Monday 16 May 2011

A good read?

As I plan my next book, I am interested in what exactly makes a good read, and also what makes a memorable read. And what is the difference.

I read a great many books, and enjoy some of them. But quite often I find that a few weeks down the line, I can hardly remember what they were about. For instance, I like the novels of Anita Shreeve, and have (I think) read all of them, but I can remember very few of the plots. On the other hand, Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin (currently in the news again as it is coming out as a highly-recommended film) has remained in (and on) my mind ever since I read it when it first came out. Another example is Michael Rowbotham's Shatter.

The things these two very different novels have in common are strikingly strong and original plots, so maybe these are two characteristics to bear in mind when writing a novel. They are not the best novels I have ever read, but they were both vivid page-turners, and as such, excellent entertainment.

I am currently reading a book by a very well-known author, whose novels have sold in hundreds of millions, but who tends to be looked down on by the literary establishment. I'm reading his book because I'd like to know how he's come to be so successful. Already, I am involved (if not gripped), although the writing isn't particularly good (eg superfluous adverbs are scattered through the text like confetti), and am beginning to see that, in some novels, story really is all. If the story is good enough, it seems that the writer can get away with almost anything.

I write in a particular way, and, sadly, am incapable of writing a gripping or thrilling book. But what I can do is sharpen what I write, and hope that it will grip (if not thrill) at least a handful of readers...


  1. Frances, you've made an important distinction. There's good writing (which is memorable) and good story telling (which is entertaining). Both have serve an important purpose. I know that there's times when all I want is a good story to transport me away and, at other times, I need to read something that moves me deeply.

    Both require talent and skill and all we can do as authors is as you suggest: accept that we write in a particular way and work hard at honing our unique skill and talent.
    Judy, South Africa

  2. Good luck with your book Frances. I enjoy reading your blog, and like your no-nonsense, but always with feeling, getting straight to the point - style.

  3. What makes a good read depends on my mood. Sometimes I just want a good story, sometimes good writing will seem more important. Sometimes hell freezes over and I consider trying another Dan Brown book.

  4. Thanks, Judy. A really thoughtful, helpful comment.

    Suzy - thank you! (Re the book - I keep having brilliant ideas for crime novels, but can't write crime fiction!)

    Patsy, I wasn't going to mention DB, as people I like and respect enjoy him, but....However, you're right. So much depends on the mood when reading a novel. But when you're the writer, you have to appeal to enough people who are (enough) in the mood for what you write, otherwise no-one will read what you've written!

  5. Yes, lots of people do enjoy DB's books - just goes to show what a varied lot readers are. Luckily authors are just as varied, so there's something for everyone.

  6. And he has made more money than you or I (well, I, anwyay!) can dream about..

  7. Somehow, that doesn't make me like him any better.

  8. Frances, I like the distinction you've drawn and I agree with others that sometimes we want a gripping plot and are prepared to forgive prose we would want - in anohter mood - to have at with a red pen. At other times I long for a well turned sentence and characters who are so real they live in my memory long after the book is finished.
    Occasionally, one comes across an author who both grips and enchants with their prose. I've just read the latest Geraldine Brooks - Caleb's Crossing - and she is definitely one of that handful of authors.
    Hope you enjoy your Dan Brown - you know I do!

  9. Thanks, Alis. I had you especially in mind when I was referring to Dan Brown!

    I think there are books that can only be read on holiday. I don't mean great big glittery bodice-rippers; I mean the kind that take time to get into, and usually there just isn't that time. I would never have got through the Last Chronicle of Barsetshire had I not been on holiday, although I love Trollope.

    I shall look out for your Geraldine Brooks. I loved the last one I read.