What do you look for in a book?

Some elements that make a good story, in my opinion, with some examples that show those qualities.






1. Storytelling

I believe a good story requires a good balance between revealing and withholding information. If everything is given away too quickly, the reader may lose interest, and the same thing may happen if the story goes on and on with nothing to capture the reader’s interest in the first place. I think a story is more compelling when it reveals just enough so that the reader starts and continues to read, and then gradually gives away more information, like a trail of breadcrumbs. Example: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

2. Thoughtful plot structure
If the plot depends too much on trial and error and/or coincidences, it begins to seem a little repetitive or unrealistic. I find that a good mix of actual detective work and coincidence/luck usually makes a better story. Also, a twist sometimes helps, although not if it is too unrealistic or unconnected from the story, or if it is clichéd (“It was all a dream…”).  Example: The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene

3. Humour
How appropriate the presence of humour is depends on the genre and subject of the book – I don’t expect all books to be funny. When appropriate, humour is one of the elements of storytelling that captures my interest in a book, whether it is a funny comment made by a character or a comic incident someone has to face. I find that a touch of humour can involve me more in the book, and it can also be used for characterisation purposes. As they say, laughter is the best medicine… Example: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

4. Conciseness
Although detail can add to the story and make it more engrossing, too much of it can get overwhelming sometimes. In those situations, I would just like the author to get to the point already. This goes especially for short stories, when too much description slows the story down and I begin to lose interest. Better stories have a balance between interesting detail and a continual progress in plot. Example: The Landlady by Roald Dahl (also, The Werewolf by Angela Carter)

5. Show, don’t tell
This may seem like a cheesy one but I often get more involved in books that show more than tell. It is easier to imagine the setting and story when you are shown them. If the descriptions are especially striking, they can help with characterisation and also become memorable in the reader’s eyes. If something is described in a particularly evocative way, it has more of an impact of the reader. Example: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

6. Variation in syntax
Some variation in syntax helps to make the story a little less repetitive, in my opinion. It also allows the reader to picture the scene somewhat better if, for example, they know a character is “yelling” or “shrieking” instead of “saying”. This also goes for many regular verbs like walking and eating, and also adjectives, at times. Example: Switched by Amanda Hocking

7. Creativity
And lastly, some creativity never hurts! 🙂 Example: The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

So, what do you look for in a book? Are there any elements I wrote about that you agree/disagree with? Let me know!


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