TJ and I have been tossing on and off about book reviews, how you should do them and what does it mean. Shalini talked about how one bad aspect of a book can really screw you up (actually I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I totally remember my light bulb moment after I read it, so there you go…) Therefore, if you like my blog today, thank me: if you don’t, blame them…

What’s the most important aspect of a book?

Does one aspect of a book matter more?

I’ve been seriously pondering both of these questions lately. What makes a book good or bad? What makes you like a book or hate it? Can you like a bad book?

I know- threw a lot out there at you on a Monday morning. So I’m going to think about these questions from the viewpoint of the book I finished over the weekend, “Star-Crossed” by Minnie Darke. There will be spoilers, but it’s a romantic comedy, so, really.

Predictability: Ok- since I led into this, this book is pretty straightforward in that you know what’s going to happen. You may not know the details along the way, but you know exactly what the arc of this story is going to be- you can almost guess the pages of the climax and the final reveal. Does this make the book bad? Many people critique a book saying it was cliché, and therefore worthy of a lousy review. should a book be dinged because it’s predictable? Well, that depends. In this case no, because of its genre. When I picked up the book I wanted a light, easy, fun read. It’s a romantic comedy: when you decide to read one, you’re pretty much signing on for predicable: do you really want to read a rom com where the two main characters don’t end up together in the end? So yes, predictable, but I expected it. Not dinging this book for that. But another genre of book? I don’t want it to be a pat and scripted journey.

So: how important is predictability? Depends on the genre.

Plot. This kind of goes in hand with predictability. And it also depends on genre. The plot of the book I discussed was straightforward, but again- rom com. It’s supposed to be that way. But, in this case, the little details that filled in the blanks were good: I thought how the author got where she was going was interesting and fun. Our female protagonist is a low level (but rising) employee at a monthly magazine. She has a think for a guy who truly believes in horoscopes, so when she is entering the horoscope copy for layout, she sort of tweaks it so that maybe it will lead him to her. Clever, right? And along the way, we see how she has changed the patterns of other lives because of her false predictions. Even though the story was totally predictable, I enjoyed the ride the author took us on. It was light and easy and fun.

Characters. Do you need to like the characters? This is something I think about often. I know many people will stop reading a book, or ding it badly if they do not like the main character. Is this fair? Again- I think it depends on genre. In the book I’m using as an example, I think you must love, or really like, the two main characters. But other books? I liked “Gone Girl” even though I hated both the main characters. But they intrigued me: sometimes that’s all the hook you need.

Setting/description. How much do you need? How much is important? Ok- I do not like overly descriptive work. When someone gives me a laundry list of the designed names in a closet, and gives me intricate detail of clothing, I am starting to fall asleep. I don’t need to know everything on their kitchen counter, or every objet d’art on their shelves. I want to know the general style, the general upkeep and the colors: that’s what I need to give me a sense of the person. I need the details to be organic. I don’t like laundry lists and I don’t like details that do not matter to the story. But…I know many people who love all those details. I also think that description is a stylistic choice: some genres and stories beg for more description, others need to be sparse. In my rom com of choice, I thought the author gave us just enough so that we got the essence of the characters and where they were in life without burdening us down with minutia.

So if I were to rate “Star-Crossed” I would give it a 3.75. Though I liked all the basic elements, and the plot line was original, some of the hijinks were a little too forced. Some of the main characters traits were a little too cute. But, as far as light, summer rom com it was perfectly fine. I think genre really matters when discussing/reviewing a book: my expectations clearly change dependent upon the type of work I’m looking at. I’m currently reading “Rebecca”: there is no way I would judge it as I judge “Star-Crossed”. First big thought of the week: genre matters, and the guidelines for reviewing/discussing should be different per genre.

I think these are the most important aspects of a book, but I’m going to be playing with all things books and reading this week. If I missed something important today, I’ll more than likely hit on it at some point.

 

69 thoughts on “Plot, Characters, Setting Oh My

  1. Just tossing a random thought into the mix and it focuses on predictability.
    I agree with your take that it’s more the path to the ultimate predictable ending that matters, because otherwise it’s boring even with decent writing, however…
    I find all books predictable. Is there any genre that we can’t predict a fairly accurate ending? I look over at what’s on my shelf waiting to be read and can feel confident that I already now a version of the ending.
    A mystery will be solved in some way, women will triumph in the feminist dystopian titles, the historical fiction can be manipulated but “history” will remain, memoirs go without saying…
    Maybe if I put it this way: I often look at a book, read a synopsis and wonder why I should take the time to read the book when I know that I’ve read 19 with the same ending already. It has to be because I expect this one to take twists and turns that the other 19 didn’t take so I’m reading for the journey, not the ending.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I tend to agree with you, you can go back to the 4 basic “stories” , the how you tell it changes. But here’s my problems. 1) I read so much critique that complains that something is predictable. Apparently, some readers crave something different 2) some writers stray so far off the path because they don’t want to be predictable. That there stuff becomes unbelievable. Then you have the whole is it believable conundrum….it’s both a problem 8 hav3 with books and critiques lately

