Last week I asked you ten questions about what you love most in a book.
Thank you to all who took the time to answer. The blog is still available for those who wanted to take the quiz and just didn’t get around to it last week. So are the answers, all of which are fun to read. Do you agree with them? See what you think.
I promised some answers of my own, as a reader–not a novelist today–so I’ll plunge right in by saying I can’t give a definitive answer to some of the questions because I’m sitting right on the fence.
What’s more important to me a carefully crafted sentence or a carefully crafted plot. In the same vein, do I care more about characters or plot?
Of course these questions were a set-up to see if what was really important to you was immediately clear. Personally I won’t read an author whose sentences are filled with grammatical errors or poorly crafted, and those flaws show up quickly. On the other hand, some bestselling novelists rely on the simplest sentence constructions along with lots of repetition. This is not poor craftsmanship but part of their style, and if the plot is gripping enough, the book will take off like a rocket because it’s easy to read.
So if a story is told well right from the beginning, simplicity doesn’t keep me from turning the page.
Truth is? Some readers prefer simplicity–and not because they’re simple people. They want story, and they don’t want to dig for it through long descriptions or beautiful sentences that take re-reading to decipher.
The question of style leads right to character, which often develops slowly. Note I said “often” not “always.” I’ve seen bestselling authors who simply list their characters’ attributes in the first chapter, a kind of shorthand that assures their readers these characters are good people, with qualities to admire. Then the author plows into the story, often an exciting one with lots happening.
As a reader I don’t enjoy this. I want both the character and plot to unfold at a more leisurely pace. I want to sink into a story and feel like I’m with friends, real friends, the kind who have flaws and strengths, people whose problems I agree to witness in subsequent chapters.
So sentences over plot? To start a story, yes. But once it’s clear an author can write, story is key.
And characters versus plot? As so many readers answered last week, I’m on the 50 yard line on that one. An exciting story peopled by one-dimensional characters is very much like reading a Wikipedia synopsis and almost always forgettable by the end. Well developed characters, with amazing backgrounds, thoughts and memories who do nothing of importance make for a boring book. Of course only rarely is a book either/or, and I find myself reading more character-oriented stories than plot-driven ones. In fact I also find myself writing my books that way. I may have the important elements of a plot in mind before I even sit down to put words on paper, but the first thing I do is figure out whose story I’m telling and flesh those people out to help me set the plot in motion.
The final question of last week’s survey interests me: At this juncture in history are you more interested in books with feel-good stories, or grittier tales that make you think long after “The End?”
I’ll confess I’m staying away from gritty right now. On my Kindle thrillers are taking a back seat to well-written traditional mysteries. Warm-hearted women’s fiction with interesting twists is finding a place in my line-up, too.
In the end, as a reader, I’m looking for well-written stories with believable characters and a minimum of angst and violence. I would probably have answered differently pre-pandemic, but this, along with so many other things, changed.
No matter what you’re reading or whom, I hope you’re finding books that meet your expectations and make your days a little shorter and happier.