Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What Makes Me Like a Particular Book?

I've been thinking about why I like certain books and not others. Since I can only speak for myself, and I can't ever pretend to understand why other people like certain books and not others, I'd love to hear how other people select favorite books. What elements make it good to you? What takes a book out of the running?

In my quest for publication, I've had certain books suggested to me as examples I should follow. Books that are marketable. I appreciate that the people who point me toward these books are trying to help. It's true. Those books are marketable. And, in some cases, I even enjoy them. But I don't want to recreate them. I don't remember whose blog I read this on (it was a male author), but the writer shared a recent experience with his agent or editor. The writer presented an idea and the agent/editor frowned and asked if the writer had anything more original. The writer asked the agent/editor if he would buy the original idea if the writer had one. The agent/editor said "probably not." I know that agents/editors want more of what sells. I understand that. Maybe I just haven't found the successful books that my story actually would fit in the mold of.

I think I might have started off on the wrong foot by claiming my book was chick lit (but in my defense, I had a wider definition of chick lit than I've found in the various agents/editors I've spoken with). It has a clever vibe (I usually get negative feedback when I say I'm a Woody Allen fan -- at least a fan of the movies that were clever. I know he behaved like a jerk, but I still laugh at "Love and Death," "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex," "Annie Hall," "Stardust Memories," "Hannah and her Sisters," and others of that ilk -- intellectual wit. And even though his characters were/are terribly neurotic, I still found most of his work amusing) but my story doesn't follow the chick lit formula. Trust me. There is a formula.

Instead, maybe my book is: Paranormal Woody Allen meets female Frasier, meets Anne Rice (pre-religious phase), meets The X-Files? Anyway, I think I like certain books rather than others if they have these things, and they all are equally important:

1) Good writing/engaging voice. Highly subjective, of course, but if you look at my list of recommended books you'll see what I consider good. Lots of books are well-written, but they don't have the other two things. 2) Excellent story. Meaning the story is something that I find interesting -- topics, philosophies and explorations that are relevant to me. I don't need a book to be "action" in order for me to love it. Woody Allen's movies are mostly about inner things rather than outer. And what constitutes an excellent story has changed over the years as I've grown. I appreciate layers and subtlety rather than dogma. 3) Compelling characters. I need characters with emotional/psychological depth or the potential for that depth. In the J.D. Robb Eve Dallas series, she is masterful at peeling her characters, allowing glimpses and hints of insight/awareness while the very-physical characters also take care of business in the outer world.

So, what makes a book good for you?


Blogger K J Gillenwater said...

I think your three requirements are what any reader would select. However, it depends on what you mean by "compelling characters" or "interesting plot." For some, Danielle Steele fits the bill; for others, it might be Wally Lamb.

I like what I call "brainless" reading half the time. Then, my mind feels like mush, and I must pick up something more challenging, like Jane Austen.

Personally, I look for dense language. An author that takes the time to craft an intricate phrase every now and then, who creates some unique metaphors, or paints a picture so clearly that I feel I am there. Doesn't matter if it's a romance or a thriller or a mystery.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Dear Kristin: I absolutely agree. It's all in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes I feel like the Only Mutant because I don't like books that everyone else seems to rave about. But (as with everyone) that's because the books in question might have one or two of the qualities, but not all three (in my opinion). I don't do as much brainless reading as I probably should. I think when I need to veg out, I just turn on the TV! Yes, I also love wonderful metaphors. Thanks for responding!

3:04 PM  

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