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think we touched on reviews/ratings/critiques in the past didn’t we? In this case you seem to be coming from the reader standpoint I think. So here’s another thought-
        How much does a “reader” depend upon critiques when choosing what to read–I mostly go 80% with my gut, 20% on reviews. Yay for me if I pick a good one, try something else if this choice doesn’t do it for me.
        How much does a “writer” depend upon those same things as they plan and execute their writing? Some of the ongoing comments from this blog follow the “write for yourself and what you know” path, while others have gone more the genre trend. So does the first group ignore critiques and the second write specifically toward those critiques?
        Maybe you’re coming to this later in the series, yet once again LA, you have provoked more questions than answers! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, you know I’m always thinking big picture first, then breaking it down!! Personally, I don’t pay much attention to critique if I know and like the author, or if it a topic I’m totally into at the moment. I doo look at the cumulative star rating, saying 100 people reviewed and it gets about a 4 star, I might give a book a look. I think the cumulative star rating is fairly accurate…I recently picked up a book at Barnes because I thought the topic was up my alley. The review was 3 star. I bought it anyway and didn’t love it, so…..yeah…I keep going back to this topic because I’m not satisfied yet with my thoughts. I’m trying to break down what’s important, because I think publishing is based a lot on focus group type stuff….it’s more trying to narrow down how to write a novel that I’m proud of, but will also sell.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yes, I agree with the concept of that focus group base being used to evaluate writers success or failure as a tool that’s often used. Not sure if I really believe it works but that’s my 80% gut instinct talking 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I don’t think it works at all. First off, cause people lie. They want to appear “more” than they really are. Also, every focus group has a ringleader, someone who says something and is so persuasive others follow. Instead of getting a balance, you’re getting one persons opinion on a subject

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Ok…I read two this year that I’ve really enjoyed. “A Gentleman in Moscow “ by Amor Towles. I thought it was elegant and wonderful, simple at heart yet complex. I also liked “Daisy Jones and the Six”. I thought the way the author told the story was inventive, interesting and fun, and a great way to convey subject manner. Both I felt were somewhat novel

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I’ve found a few lately that fit my idea of “novel” as well, one published in the 80’s and one published just last year. It happens, and I did branch out of my usual pattern with these so perhaps I’m just too mired in routine!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Predictability is not the negative trait that a lot of readers assume it is, depending upon how well the book is executed, genre notwithstanding. You go into a romance expecting Character A to fall in love with Character B; you know the plucky detective is going to solve the mystery at the end; you know the fantasy heroes are going to defeat the villain after their adventures. Subverting the reader’s expectations does not automatically make a book good (nor does it make it bad). It’s all in the execution. If the author can’t write a good story, no gimmick is going to save them. If they know what they’re doing and can do it well, then it won’t matter what trope they use or how predictable it is; you’re going to have a good time reading the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Completely agree. Though I’ve noticed a trend that book (and movies) are critiqued negatively if something is predictable, and that some authors are going out if their way to be not predictable. A story can be predictable and outstanding, or completely original and lousy. It’s a subject that always makes me think

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t know if you need to like the characters so much as be able to relate to them in some way or understand them. It does help the story if you can root for or against a character, feel something strongly about them.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Sheesh! Just go and unpack ALL of that and expect me to be able to talk about it in a comment?! I don’t think I’m that good at keeping things short.

    Predictability can go either way for me. Like you said, I think genre really matters. That said, I cannot stand to read an author (usually it take several books to find the pattern) that writes based on a formula. MCs meet on at the 20% mark, first kiss hits at 35%, first intimate scene at 50%, cue break/falling out/ separation drama at 75% with the resolution beginning at 85% (and yes, those are pretty much real percentage marks for one author I read for a while). I also do want to feel like what I’m reading isn’t a rehash of dozen of other similar books. This is one of the reasons I’m no longer much of a fan of mysteries. Authors struggle to make the story interesting enough outside of the standard expectations because there are just so many expectations in this genre.

    Characters have to feel real to me. That doesn’t mean I have to like them, just that I can understand them and their motivations. At the same time, my main characters have to at least have some redeeming, human qualities or I will struggle to like the book. I have no problem with ugly characters or those struggling with real issues that make them maybe not the best person in the world, but I draw the line at truly horrible characters. The kinds that if they were people in real life, I’d do everything I possibly could to avoid them.

