What Makes a Good Novel?

What makes a good or a great novel? Is it the characters, the setting, the plot, the dialogue, or the ending? It’s probably a combination of all of these things, and more.

I’ve always believed that a good novel has to have the following ingredients, regardless of what genre:
1. Interesting characters
2. An exciting plot
3. A great story
4. A great ending

Good dialogue is important too. It is how we get a glimpse inside a character’s head and a character’s heart. When dialogue moves us—and makes us smile, laugh, and/or cry—we feel a stronger connection to the story and the characters, which makes the book memorable.

What makes a novel bad? I guess the opposite of the above, right?
1. Boring characters
2. A boring plot
3. A bad ending

And a lot more…

When you find yourself skipping paragraphs and/or pages, chances are, you’re losing interest in the characters and/or the story. I’m sure that many of you have opened a book, started reading it and then midway through, closed the book and never finished it. Do you remember why you stopped reading? 

I do. I once read a story that seemed interesting enough to keep going. But when I got to the chapter where descriptions began to feel like the author simply wanting to show off her knowledge on history, even though it didn’t necessarily pertain to the story or to the protagonist, I closed the book.

Description is a vital part of a story. It is what paints the picture for the reader. It is what puts them in the mood and helps them see the story clearer. But when descriptions become too flowery or too detailed, I lose interest.

Last year, I began reading a novel that started off strong. A few pages in, I found myself skipping sentences and paragraphs. The author described too many mundane details I didn’t care for. I wanted to get to the story, but instead found myself skipping through sections about what the character ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then what beer he bought, when and where he bought it, and how he sipped it. It was way too much. I stopped reading in the midst of chapter four.

So now I’d like to ask you a few questions about fiction. If you’d like to answer them, simply leave your answers in the comments section below:

1. What genre of fiction do you enjoy reading?

2. What is your favorite novel, and why?

3. Who is your favorite novelist, and why?

4. What makes you lose interest in a story?

5. What types of protagonists do you like reading about? Do you dislike?

6 What type of endings do you prefer (happy, tragic, sad, cliffhanger endings)?

7. What type of narration do you prefer (example: first-person or third-person)? Does it matter?

8. What novel(s) have you read more than once? Why?

Thanks for answering the questions.

Happy reading and writing!

0 Replies to “What Makes a Good Novel?”

  1. Like you, I’ve found it interesting to know what’s drawn people to read a book. So I thought it would be fun to answer your questionnaire. Here they are.
    1. I enjoy reading a variety of genres. The ones I enjoy are historical fiction, romance, contemporary fiction, and thrillers.
    2. I would say one of my favorite novels would be “A Fine Balance” by Rohin Mistry. I enjoyed the realism in characters and their gripping stories.
    3. Too many to name but I will say all these authors’ stories were entertaining, thought provoking, and unpredictable.
    4. Predictability.
    5. I tend to like flawed type of protagonists.
    6. I think the joy of reading a book is in not knowing how the story begins or ends. So I have no preference.
    7. No preference.
    8. I’ve read “Jane Eyre” (it had a happy ending) and “When Elephants Dance” (character study).
    A question back to you, what novel have you read twice or started reading and just couldn’t put down?

    1. Hi Cara Myiah! Thanks for answering my questions! To answer your question: “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. I loved everything about this book. I was already a fan of Hemingway and Paris in the 1920’s, but after reading this book, I became an even bigger fan of that era.

  2. Like you, I’ve found it interesting to know what’s drawn people to read a book. So I thought it would be fun to answer your questionnaire. Here they are.
    1. I enjoy reading a variety of genres. The ones I enjoy are historical fiction, romance, contemporary fiction, and thrillers.
    2. I would say one of my favorite novels would be “A Fine Balance” by Rohin Mistry. I enjoyed the realism in characters and their gripping stories.
    3. Too many to name but I will say all these authors’ stories were entertaining, thought provoking, and unpredictable.
    4. Predictability.
    5. I tend to like flawed type of protagonists.
    6. I think the joy of reading a book is in not knowing how the story begins or ends. So I have no preference.
    7. No preference.
    8. I’ve read “Jane Eyre” (it had a happy ending) and “When Elephants Dance” (character study).
    A question back to you, what novel have you read twice or started reading and just couldn’t put down?

  3. 1. Speculative fiction, primarily horror and dark urban fantasy. I enjoy some high fantasy and some sci-fi, but I can be picky. Also have a soft spot for mysteries.
    2. That’s tough, but I’d say The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. It’s got Stephen King’s style in it, the part he does really well, using repetition and imagery to drive the horror, but it’s not really a horror novel. It’s a dark fantasy, and to me it is the ideal dark fantasy. It’s a boy who has to go on a terribly hard journey. He forges strong, believable, and sometimes heartbreaking relationships along the way. He’s dragged across the coals but never gives up. It is not a pretty, cheerful adventure—it is gritty, and hard, and he comes out of it a stronger person. I laughed, I cried, and I was awed.
    3. Easy. T.A. Barron. He was a major inspiration for me when I was younger. His books made me imagine and they made me want to write. He encourages young readers and writers, and has done a lot of work to encourage “young heroes”.
    4. Unbelievable relationships, usually, and unlikeable main characters.
    5. I like protagonists who are strong in their own right. They have some quality that is admirable—loyalty, or bravery. Willingness to take that step over the edge.
    I hate protagonists that have no, or too few, redeemable qualities. The whole, “I’m a jerk, but I’m part of an adventure and this is from my POV, so read my story.” It’s possible to have jerk protagonists, but they also have to have something to humanize them.
    Additionally, protagonists that are largely reactionary. Everything just sort of happens to them. They don’t act on their own, they just respond to the situations. They don’t take charge of the plot at any point.
    6. I like endings that feel like the book was worth reading. All those people who say, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” about reading books just don’t fit in with what I want. If it’s a great book and the ending is not rewarding, the whole book is ruined for me. So I prefer happy endings because these are the endings that are the most rewarding, usually. Most (not all) tragic endings that I’ve found are because everything the protagonist attempted was in vain, which leaves me feeling like I just wasted hours on something that gave me nothing in the end.
    7. For a while I was biased against first-person because I associated it with poorly-written YA (for some reason.) But I’ve had my opinion turn around, and now I have no preference—each novel has its own POV requirements.
    8. Many, many of them. I tend to re-read books that leave an impression. Usually they’re the ones that really put the narrator through the most personal challenge, or the ones I found the most inspirational. The Magician by Raymond E. Feist showed one person bringing two cultures together. The Legend of Nightfall by Mickey Zucker Reichert made me laugh out loud. T.A. Barron’s book The Ancient One made me feel like I was in a redwood forest, to the point where the feeling lingered in the back of my mind for days after I’d put it down. The Children of Green Knowe was simply magical, but it was a magic that was not to be taken lightly.

    1. Hi Alison! I enjoyed reading your answers. I agree with you about how important endings are. I don’t like books that are good throughout but fall flat in the end. It really does ruin the whole book. Thanks for your answers!

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