follow a rookie writing his first novel

What do you like in a novel?

For some people it is the genre. A book just has to be crime/ romance/ fantasy or whatever before they get interested enough to read the blurb on the back cover. For others it is the storyline – it either has to be complex/ simple/ linear/ multiple strand or whatever before they reach for the wallet. For my friend I had this conversation with it has to have deep rich descriptions – well, each to their own I say.

For me, well, frankly its the language that matters most. A book just has to have those phrasings, often in metaphor, that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It can be pretty much any genre, it just has to have a plot (although I’ve read some really good writing that pretty much doesn’t) any plot will do, but without the clever turn of phrase it doesn’t really do it for me.

I know this is unfashionable at the moment, and the emphasis seems to be on short simple sentences. I don’t care. Last week, full of intent to write loads, I foolishly picked up a book by Ian McEwan – Enduring love. Its sort of about a person who is being stalked by someone with de Clerambault’s syndrome – maybe. Anyway, the writing is sublime and it ate up my week; ah well…

So, what does it for you. What is a ‘must have’ for your ideal novel?


Single Post Navigation

14 thoughts on “What do you like in a novel?

  1. brianhmoll on said:

    I think plot, since pretty much every story has already been told, is overrated. Important subject matter, history, are not that important. But if it’s going to say something, it should say whatever it is saying in an original way or not bother. And it has to have a style (language, yes, but also a distinct enjoyable rhythm) that makes me want to stick with it for the few days or the week or the month that it takes me to read it.

    I’m actually pretty tired of minimalism. Just because you’re sentences are short doesn’t mean they’re good.

    • You’re right, I have seen plenty of clipped sentence writing which was awful.

      • I ready an interview with Norman Mailer once where he said that when he started writing his idols were Hemingway and Faulkner. He chose Hemingway to emulate in his writing, as opposed to Faulkner, because those short sentences made it seem the easier choice. As he went along, he realized how wrong he’d been.

  2. I’m similar in terms of language – I like writing which has been well-crafted, as opposed to simply well-written. That’s not to say that I can’t enjoy authors who don’t write like George Orwell, but it often takes books up one level in my estimation.

    On a lower-brow note, I tend to like books with taints of comedy. It could be a current running throughout the book, or simply some puddles here and there, but I usually want SOMETHING which shows that the author is aware that life isn’t all tears. Not necessarily scenes full of one-liners; in fact, usually the wryer the better!

  3. Books, for me, need to have some element of fantasy. I get enough of the real world in my daily life – when I read, I’m looking for something extraordinary. This irritates my friends, because they are constantly recommending books to me that don’t fit these guidelines. For example, one friend gave me The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It is apparently an excellent book, full of mystery, murder, intrigue, etc. I couldn’t finish it. I didn’t even get halfway. For me, it’s fantasy or bust.

    • I like writing fantasy but not so much reading it – guess I’m just a bit contrary that way 🙂

    • If I read about a book and I think it sounds like my life, I’ll read something else instead. I want to read about things I don’t know (though it doesn’t have to be fantasy).

      Oh, and there are reasons other than lack of fantasy elements to toss Dragon Tattoo. It has some very good aspects, but there should be a warning label: this is a first novel and it needed a lot more editing than it got. 🙂

      • Yeah, I read the girl with the dragon tattoo and found it awkward but somehow strangely compelling. I haven’t read the follow ups yet but my partner says that the second one is a whole lot better.

      • “awkward but somehow strangely compelling” about says it. here is a reason the book was so successful, despite its weaknesses (I haven’t read the other two, though I have seen all three movies). I wrote about Larsson’s strengths and weaknesses a few times on my blog, like here:
        http://u-town.com/collins/?p=857 (in the spoiler-hidden part).

  4. I don’t have specific rules for what I read. There are some things I tend to avoid (romance and high school, for example, and particularly any combination of the two). If a book is out of copyright and free on Amazon, that’s a big plus. A mystery plot is a plus, too (whether or not the book is classified as a “mystery”).

    I strongly prefer books where things happen and with good, smart dialogue. Long passages of description or introspection tend to lull me to sleep. Henry James would be an exception, but almost nobody else can get away with his type of style because nobody else writes that well.

  5. Bringing up Henry James raises another interesting point. I was made to read him when I was quite young and really hated it -Many year later though I read him again and thought he was brilliant, so I guess likes and dislikes also change over time subject to maturity and development. I also know that I have to be in the right mood for certain authors styles to engage me. Seeing all the comments here gives me hope because it suggests that there is an audience for almost any type of writing (providing it is half way decent).

  6. For me it’s interesting characters and a plot that moves at a brisk pace. My most recent read was J.K. Rowling’s new release, A Casual Vacancy. It was disappointing, almost as if her publishing house is afraid to edit her. There were long-winded narratives that didn’t seem to add anything to the story. Also way too many characters, making it hard for me to feel invested in any of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: