Great Fiction: My Personal Definition
Reading, especially reading for fun, is a highly personal activity. You might not like what I like, and your subjective taste is as valid as mine. Having said this, this is what I’d like to read.
A great novel:
- Entertains me. I’m not interested in books that I “should read.” If a book needs endorsement from an authority, it means it doesn’t stand on its own merit, I guess. I want to read books that drives me to read — even when I shouldn’t be reading.
By entertainment, I don’t mean the equivalent of the same-old stupid jokes. Surprise me with something overwhelmingly moving, or beautiful, or new, etc.
(And I’m not against classics. In fact, I find some classic novels and dramas to be very interesting. That’s why they’ve been attracting readers all these years.)
- Starts with clarity. If I don’t know who the main character is by the end of page 3, I’m done. By “who,” I don’t mean just the name — I want to get the feel of who he or she is like. I’d also like to know what the novel is about by page, say, 5.
But what about suspense, you might ask. Suspense is when all the basic ingredients are presented in the book, and you really want to figure out things because the tension is building up. Holding back critical points is not suspense. It’s like being held in an automated answering system — it only frustrates me.
- Has at least one character (perhaps the main character) that I really like and care about. This person must have some kind of character defects, or imbalance, and hopefully, that is exactly why I care for them. I’m not interested in stereotyped characters.
- Has no fillers that don’t contribute to the story.
Details are great; not fillers. For instance, I sometimes feel many novels spend excessive words describing the time and place of the story. In some cases (for instance, historical fictions), it is critical to have such detailed description. In others, however, does it really matter if it takes place in that specific location? Same with other elements in a novel. Give me critical info, and maybe some carefully chosen non-critical info to mislead me (for the planned effects, such as #5), and maybe even some description for purely pleasurable effects … enough.
“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
- Ends in a surprise, and yet, the ending makes perfect sense.
I don’t believe a novel must follow the classic narrative arc. Arced plot is just one way to build a novel — if not used carefully, it can be predictable.
- A great sense of humor is a big plus.
- No cliches. I believe they are indications of the author’s poor sense of words.
Have you read any great, unputdownable novels recently? Any recommendations?
Here is my GoodReads page if you are interested in what I like. (Usually, I only rate/review books I can give 4 or 5 stars.)