    Setting and description are some of those things that really depends on the book, but I do draw the line, no matter the book at extreme levels that don’t really do anything to add to the book overall. I am one that needs some of those specifics to help visualize the character and how they move through their space, so I probably like a little more than most. It really drives me nuts, though when authors kind of skip over pieces and it makes me feel like I missed out on something. Like a character is sitting and the next time they are mentioned in the same scene they are on the other side of the room suddenly fixing coffee or something, but there is zero mention at all of that transition.

    I do think genre plays a huge part in how I’ll look at those different areas, but then again, so do my personal peeves. That alone can make me really hate a book no matter how well written. While I do have a few, it isn’t all that often they get hit, so when they do, it will drastically reduce my ability to like a book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My friend g is like you…she wants to go into a scene and come out of a scene. She desperately needs the play by play details. I’m the opposite. But again….that’s all personal preference which makes it hard to review. Completely agree with you on author formulas. An author has a hit, and basically rewrites the book 5 different times. But then you have the reverse. For example, I have faithfully read Jennifer Weiner since she started out. I am looking forward the her new book this week. But I don’t know why as I’ve been disappointed with he4 last maybe 5 novels. She is trying to be so different she’s lost the charm and wittiness that she began with. So I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe write less. Who knows.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. From my experience, most of my favorite books are written by authors that only release 1 or 2 books a year. I can’t say for certain if that is the difference or if it is just them, but those tend to be the better books in my opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Most of mine are only 1. I do have another that is currently writing two separate series and we, normally, get one of each per year. Granted, the last one of one of those series was not my favorite, so I do think there is something to that.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. And on a side note to this… every single bit of advice I have seen on selling your book? Write more books. Seems to go against this concept a little bit. I think more and more authors are feeling the pressure to pump out more work, even if the quality is less.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yikes..
    Blame them and I am the only one named.. 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂
    Well LA I need to connect to something, character or the story or the writing. If one of them enamors me, then I like the book. But it is all individualistic…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. That is why each review is special.. What I like, you may not like. I may connect to a character, you may not. It all ultimately depends upon our life experiences

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think the concept of drama has to be reformatted. Even sometimes when I’m looking fir a book recommendation, I might like something because it’s sarcastic, and when I search for books like that, I want to find sarcastic books, not necessarily gay male protagonists. The way we fund books, how we look at reviews, who reviews them…I think it needs to be rethought, especially with the plethora of books and reviews out there. You know I’m trying to reinvent the wheel

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  6. You ever notice when it comes to reviews (any review) most people will read the first few, and maybe glance at the cumulative stars (85% 5 stars etc) and then call it a day?

    I also know for a fact that some companies write their own reviews as fake ‘clients’ or ‘customers’ and manipulate the system to have the positive review show up on top.

