Monday, September 27, 2010


The four excellent posts I have linked to got me thinking about why we enjoy reading our favourite authors.

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading and Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise talk about the OCR [Over Critical Reader]

Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist discusses what keeps us reading a particular author and a series.

I thought I would produce a simplistic list of the factors that I hope to find in a book.
My Fourteen Points and criteria [with apologies to President Woodrow Wilson] are indeed very simple, but the books I really enjoy obey the majority of them, and some books struggle even on these very basic points.

1] A believable plot and sub-plots.
2] A interesting main protagonist.
3] A good supporting cast of characters.
4] An easily readable narrative style.
5] A little humour at some point in the story.
6] To be educated, without being given a lecture.
7] A sense of place.
8] Accuracy in the setting, especially in historical crime fiction.
9] Clues and puzzles to solve.
10] Excitement and tension.
11] A degree of honesty with the reader.
12] A sense of justice achieved, I am very old fashioned about that.
13] That any violence should be limited to what is essential to the plot, and not just gratuitous exploitation.
14] A limited amount of political propaganda.

This may seem just common sense and almost too easy to achieve. But last year I read a book where the protagonist pops down to the local Gestapo HQ to explain that his girl friend is a member of a resistance organization, and could he make a deal for her safety. That fantasy failed the book immediately on about five criteria in one paragraph. [My review of that book has not been posted]. I have also read one book in the past few years that forgot to have a plot, but did have one sentence containing over 190 words.

Of course the one factor I have not mentioned in the success of an author is the excellence of their marketing campaigns, and their business acumen of their management team. The novels of Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and Agatha Christie obey most of the criteria, but they also have been brilliantly marketed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - What an excellent list!! You've really highlighted such important criteria for a good book. As you say, one would think these things would be self-evident and achievable. However, like you, I've read more than one book where that was not the case. I'm printing your list out where I can keep it handy when I write :-)

And thanks much for linking to and mentioning my blog post! I appreciate it.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot, your blog posts are always worth linking to.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

That really is a great list. Happily there are lots of books that do meet most of them and some that tick all the boxes. What I find astonishing is that there are still plenty which don't meet any of these that get published but these days not many of them get on to my TBR

1:01 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...


Yes. I agree. Your list is great and I agree with it.

I could add that I, too, don't like fantasy or unbelievability in a plot, nor do I like coincidences or accidents that cause a villain to fall into an earthquake that suddenly happened. Nor the hero to suddenly arrive at exactly the right moment to save someone--unbelievable stuff.

I do like imagination and creativity, however, as in Fred Vargas' writing, which can go off in brilliant adventures, but I do enjoy it. A cop who speaks in 12-syllable Alexandrine verse.
Facts about the medieval bubonic plague. Where else would I read this?

I don't mind political opinions or points but it can't take the place of a good plot and puzzle.

And I do agree on the violence. In fact, some of the best mysteries I ever read had little violence or it was off the page.
And it was all about the puzzle, characters and denouement.

Thanks for your list. I will refer to it.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Bernadette. I sometimes wonder if the world has gone crazy when authors with some real talent have trouble getting published, but people rehashing rubbish are best sellers.

2:07 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Kathy. I am a great Fred Vargas fan although I don't really think she deserved her last International Dagger for The Chalk Circle Man
Also I don't mind anyone's political opinions if they agree with mine.;o)
I totally agree about violence, and in fact it is more frightening when not mentioned but just hinted at in print and movies.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

Love the example! And great list, Norman, I will bear it in mind regularly.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine.

1:42 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I agree that your list is most useful, but sometimes a book scores so high on one point that I am able to forgive a number of other weaknesses. But it mustn´t be too silly; I can´t bear that.

1:39 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I do wonder why or how some books get published, too. Can I add "boring" to the list? Some books are downright boring, not good, but they're in print.

Perhaps the name of the author is why the books are published, even though they're awful.

I have taken many books back to the library unread after I read 10 pages and realize the book says nothing and is boring, not worth reading when there is so much out there to read.

But perhaps there is a market of books perfect for insomniacs, so they fall asleep while reading.

True, about political opinions. Sometimes I do like a good polemic or two, though, something to ponder.

I want to add one more point which I don't like--bad editing or copyediting or proofreading. I actually mark spelling and punctuation errors. If it's too predominant, it takes away from enjoyment of the book.

11:41 PM  

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