Friday, May 25, 2012

What's At The Heart Of A Good Book?


Why do we read what we read?  What are the elements of a good story?

The latter part of last year when I bought my Nook and had the option to download lots of free stories, I found an author that hooked me and made me want to read her book. It wasn’t because she had created an error free book, or that her character arcs were well drawn. There were mistakes and she admitted that she wrote the first book on a dare. But she had compelling characters (even though their emotions got tiresome in their lack of realistic emotional growth).

All the vampire series on TV and in the theaters were hot, but I was not particularly drawn to them. I was more fascinated by the shape-shifting werewolves. That’s how I came upon this book and read it as a lark—because it was free.

So what drew me in and kept me reading? That is a question I have been asking myself.

I’m reading a series now that is heavily weighted with military information—men’s love—including guns, planes, ships, military equipment of all kinds. But I’m not reading for that (my eyes glaze over while skimming those parts). The characters are not that well drawn, especially the women—male author. But that is not keeping me from reading. So why am I reading this series? I was into the author’s conspiracy, UFOs/alien, secret government theories. Hot!

I also branched out into reading many romance authors this year—unlike the ones I read years ago that were too predictable and unsatisfying in the long haul for me. Since I have romance in my first novel (waiting for publication, tapping fingers, waiting. . .) and includes past-life time slips, I thought I’d better read some authors that are writing the same genre to see what they are writing and what categories they are being put into. I happened onto an English author that has some past life drop-in, time travel, romantic suspense—right down my alley. And, very well written. Ahhh.

I love the way she handles her characters—well drawn and compelling. The romance is lovely and just that—romance—not hot sex (not that that’s a bad thing—rewind to werewolf series above). These were love stories. Present day and a past life in England.

As never before, it is easier and cheaper to access books. People are reading more, whether well written or not. (I’m not touting poorly written books because if the writing interferes with the story flow, I’m out of there. I don’t want my fictive ‘dream’ to be interrupted.)

So what drew me in and kept me reading these three very different genres, author styles and emphasis? While some of the writing was poorly edited, some characters not well drawn still I read and enjoyed them.

I think I read for different reasons at different times. Sometimes I want to sink into a tear jerking romance that involves my emotions and my heart. Sometimes I’m in a more paranoid phase and want to read about conspiracies and sci-fi possibilities. At other times, a good romp with the creatures of imagination is in store. Throw in some non-fiction (inspirational, instructional or biographical) and I’m good.

But, I am trying to pinpoint why readers read what they read.  So I'm asking for your feedback, what is at the heart of a good book for you—what do you read and why?

Do you think the easy access to books is making readers read books they never would have read before? 


27 comments:

S.M. Hutchins said...

I read a lot of different things and I'm drawn to them for different reasons. I like Kimberly Frost's Southern Witch series for the protagonist, particularly her sense of humor. I like Paolo Coelho because he makes me think about human motivation. I like certain non-fiction books because they inspire me to be a better person. I like Edgar Allan Poe's creepiness, Ann Voskamp's grace, Shauna Niequist's realism, and Charles de Lint's imagination. Ok, now I want to curl up with a good book.

davdjones said...

Every thing I read is for my writing. Every book I read, I save on my iPad. Every line I find interesting I make a note in the book. I have a spreadsheet that I enter the book title and author, and enter the page number on the spreadsheet with a note as to what the note is about. All these notes help me in my writing. Remind me of things that I should think about when I write. I don't plagiarize anyone. I don't have to. Some of this is for research for future books, some for how authors built characters and what I thought about the form.

All these notes help me to be a better writer. I do not waste my time reading books that I do not feel will help further my writing skills.

For instance. i am reading a book right now that violates every rule that Bob Mayer said we should not do in his books. Yet, the book reached the top 10 on the NY Best sellers list and will be a movie soon. I find it hard to read, but it has some great information if you plan to write books about the military or contract killers.

That's why I read books, and I read a lot.

Patricia Gligor said...

