Now Read On....

Posted on 13th June, 2015

A week or so ago, I was discussing our recent reading with a friend. Between us, we make a good Venn diagram of fiction tastes. I like sagas, mysteries, cosy crime and historical crime; she likes fantasy and literary fiction; and in the overlap, we both read thrillers, suspense and classics.

A few of the books I have loved so far this year are Cockney Orphan and A Sister's Shame, both East End sagas filled with Carol Rivers' trademark drama and deep family feeling; the superb Catch Me by Lisa Gardner, whose characters are as intricate as her tense and chilling plots; and Marian Babson's wonderfully funny Trixie and Evangeline mysteries.

But I've also given up on a few books, as you may remember if you read my post a few weeks ago about the perils of the prologue. And my friend and I had both given up on the same thriller, written by an author we've enjoyed for years. Has he lost his touch? A sobering thought.

That set us talking about what makes a book a good read.

For my friend, it's all about setting and character. She wants a strong sense of place and atmosphere, plus characters who are well-drawn and consistent.

I, too, like to experience the setting and enjoy the details that make it real (not too much detail, though – I don't want to be lectured); and believable characters are a must. They must have their flaws as well as their strengths and they must in some way change or develop as a result of what happens to them in the book.

I rank plot highly on my personal list. Important as setting and character are, it's the plot that keeps you turning the pages. And it needs to get going right away – I'm not the sort to hang around for half a dozen chapters, waiting for the book to get started. Too many books, too little reading time for that.

I enjoy books written from several viewpoints, because of the possibilities this creates for building tension as you leave one sub-plot and return to another. There's nothing like a good cliffhanger! And multi-viewpoint also means you get to see the same events and people through different eyes, which adds layers to the characterisation.

In-depth viewpoint writing is something I admire. It takes real skill to pull it off and it can turn a good book into a first-rate one.

How about you? What makes you want to read on?

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Comments (7)

It's the obstacles the characters face that make me want to read on, Jen. I want characters to be three-dimensional people who face their struggles in their own different ways and I like to see how they are changed by their experiences. A strong plot presents characters with challenges.
A setting which takes me to another place (and often time) compels me to read on. I also enjoy reading about strong characters who overcome obstacles to result in a satisfying story arc.

Another enjoyable post.
Thank for your comments, Liz and Jan.

I agree with what you say, Liz, especially about the description of the setting being imperceptible. You are quite right. Handled wrongly, the details can be intrusive. I hate it when a writer includes a piece of information that isn't necessary and you know it's there only because the research turned up such a fascinating titbit that the author couldn't bear to leave it out.

I too love family sagas, Jan, where we can see characters develop as they respond to events around them. And there's nothing like a good secret to keep a reader hooked. I read a blog recently in which it said that secrets are great in fiction because people are genetically programmed to want questions answered.
I love family sagas and stories where secrets are revealed as we find out more about the characters. Strong characters are therefore important for me but I agree that it's the events of the plot that keep me turning the pages. I enjoy dual narrative novels with the two stories written at different times and from two different viewpoints. Another interesting post, Sue. :-)
Plot comes first, but strong characters make a book more enjoyable. Description of the setting should be almost imperceptible but it is the icing on the cake from a good novelist. Prologues are often an indulgence.
Thanks for your comment, Frances. A strong, compelling plot is an essential for me, too. A good plot tests the characters' strengths and gives them something to aim for.
I absolutely agree with you about plot. I don't think I can remeber finishing a single book where the plot was weak. They're the sort of book I put down and never pick up again.