There are some elements in books that are so important to me, they form the foundation of whether or not I enjoy reading a particular book. After all, I read books not merely to allow my eyes to devour words on a page. Although, yes, I do read labels when I’m bored and there’s nothing for me to do. Or at least I used to before I got my hands on a Kindle, so now I always have something better to read.
Now, what are these elements that I am talking about? Altogether I have 6 of them, 7 if a book is written in first person. These are the things that make or break a book for me. These are the things I expect to be done well. I’m sure there are other factors that contribute to my enjoyment of a book but the following 7 are absolutely essential to me.
I think it’s safe to say say that is the most important element to me. If the writing style does not convince me after the first few pages, I will chuck a book and pretend it never existed. I will not even deign to shelve it on Goodreads under my DNF shelf.
If I come across one too many instances where “your” and “you’re” are interchanged, I will notice. I will also sit there and seethe for some time. I can forgive a typo or two in a book but if it’s riddled with them to the point they’re slapping my face, I will give up on a book. I think this is partly why I am afraid of self-published books. There’s no way of knowing if a credible editor tore that book to shreds before it fell into my hands.
Conversely, beautiful prose will suck me right into a book, even if the story itself is not something I’m necessarily interested in. Take historical fiction. I don’t despise it but neither have I developed much love for it. When the opening pages are well-written and appeal to me, I will carry on reading nonetheless.
Plot probably comes without saying. I read novels for the stories. If I didn’t care about the stories and all I cared about was lyricism, I’d turn to poems. Though even poems tell stories with the limited words they have. If a poem has a better plot, then I feel sorry for the novel.
Note that is vastly different from characters. I don’t need to love a character to love a book. I suspects I could love a book even with a despicable character if all the other elements were right. That is to say, for characterisation, what matters to me is that characters need to have a reason to exist within a particular book. If characters can be swapped out with any old characters from other books and the book in question can still be the same book, then that is not good characterisation.
A character needs to be a person who comes alive on the pages when I read a book. Otherwise I lose interest very quickly.
Shallow books are like candy. They’re easy and fast to get through but don’t offer all too much to their readers. Depth is what makes me get lost in a book and makes me believe that there was a reason it needed to be written and read. A book doesn’t need to be heavy to have depth. It mostly needs to not be one-dimensional. Thought must have gone into the book and that thought must be evident when reading.
Everything we do today has been done before, one way or another in the past. That is the mantra that I’m sure many have been told. I do believe there is some truth in that. But if a trope has been overdone, and there’s nothing new to offer, move on already. Give me something new! It can be something old repackaged. I don’t expect something entirely extraordinary. Perhaps, beat down some stereotypes, use a setting that is unfamiliar, or tell a story of a minority person.
I suppose this is what many refer to as the feels because with impact, what I care about is my reaction at the end of the book. Did I cry? Did I get mad? Did I laugh? I want books to move me. If a book leaves me cold at the end, something clearly went wrong. Apathy does not become me. Trust me.
The reason this applies to first person narratives is that I see this as different from prose. It has more to do with whether or not I believe that the character is telling me their story. The voice has to be genuine and also has to allow me to really get into the head of a character. If all I get is a recount of what happened, I’ll very much prefer a third person narrative. Basically, I expect to get to know a character intimately through their voice if a book is set in first person narrative.
Do you agree or disagree with any of my elements? What elements matter to you when you read books?