I think the main reason I read is to escape into another world, a world with interesting characters who have problems to solve. That's why I love mysteries and, for the most part, that's all I read.
A good plot is important but what draws me in and keeps me turning the pages is well developed characters. I have to "care" what happens to them.

AlvaradoFrazier said...

Since I've had my Kindle Fire I've taken advantage of the lending library and yes, the free books, that are so often touted by authors on Twitter or elsewhere.
This is the big HOWEVER or BUT, first I look at the story-line. If it's something I'm interested in I look deeper, usually the reviews or Goodreads. If they comment on a great storyline, but some minor errors that's okay.
Out of the 10 or so borrowed or free, three had intriguing story lines & were very good reads: Aztec by Colin Falconer (historical fiction) & Winds of Sonoma (contemp. romance) by Nikki Arana; and although there were typos & formatting problems, Marlen Bodden's The Wedding Gift (historical fiction) was fascinating.
Bottom line, I'm with you Cora, the story is the most important, with execution of the story second.

Laird Sapir said...

I definitely think that easy access to books has encouraged me to read things I would never have read before. For some reason I picked up the Song of Ice and Fire books (which are sooooo not something I would typically read) and I have to say, they have really sucked me in. I read the first four in about a week (got very little else done that week...) and I can't say exactly why the story is so compelling, but it is. Great characters, loads of conflict, unexpected twists and turns...and great writing...

Cora said...

Well, there's some books I haven't checked out yet. Ditto on Edgar, he feeds my love of noir/suspense/horror. Thanks for weighing in.

Cora said...

That's very interesting. You NEVER read for pleasure? I can't imagine it. Always the student, huh?

I believe in cross pollination. I read whatever appeals to me knowing that ideas stem from the oddest places. When I write, I allow for my intuition to bring together unlikely fellows. Thanks for weighing in.

Cora said...

I do think character development is very important, but then I have gotten deeply involved in some books strictly for plot. Maybe the escape a story affords is a big part of what makes a book good, But, from comments above, not for everyone. Thanks for comments.

Cora said...

Thanks for commenting. I'm developing this theory that errors in a story will not necessarily keep people from reading--which may in turn have an effect in how books are written and sold in the future.

I'm reading Aztec as well. I will check out the other's you mentioned. Thanks for weighing in.

Cora said...

My Nook has me reading so many more books than I would normally have read. I know what you mean about getting sucked into a series--I've been through (and still am going through)a series of books since the start of this year. I'm in the middle of at least 10 or more books. This got me wondering what allows for me to put a book down and go to another book--what grabs and holds a reader. So for you, sounds like total involvement in the story is what's grabbing you. Do you ever read a book that has grabbed you but has mistakes in it?

Melanie Jackson, author, editor, piano student said...

I usually read mysteries, but I picked up Larry McMurtry's Anything for Billy and am immersed in it -- can't put it down. I guess historical novels are my second favourite. And I agree, the easier access to books is getting me to read books I wouldn't have before. Thanks for the interesting post.

Julie Farrar said...

It has to be the characters. Certainly the lives of John Irving or Jane Austen characters are not like mine, but the emotions they experience are.

Cora said...

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your reading experience and choices.

Cora said...

So true, we read to empathize and feel a part of our favorite character's life, especially if it is one we can't live but maybe would have liked to live. Thanks for weighing in.

Mike Schulenberg said...

I ready both for pleasure and because it will help me become a better writer. I don't often take notes on what I read. I'd rather not break the flow of the narrative by stopping to write something down, and I trust that my subconscious continually picks up on things without me being aware of it. I do tend to give some thought to what the book is doing on a technical level, particularly if something strikes me as particularly effective.

elizabethfais said...

I tend to choose books that are mostly in the genre(s) I'm writing in, so that I know the audience and market. But it's also because that's the type of story I like. I follow the motto "write the story you'd most like to read". Like Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, et. al.) I tend toward tossing genres together, which gives me a wide range of stories to choose from when I read. The bottom line for me though, is that I read to get lost in the story.

