I’ve been meaning to ask this question of y’all for ages, and today seems as good a day as any. Quite a while ago, Harriet and I were discussing (in person, no less) how we ranked the three main components of what makes a novel good. Of course, ‘what makes a novel good’ is subjective, and the answers are as many and varied as there are readers, but perhaps the criteria we consider when making this evaluation can be listed more succintly. (Succint, me? Yes, I know…)
Anyway, broadly speaking there are three things readers ponder on when evaluating how good a novel is. They are plot, character, and writing style.
With me so far? Are we all agreed? Doubtless we aren’t, but let’s assume (for, ironically, the sake of argument) that we are.
Well, then – what order would you put these in, in terms of priority? Ideally, a novel would have an engaging plot, well-drawn characters and accomplished writing style – but not every novel can be Pride and Prejudice, can it? If you have to rank them… how would you rank them?
Long-term SiaB readers might not be surprised at the order I choose:
1.) writing style
Yes, plot comes a long way third for me. If I find a book to be badly written, nothing can save it in my eyes. I could just about forgive a book for having lacklustre characters if it is beautifully written (this is my experience with, say, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves) but I can happily, contentedly adore a novel where nothing happens – so long as the writing is good and the characters well-drawn.
All this, of course, requires sweeping generalisations… over to you, grab a broom, start sweepin’!