June 22, 2011

Five Elements of a Good Read

It's summertime. I love seeing all the summer reading lists and the focus on reading. Recently, I read two Young Adult novels with similar themes and characters. One was successful and has been added to my recommend-to-friends list, one was not. It made me curious. What makes a good story?

I wanted to look past the obvious (good editing, professional work) and vague (good writer). A good writer manipulates words into poetry. You are compelled to continue reading. Each word draws you further in. Sometimes good writing cannot overcome poor story whereas a great story can often overcome less than spectacular writing.

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 Five Elements of a Good Read

1. Memorable Characters: I want the characters to stay with me long after the last page. They need to be flawed. Nobody can relate to perfection. Still, they must have a redeeming quality. It can't be all flaws. The author has to flesh out the characters and make the reader care.

2. Contracting Conflict: Think of it like labor. The conflict should rise, come back a bit, and rise again. You need a break from the tension, but not a complete collapse of conflict. It should ebb and flow and engage the reader.

3. Engaging Emotions: You often hear someone say, "It made me laugh and cry." A reader needs to be emotionally invested in a story. But it can't be all sadness or all terror. Give the reader bits and pieces of different emotions, like life.

4. Compelling Journey: The character, which thanks to #1-#3, we so care about should learn something. There should be a reason for the story. A journey with a destination. You wouldn't tell a joke without the punchline.

5. Lasting Impression: The story and the characters should stay with you. When you are done, there should be a desire to know more. I'm not suggesting all books need sequels, but a reader should want one.

Tomorrow, I am going to compare the two YA novels I mentioned earlier to attempt to answer why one will stay with me and one won't.

What do you think is the most important element of a good story/read?


Unknown said...

It might not be the most important, but I like to read believable dialogue.

Tia Bach said...

Jackie, I agree. Believable dialogue moves story and also helps create memorable characters. It shouldn't be a crutch for story, but should aid. Thanks for contributing. It's a good one, and part of why I didn't like one of the books I will dissect tomorrow.

Katy Manck, MLS said...

Well-said, Tia. And you have to be able to find some connection between your own self and the story, no matter how tenuous that connection is.

F'rinstance, I haven't yet lived aboard a space ship, but I can remember how the tent got smaller and smaller as 6 people camped in the rain (waiting for the car battery to charge) and can empathize with a character whose sudden claustrophobia drives that space story.

Got to agree that if the characters aren't real (and yes, Jackie, dialogue can help or hinder that), then that book gets tossed aside. And that's with me already being frightfully picky about what books make it into my ever-burgeoning TBR pile.

**Katy M
Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at http://BooksYALove.blogspot.com
Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

Christine said...

Very good list! I just finished a book today and can identify all 5 with this book.

Tia Bach said...

Katy, I love books, and I hate to have a story with potential forget these basic elements. When something's horrible, I can write it off. But I get so upset when a book is almost there and it just doesn't come together.

Christine, Now I have to sit down with the two books and decipher what went wrong. I was so disappointed with the book because it had such potential.

Thanks for your supportive and interesting comments ladies.

Dana & Keith Newbrough said...

I agree with all of these, but for me all these things have to culminate into a quick-read - I do not mean picture books or short books necessarily, but instead just ones that capture me from the beginning and keep me thoroughly entertained. If there is any forcing my way through the book, or it takes chapters to get you involved, I frankly (right now in my life) will just put it down. When I read it is 10 pm after my 2 yr old goes down and the house is put back together, so if it does not include all the things you mentioned plus some good intrigue, action or memorable characters I am snoring in minutes. :)

Tia Bach said...

Dana, I'm do like a read that keeps me moving, wanting to read more. But I've only put down 3 books in my life. (I think I'll blog about that later, hmmmm) I tend to give a book the benefit of the doubt and hope to find something redeeming, which I usually do. But then I get angry that the author was so close.

Thanks for commenting and all you do for our blog and website my dear, baby sister!!

Lisa @ Intralingo said...

Excellent distillation of what makes a good read, Tia! I might also add consistency. This could fall under some of your points, but I know how I hate it when the protagonist (especially) does something completely out of character. It's jarring and makes the whole story less believable.

Tia Bach said...

Lisa, thanks. I agree about consistency. I'd rather a beloved character make mistakes consistent with their flaws than to become what's necessary to move story!