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.
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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

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Sympathy

I used to think that things were quite simple in a story: you sympathise with one character, despise (or at least slightly dislike) another and root for the one you feel sympathy for. Although ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters may not always be entirely discernible all the time, and even though characters may well be a mix of both, there is generally a character the reader favours more than another (I am guessing that most people would feel more sympathy for, say, Harry Potter than Voldemort).

But in some cases, this simple principle seems more difficult to apply.

In English class, I recently read Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Throughout the play, I felt sympathy for the protagonist, Willy Loman, whereas some people in my class commented that he seemed annoying. I felt bad about his need to control the direction his life is moving in and his failure to do so, about his shattered hopes and dreams. Moreover, I disliked his older son, Biff, for being so hostile towards his father.

However, a twist in the plot revealed near the end of the story turned my whole viewpoint topsy-turvy.

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Reading Experiences

Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone is rewarding.

I recently read two books whose writing styles are quite different from the books I usually read. The first is called The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, which is a collection of stories. The second is Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. In the case of the first book, I didn’t have a choice; it was part of my English course. Although the stories themselves are a little difficult for me to understand, and are not really the genre I usually read, I quite like certain aspects of the writing style. Some parts, such as the changing perspectives and tenses, are not ones that I particularly like, although I have to admit that they add to the mood of the stories. On the other hand, some of the imagery and literary devices used are powerful, and effectively add to the reader’s experience of the story.

I still remember one line from one of the stories: “Her hair falls down like tears.” I think that is one of the nicest descriptions I have ever read! In such few words, it makes me imagine hair flowing gracefully like a river, the strands running down like rivulets and falling fluidly along the back. The mention of tears also adds a melancholy to the description, and reveals a bit more about the character, while hiding just enough to keep the reader wondering. It really opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that can be used, when writing, to describe something beautifully and uniquely. There are other examples I could use, but this sentence has stuck with me since I read that particular story. Although I must say that the stories themselves are not quite my taste, the writing style itself is often beautiful, in my opinion.

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