    I take reviews or rating systems with a grain of salt. Especially with books. I’d rather read the sleeve on a book, and then dive in on my own. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good topic. For me it’s all about the characters. Hate them or love them if the are richly written, three dimensional, have interesting character flaws, show growth, then I can overlook some badly executed novels. I despise poorly edited books and bad grammar, yet if the plot moves forward with ease and Is intriguing, then I can plug on and continue reading. It’s hard to describe what it is about certain books that turns the written word into magic. Some stories and certain characters allow us to personally connect with certain novels. It just happens.
    A great example of a badly written book that enabled me to get students to recognize fine literature was Twilight . In the mid to late 2000’s my students were in love with the Twilight books. The first one was horrendously written and yet her characters were captivating. The author used enough literary references to Wuthering Hts, Pride and Prejudice and definitely Romeo and Juliet to make her protagonists interesting and believable. The formula of gothic romance, Shakespeare and Austen has always been a winning mix for centuries. Yes, I cringed reading the first book and hi-lighted every grammatical error. But there was “Method to my madness.” It was an introduction to finer literature and could actually give students a background for comparison. BUT, the first book especially,was a hot editing mess.
    So, I’ve learned that if I can identify with the protagonist even a little, or find them interesting, and if i enjoy the plot I’ll keep reading.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, remember I was an actress in my youth and so portraying interesting characters was critical to me. But, quite honestly ever since I was s child I was drawn to strong female protagonists. I’d read the book, act out the character, make up stories and adventures about those characters. Boys got to play Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe, the three musketeers and I’d pretend I was a musketeer too (but hid that I was really a girl). Probably why I loved all of Shakespeare’s plays where the girls could do anything too when dressed as lads. Remember I was a child in the 1950’s. lThat’s why Jo March was so much fun to read as a kid. And Lizzy Bennett so inspirational and bold. So yes I love interesting characters. Even wicked ones. But dialogue had to be believable.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, remember I was an actress in my youth and so portraying interesting characters was critical to me. But, quite honestly ever since I was a child I was drawn to strong protagonists. I’d read the book, act out all the characters, and then make up stories and adventures about those characters. My brother or neighborhood boys got to play Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe, the three musketeers and I’d pretend I was a musketeer too (but hid that I was really a girl). Probably why I loved all of Shakespeare’s plays where the girls could do anything too when dressed as lads. (Remember I was a child in the 1950’s. That’s why Jo March was so much fun to read as a kid. And Lizzy Bennett so inspirational and bold. So yes I love interesting characters. Even wicked ones. But dialogue has to be believable. And excellent. If it doesn’t flow it’s useless.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I am dialogue driven. Every conversation between Claire and Jamie in Outlander had me salivating with either what they were eating for dinner, where they were going on an adventure, or what they were, were going to, or once DID to each other in bed. I just love his humor and his love for her (plus his bravery and loyalty) and I love her feisty sass. And of course the accents. I. Just.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I personally don’t rate books differently based on genre. I rate based on how much I enjoyed the book. I can not like a specific character(s) and still end up enjoying the book. I think a book should be both character driven and plot driven but if one or the other is good I can still sometimes really enjoy the book.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I understand why some would judge a book poorly if it is predictable because I love a good twist or surprise, but that is not a requirement for me to enjoy a story. I like interesting characters. Elin Hilderbrand writes many characters that do things I don’t agree with or understand, but I find that I like them anyway, in spite of their flaws. I end up rooting for women that are cheating on their husbands or making very poor decisions because of the way she draws me into their thoughts and motivations.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t know how to comment today. I don’t know if I have a specific way to pick my next read. I have favorite authors, even if I might not like specific books they’ve done, so I’ll read them again. I’ll see an interesting book cover or read the liner notes/back of the book. I’ll see/ask what my friends are reading. I’ll watch for reviews and recommendations. Or I might just go to the library, face a shelf, close my eyes and pick one. Sometimes I’ll even find a book that was left somewhere. I don’t always like them, but I’ll generally finish them unless their really bad. Although I quit reading one recently because the foul language was so bad I was too distracted to get into the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. LA – I just finished Daisy Jones and the Six and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure at the beginning, but it was a great read. Basically a love story, and I loved the ending. I even liked the interview format. I’m glad I didn’t abandon it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was one of the better books I read this year. I thought it was a great way of telling a story ….made it interesting and different. I told a few blogger friends about it today, how I admired it’s novel approach

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Sometimes I like reading books that are predictable. I might read to “escape” and like knowing in the back of my mind that the ending will be happy. I definitely don’t like overly descriptive books. Also if the first paragraph is boring, I’m done with the book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because my tastes don’t seem to match those of my book club members. I read to escape. They’ve been choosing these intense, sometimes non-fiction, books that are not holding my interest. Am I a shallow reader? If so, not sure I care. They have to read the books I choose. Can you believe they didn’t like the Rosie books???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My book club can be a little weird too, though they did like the first Rosie. I don’t like non fiction for book clubs….how much can you really say? We read “Educated”, which I didn’t like, but you really can’t discuss it. I am a mood reader, sometimes I like light, sometimes heavy. But, no, you’re not shallow. You read. That alone makes you anything but shallow

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Here’s what I think about reading, it’s all personal preference.
    I love books that are predictable. I love books that roundhouse kick my soul when I didn’t see it coming. I love to read.
    Sure, sometimes I read things that make me think more than others, but when it comes to reviews and such, I’m just not that into it. And here’s why, if I like it, I like it. I’m so beyond feeling the need to defend myself , you know? That’s what reviews feel like to me, that I have to prove that my opinion is good enough for the one reading the review. I don’t have time for that. I just want to read.
    Book discussions are a bit different, but only a little. I want to bask in that post reading moment, really live in the way it made me think and feel. And sometimes, with differing opinions, well, it just becomes a fight. I don’t choose to defend my point of view, and I’m only interested in another point of view if it is shared with respect. Don’t beat me about the head with your opinion, please. I either did or did not enjoy it and nothing you say will change that. That said, done respectfully, book discussions are a wonderful opportunity to experience reading from completely different knowledge backgrounds. That I can get behind!
    One last thing in a long ass comment.
    I think sometimes having a main character that isn’t entirely likable is a good thing. Consider someone like Carrie Bradshaw. She is beloved, but not always the ‘best’ or kindest human. Would you actually be long term friends with her? Or would she wear you out?
    Colonel Brandon is one of my most beloved fictional characters. But how many other people think or feel that?
    Shall we argue? Must I defend my point?
    I politely decline.
    I’ll just be over here enjoying reading. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 💗I love discussions of books because there’s no right or wrong answer. I just love to bat around ideas, talk about the why’s and what’s . And I totally agree…I don’t have to like main character to like book, but I know some people need it

      Liked by 1 person

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