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wundayatta's avatar

What makes a novel good for you?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) December 29th, 2012

In priority order, do you need a good yarn? Action? Meaty characters? Lots of characters? Only a few? Are you into words and the use of delicious words, or do words get in the way and you want it simple and direct (like Hemingway)? Try to dissect what makes an ideal novel for you, describe that, and then give an example or two from novels published in the last few years.

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11 Answers

SABOTEUR's avatar

Sometimes reading book reviews or critiques makes me feel very ignorant. Can’t help but be impressed with how well folks articulate why they like or dislike a novel.

I’m not like that.

Either I like it or I don’t.

I don’t read what I don’t like.

This question did however persuade me to find some reason why I like particular novels.

The Hobbit – whimsical, adventurous

The Lord of the Rings – epic adventure with familiar characters.

The Spenser detective series – smart alec thug with strict moral code goes around annoying people until he solves cases; doesn’t take shit from anyone but is girlfriend. His less morally conscious black friend is a hoot as well. I like the familiar characters, the sparse snappy dialogue and the fact that Spenser and Hawk often beat the shit out of anyone who stands in their way. (A vicarious thrill I’d fail miserably at.)

The Destroyer series – fantasy martial arts; policeman framed for a crime he didn’t commit “goes to the electric chair”, is recruited to be the US security arm for a top secret government agency and trained to master the mystical art of Sinanju by Master Chiun. The duo saves the world repeatedly, while insulting each other and ridiculing the day’s current events.

Harry Potter series – simply captured my imagination.

sakura's avatar

a good story, easy to read, a good and believable main character with an equally likable and believable sidekick! Failng that something cheap, tacky and easy to read!

Self_Consuming_Cannibal's avatar

Stephen King’s name on it.

Blondesjon's avatar

I’ll read anything and I judge it’s goodnicity in the moment.

Can I put this book down easily? Not so good.

Do I feel an almost OCD sense of wrongness when I try to lay it down? It’s a good novel.

PeppermintBiscuit's avatar

Interesting characters and good dialogue. Description is secondary.

Rarebear's avatar

Space ships and laser beams.

prasad's avatar

I should enjoy it. That’s what I look into a novel, a sort of entertainment. Yes, I like stories, enthralling ones. Then, there comes action on my liking list for novels. I kind of picture characters when I read, some novels dramatize scenes vividly.
I have enjoyed The Hobbit, Sherlock Holmes, books by James Hadley Chase, and some titles by Harold Robins.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

I hope for a few different things when I pick up a novel:

-characters I can relate to/care about
-characters who are interesting , unique & stand out on the page (it’s easy to tell who’s talking going by their word choices, sentence structure & whatnot)
-good dialogue that carries the story well when needed, without resorting to infodumping, & could translate well to a screenplay (so rare to find in fantasy & sci-fi, unfortunately)
-intriguing or unusual situations and/or settings
-the plot isn’t too difficult to follow

Examples from the past few years? Hmm… Pretty much all of Cherie Priest’s novels in her Clockwork Century novels have interesting settings & characters, imo. I also like Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series; her worlds are so unique and intriguing in a way that makes me squeamish, and her characters really stand out on the page. Easy to tell them apart because they’re drawn so well.

As for dialogue, I recently picked up a novel called The Troubleshooter by Bard Constantine. His dialogue really pops & is snappy & fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself repeatedly laughing out loud while reading a novel…

burntbonez's avatar

I like interesting characters who are facing complicated and morally ambivalent situations. I like interesting scenes and places that teach me things I didn’t know before about the world. New ideas. New technology. New concepts are all important. The plot must move dramatically. Use of words should be creative and challenging, but it shouldn’t be too self-involved. The plot must move. The ideas must be new.

cutiepi92's avatar

fantasy yet can be set in realistic way. I was a huge Harry Potter fan and loved the Hunger Games. I don’t like too many flowery words, too many authors I think go overboard and sound too self important. I’m a straightforward kind of gal. However, the language must not sound like a third grader wrote it (50 shades of Grey)

Mimishu1995's avatar

Well I’m a detective/mystery novels lover, so my standard will be specifically falls to those categories.

-Setting: any setting will be fine. But I would prefer historical settings, particularly 19th and 20th century and England and America.
-Characters: should be interesting and ambivalent. Characters who have twisted past and/or mind, or those who constantly have to fight with themselves along with other characters. Characters don’t necessarily have special ability or a big brain (like Sherlock Holmes), but must be unique. It’s doesn’t matter how many characters there are, just who they are that counts.
-Story: the most important part. As I’ve said before, my standard falls into detective/mystery categories, so the story should involve a crime (anything, from a thievery to a murder) and a detective (any kind, from a police inspector, a private eye to an amateur) to solve it. The story can be a bit different, but it must be dark and moody. The more complicated the better. I love it when the case is directly connected the detective’s own past. The end should be surprising but as logical and believable as possible.
-Language: doesn’t necessarily have to be flowery. It can be simple but not too simple. I’m into the use of intriguing language, but not too complicated to follow.

P.S: To satisfy my standard, I’m writing novels myself. There aren’t many old west mysteries on the shelves right?

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