Musings on the Quality of Books

One of the things every writer asks himself is, “what makes a book good?”, “what makes a reader hooked in a book”? Well, I was a reader way before I became a writer, and while I cannot speak for other readers, I can at least explore what I think makes for an interesting book for myself. In short words, I believe that a book is great if it makes me angry, sad, and happy; every single book that I read that manages to make me cry, laugh, and shout out in anger, I consider it on my list of best books.

But what makes us cry, laugh and shout out? That is the real question here.

Regardless if it is sadness, happiness or anger, for a book to drive into us enough emotion for us to actually express it out loud, we have to be emotionally attached to the characters and events happening in the book, but mostly to the characters, as it is them who drive the events and the plot forward. Therein lies the secret for success in any medium of storytelling: the characters. The most memorable books I’ve read had developed characters, with strong personalities and organic qualities and flaws. Some of them, in fact, didn’t even had that good writing, or the plots where a bit lackluster… but the characters more than made up for it.

So, what makes a character a good character? Well… I know I can point my finger at many of the awesome characters in the books I’ve read – Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files, Rand al’Thor in The Wheel of Time, Tavi in Codex Alera, and many, many others -, but I cannot for the life of me pinpoint what, especifically, makes them all such awesome characters. In your opinion, what makes an awesome character?

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3 thoughts on “Musings on the Quality of Books

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head. This kind of catharsis is what Aristotle talked about in Poetics; basically if art doesn’t allow you to vent your emotions through it, it’s not art.
    As for characters–my favourites are the ones who are layered enough that they’re almost contradicting themselves. Iago is a great villain, but he’s pure evil, so it’s hard to sympathize with him. Aaron from Tius Andronicus, on the other hand, is more evil than Iago–but his devotion to his son and the lengths he’ll go to to protect him redeems his character. I don’t want my characters to be stereotypes, I want them to be people.

    • Sadly, I’m not educated enough on Shakespeare (yes, I know, don’t look at me like that) to really grasp your references, but I completely agree about your sentiment about layered characters. Nothing in real life is black and white, so it shouldn’t be in a novel, either, especially when regarding people.

  2. That’s exactly it–if your characters are one dimensional, they’re not interesting–why would a reader feel connected to them? :)

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