What makes a ‘good book’?
Go ahead, take a moment and try to come up with your answer. I will wait for you here.
Still here? Seriously, think about it. I won’t go anywhere.
Done? Good, welcome back.
Now, if you have an answer, that is great. Hold onto it for a little while. If you were unable to come up with an idea, no worries, I promise that at the end of this article, I will reveal the correct answer. You might wonder how – with such a subjective question – could there be a ‘correct’ answer? Maybe not. Nevertheless, I think there is one that is as correct as any other is.
Now, if you asked a thousand different people that exact question, you might get a thousand different answers. As I am not any of those people, I cannot guess as to what their response might be. So, along with some help from a few esteemed authors, let me tell you what my convoluted answer is and why I have done my damnedest to write what I consider a ‘good book.’
“A good book has no ending.”
Rare is the author who can create a story that is timeless. It is a tall mountain to try to climb.
Even the most enduring tales of all time, at their heart, are nothing more than a deep examination of the human condition on one level or another. Genre, plot, setting, style, theme all take a backseat to the characters and their journey.
Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Ken Follett, and others of their ilk all have or had the inspired ability to both grasp and elucidate what stokes the furnace within an individual and examine how that fire either gently toasts or violently chars the people they touch in their life. The characters they create have stories we wish we could continue to follow even when the book stops.
However, we cannot all hope to be as succinct and surgically precise as these great writers who have created uniquely fantastic characters while weaving a grand tale for them to traipse through. Some of us must simply strive for a good read, crafting something that makes the reader excited, hopeful or anxious as they turn that next page.
With every bit of fiction I put out, I want the reader to be looking forward to discovering the next phase of the tale. Regardless of time, place, or reality, I endeavor to guide the reader along a path that, when the story/book ends, the reader’s immediate response is a disappointed and frustrated, “Damn…but I want to know what happens next…”
“You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.”-Paul Sweeney
Now, I could see how you might read my last words and think to yourself, “That’s sort of a sick, vindictive approach for an author to take.” In a sense, you might be right. But, please, try to understand things from my point of view. When I write something, rarely is it for my sole consumption. The words I write are meant to be read by you. I want to make a connection with you; draw you in and make you feel invested in the story. You should love or hate the characters. You should root for or against them. You should demand to know what happens and be happy or mad as events play out. Ultimately, you should care.
When I write, I strive for stories that leave the reader longing for more when the last word on the last page is consumed. I do this for the purely selfish reason that I want that reader to come back the next time I publish something. Without readers, an author is a madman having a conversation with a brick wall.
When you close a book, I want you to be satisfied, but a little sad the tale is over. I want you to feel like you have just said farewell to a good friend whom you will not see for a long time.
Imagine how excited you will be when the next work comes out. It will be like a grand reunion.
“A good book should leave you... slightly exhausted at the end.”
I like to read and write books that require the reader to invest themselves in the tale. Novels that can be read on a lazy, Sunday afternoon are not my cup of tea.
I like – no, I love – books that demand my attention. I adore stories that draw me in and force me to connect the dots. I worship authors that leave little, hidden nuggets for me to find as I read. I long for novels that make me immediately want to read the book again, only moments after completing the first pass, just so I can catch the little intricacies that I missed.
When I write, I leave those same bread crumbs I savor for my readers. Some are readily apparent, others…well, wait a book or two in the series for the ‘ah-hah!’ moment. I promise, it is coming. Really.
Every author worth his or her salt wants to write a ‘good book.’ I certainly set out on my journey as a writer to do so. Hopefully, I have succeeded.
However, the ultimate judgment as to if I have achieved my goal is not up to me. That is your job.
Now, for that ‘correct’ answer to the opening question: Do you want to know what makes a ‘good book’?
“'Tis the good reader that makes the good book.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I think that is as good an answer as any.
Good days ahead.
And good memories behind!
(So goes the greeting and response in Terrene.)
For those who want to check out more of R.T. Kaelin's writing (and for those who love epic fantasy) be sure to check out his website! As I hinted at above, coming this week will be a review of Merchant (the first short story bundle from The Terrene Chronicels) as well as a giveaway of Progeny! One paperback copy will be up for grabs (US or Canada only) with up to ten entries per person. I won't reveal all the ways to enter just yet, but two of them do include leaving a meaningful comment on this post (include an email address) and following R.T. Kaelin on Twitter. Good luck and check back later this week for more details!