What makes a great book?


Put your own tastes under the microscope

Ask a thousand people chosen at random and you’ll get a thousand different answers to the question “What are your top 5 books?” Not only will your sample differ wildly in tastes, the sheer volume of books available nowadays means an effectively infinite number to choose from. Go back not that many years and the chances would have been that many from a similar-sized sample would have had their lists substantially coincide – not now, though.

So, how can you try and turn your novel into someone’s ‘great book’?

Of course no-one can guarantee you’ll succeed – no matter how hard you try – but there is a simple trick that you can apply which will help you achieve your goal.

Cast your eyes over all your paperbacks which you’ve not read in more than a year. How many of them do you really remember? For each one, if you had to summarise the plot synopsis in typical ‘back of the book’ fashion (as opposed to just stating its genre – “It’s a horror story”), could you do it? Be brutally honest because the tip only works if you are.

When you’ve weeded your entire book collection down to a mere handful (unless you’ve got a photographic memory or are deceiving yourself, it won’t be more), analyse very carefully what these books have in common because there is a common element and it’s that which is inspiring you to remember them.

Why bother? Why not just take the word of the experts? Well, firstly many of them are caught up with the world of classic literature – something which is probably not particularly relevant to you – and secondly, you probably read books in the same (or similar) genre to that in which you write in. By studying what works for your preferred type of book, you also learn to perfect your own writing in the most appropriate way.

Now you’ve got the recipe, ‘just’ apply this common thread to your own work.

Fingers crossed!