to get back to it (you know that lovely feeling, when you’re itching to re-enter your book’s imaginary world?). I only started it on Saturday and I reckon I’ll have finished it by tonight. That’s pretty speedy for me.

Anyway, what’s all this got to do with writing, I hear you cry? Well, my reaction to ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ is what we should all be striving for, as writers. We want to make our stories, novels and articles UN-PUTDOWNABLE!

Now, I don’t have the secret recipe for that, I’m afraid but one thing you definitely need to strive for is an un-guessable ending. I’m half way through ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ and the one thing that’s really keeping me turning the pages is: I want to find out how the main character, Adam Kindred, is going to get himself out of the almighty mess he’s in!

I remember reading an interview with Gaynor Davies, the fiction editor for Woman’s Weekly and she said that was one of the main reasons for turning down a story: she could guess the ending. If the reader can guess the ending, she won’t bother reading on. And that’s something I’ve always tried to bear in mind when I’m writing.

That doesn’t mean you have to give every story a weird ending (eg: alien abduction!) or a ‘twist’: your ending still has to be believable and the characters still have to behave, well, in character but giving your readers something slightly different from what they are expecting – but still making it satisfying – will lift your story – metaphorically and hopefully, literally (out of the slush pile).

Right, now then, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my book…!

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13 Responses to What Makes A Good Book?

  1. RFW says:

    My formula is to read – 100 pages minus my age(x). If I’m not into it by then – forgeddaboutit 🙂

  2. I only give a book a couple of pages. If it hasn’t grabbed me I leave it a while and come back. Sometimes it’s just the mood I’m in. If I don’t like it better the second time, it’s out. There are so manyvery different books we shouldn’t feel obliged to like them all – not even all the good ones.

    • Patsy – I agree with you about being in the right mood for a certain book! I tried reading The Time Traveller’s Wife a couple of times (I just couldn’t get into it!) before, on the third attempt, it just clicked with me and then I couldn’t put it down!

  3. Once I’ve started a book I feel obliged to plough on to the end – don’t ask me why. I just feel guilty if I abandon a book.

    • Sally
      Perhaps it’s because you’ve already invested time in the book, so you feel that if you stop now, that’s all been a waste? Some books may get better as you get into them, I suppose. I just never give them that chance!

  4. Susan Jones says:

    I know by the end of the first page if I will read the whole book.

  5. Monica Ryder says:

    If a book looked interesting enough for me to pick it up, I would read at least a third to a half before drifting away from it. With a few exceptions, I rarely decide that I am just going to stop reading them – I just collect them so I always have a pile of books by my bed waiting for me to get back to them one day.

  6. rossmountney says:

    Just found this blog via The chicken Shed blog and think it’s great! Good to know one is not alone penning away! As for the books – I’m less guilty too about putting one down…I rarely finish these days. But one I did just finish was ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. It was intriguing and had all the criteria you mentioned in your blog. I think I’ll buy the Boyd for my husband’s birthday as men are tricky at birthdays so thanks for that! Best wishes, Ross

    • Hi and thanks for dropping by! Yes, I’ve heard that ‘Room’ is a good book – definitely one to add to my list! I’m always torn between reading and writing – which to do?!

  7. Freedom, by the way says:

    I, too, am an avid reader. (Love thrillers, by the way). I can usually tell about 1/5 of the way into a book if it’s going to be worth my time to complete. (I actually threw a book in the trash once–it was so bad I thought I would save another reader from a horrible mistake). The best books are the ones that grab you on page one and nag at you constantly until you finish.

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