Sunday, June 7, 2009

What I like and don't like in a novel

A discussion over at the Hatrack writers forum (on bad books we love and good books we hate) got me thinking about what turns me on or off to a novel. I'm finding that genre doesn't matter much to me anymore. I used to read nothing but sci-fi and fantasy, but I've branched out to mystery, mainstream fiction, classics and romance. I enjoy them all. Here's what does matter.

What I dislike (this category is much easier to do):
-- Bad copy editing.
-- Dumps of background information. (I recently read a romance in which the first chapter was the heroine's life story and the second chapter was the hero's life story. The actual story didn't start until the third chapter. And this book is nominated for a RITA. Ugh.)
-- Deux ex machina. No excuse for it, unless your name is Homer.
-- Writers who take several pages to describe what characters are wearing and how their hair looks and what color the carpet is. I tolerate description only when it advances the story or adds to character development. I'm pretty sure knowing that the carpet in a room is red shag doesn't fit either of those categories.
-- The writer holds back a critical piece of information until 50 pages before the end of the book. Even worse if the book is written from the POV of a character who has that information for the entire length of the story. (Again, I ran across this one recently in a RITA nominated book. Not the same book as above.)
-- Glacially slow pacing, to the point where I can sum up 200 pages of narrative in 25 words or less. (Major offender here: Robert Jordan)
-- Mysteries that I figure out long before the POV character does. This serves to make the POV character look stupid.

What I like:
-- The opposite of everything listed above. Basically, if you give me a believable, well-plotted, well-paced story, I'm on board.
-- Also critical: likeable main characters with emotional depth. Bonus points if I feel empathy toward them without feeling like the writer is manipulating me.

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