Recently I finished reading an historical novel I enjoyed very much. I found it interesting and was anxious to sit down and read. Some of the characters were predictable; others not so much. Some of the story predictable; other parts not so much. The bottom line was it kept me reading and entertained the entire time I read. Later, after I wrote a review of the book, I scanned the other reviews. Many people agreed that the book was captivating and rated it highly. Others not so much. Others found the book simple and predictable. I began to wonder how readers judge a book.
By judging I mean, deciding to keep reading and to recommend to friends or to cast it aside.
- Point of view is critical for me. I enjoy books written in the first person or the third person but not in the omnipotent. If an author switches point of view in a paragraph or on a page without a break over and over, I can’t keep reading. I forgive this when I read the classics. Many books written in the 19th and early 20th Centuries were written in the omnipotent and switch point of view a lot.
- Is the main character a whiner? I’ve noticed with many of the books in today’s market, the protagonist is a whiner. She’s (and it’s often a woman) complaining, bemoaning or just otherwise fussing about her life, her world, her circumstances. This includes a lot of internal dialogue. Some internal dialogue is fine but too much and too much complaining drives me up the wall.
- Does the plot intrigue me? When there are questions that are intriguing, even if not going to end the world, but captivating, I keep reading to learn the answers. The book I mentioned above had a strong plot. The main characters had quests. One was searching for answers to deep family secrets; the other was fighting to escape horrid conditions.
- Do I understand and believe the character’s motivations? When a character does something, am I there with him or her? If my mind comes out of the reading and thinks, “Why is he doing this?” Or, “That makes no sense to me.” I’ve come out of the story, and that’s not good. Sometimes I’ll keep reading and give the character the benefit of the doubt. But if it happens repeatedly, I’m outta there. BTW, this doesn’t include when the author shares information with the reader that the character doesn’t have. In those situations, I might think, “No! Don’t go there,” because that’s what the author wants me to think.
- Is the dialogue flawless? When the dialogue seems stilted or out of sorts, I can’t keep reading. If the character is Southern, then the dialogue must reflect it. If the character is uneducated, then he or she shouldn’t sound like a college professor.
- Repetition drives me crazy. It’s okay to tell the reader something a few times, just to make sure they remember. But over and over. Please! We’re not that forgetful. We remember that the character came from a prominent family. We know that the character is beautiful. Enough already!
- The author needs to set the stage for tying up the story without giving too much away. This last book I read was predictable, but that didn’t bother me. It wasn’t supposed to be a mystery. I resent mystery writers who toss in a killer at the end when there have been no clues or foreshadowing. It’s a challenge, but for me to appreciate the book, very important.
- Many books drag out the ending. The author doesn’t know how to finish things up. Indeed, I get frustrated when the ending is too abrupt, but when it goes on and on, it’s worse. Nonetheless if I’ve made it this far in the book, it’s likely I’ll forgive the author. My review, however, might not be as glowing.
I agree with all your points!
I also have a couple to add. I enjoy historical fiction, but only when the author gets the historical/factual details right. I recently attempted a book where the whiney heroine fed bacon to the the Jewish refugees.
Joan Curtis says
OMG! I know you stopped reading when that heroine did that! I would have. Indeed messing up on historical points, even in books that aren’t historical, pulls the reader out of the story. That’s definitely a no-no! As writers we can’t depend on our editors to know everything. We’ve got to check and re-check all the details. I’m always amazed at the writers who attempt historical fiction. That takes so much work and lots of dedication to do right. But, I love to read them!