Ellen Gregory said...

Like you, Cora, I find I can be a very forgiving reader. Something hooks me in and I can ignore errors, bad writing, all sorts of things. I think what keeps me reading is usually related to character... If I can emotionally engage with the characters, and care what happens to them, then I can forgive a lot. A love interest helps! Sometimes, though, it might be more a desire to know what happens, particularly when there's a mystery to be solved. I guess the x-factor can change, but there needs to be one!

I definitely read mostly for enjoyment, although do challenge myself to read for educational purposes from time to time.

Cora said...

Like you, I read what pleases me. The older I get the less patience I have for stories that don't engage me right away. I make mental note of something the writer has done effectively that I need to emulate, but I find, like you, I don't want to break the flow of the story.

When I read a book on technique, that's different, then I take notes. Which is why I'm finding I don't want to get a technical book on my Nook, I can't refer back and forth flipping pages to find something I want to get back to. Thanks for weighing in, Mike.

Cora said...

Just to keep from getting bored reading only what I write, I have to read different genres. I agree that we should write what we like to read, but since I like to read all over the place, I'm leaning toward expanding the definition of what it is I want to write in my next book.

You read for story, another check for the box. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Cora said...

This 'survey' has been very interesting. Everyone is different in what they read for, except there is a leaning toward plot and character. I agree, we have a curiosity element as well; why those of us that read mysteries like them--to guess at what will happen--open that Pandora's box to find out what's inside. Thanks, Ellen.

Rhonda Hopkins said...

I definitely read for pleasure and the short escape into another world for a little while. I also try to keep it in mind to look at how the writer held my attention. However, for those that are really good, it's hard to do that. The words and sentences just have a natural flow that keep you engrossed in the story rather than the mechanics. I have a couple now I want to re-read so I can learn from them.

I don't mind a few typos, but when there are so many problems with spelling, grammar and sentence structure that it interferes with the reading, I probably won't finish it. But if the author has a great voice and knows how to weave a tale and keep me in suspense, I won't let a few problems ruin the enjoyment for me.

Cora said...

You are added to the growing list of people who will read through some errors in a novel if the story carries you. Thanks for stopping by and adding your comments.

marja said...

I read for pleasure, mostly mysteries. I enjoy escaping to someone else's world for a while. I don't mind some typos, as long as there aren't too many of them. But what keeps me reading is great characters and a good storyline. Humor helps, too. If an author can give me these, I'm in. I kind of wish you'd included the authors names of the books you mentioned. :)

Cora said...

You can find all the books I've read this year on Goodreads. You might want to join if you haven't--a great resource. If not, email me from the Posse.

August McLaughlin said...

I'm buying more books than ever, thanks to my Kindle. I've heard the same is true for the general population—woot woot! ;) Some of the best news of the century, IMO. Nothing like a one-click impulse buy that's actually worth it! I read because I've loved stories and what they provide (entertainment, escape, inspiration...) for as long as I can remember.

Cora said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am taking note on why people read and hope to do a follow up post.

Carole Avila said...

Hi Cora,

I have been so busy with extra courses at school this past semester (getting a marketing management degree to help me learn how to promote and market my forthcoming books...) so reading for pleasure was a huge luxury over the past few months. I only read books that were highly recommended because I didn't want to waste any precious time. Two of these books were sci-fy fantasy, which I rarely read. Both the Hunger Games and Divergent books held my interest from the first page. I was caught up in the originality, flawed characters, and descriptions that were enough to ignite my imagination. I don't know that new tools will inspire a person to read more. I know that Scholastic paid for an independent study on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and found that over 51% of its young male readers had never picked up a book before and over 65% of those readers felt they did better in school after reading the books. I think this shows the lure of a well developed story and its characters. If technology will seduce people into reading more, I'm all for it. Interestely, studies show that people prefer brief articles and novelas over lengthy pieces. So are they reading more articles or just shorter ones? Still, at least they're reading...
Sincerely, Carole Avila
The Posse