I'm inundated with books to read for review. I can't read them all, and I don't review all the books I read. If it's a real stinker, I won't even finish it. If it's borderline, I may hang in there, hoping it will get better, or maybe to see how it ends (in spite of the sloppy delivery). If I can't find more good things to say than bad, I won't bother to write the review. Wouldn't you rather read a review of a good book than a skewering of a bad one?
I recently tried a book that had horrible worldbuilding. I don't know how it got published. A society would just never buy into such a crazy, illogical system. My plausibility meter (or PLAUSOMETER) was screaming for mercy. If I can't put myself in the author's world, there's no hope of enjoying the story.
I thought it might be helpful or amusing to share what I believe are the necessary elements of a really good story. I'll also give you the same number of turn-offs. I'm not including poor grammar and simple lack of decent editing as that goes without saying.
What I look for in a good book:
1) FOUNDATION. The world, society, premise and tech (or whatever fantastical element is present) must be believable.
2) CHARACTERS. The main character must be multi-layered and someone I can sympathize with on some level - even if it's a bad person (or being). The motivations of the characters must be believable without dumping half a chapter of back story in to convince me. And each character should have a unique voice. I read a book once in which even the aliens and humans sounded the same.
3) PLOT. There must be a unique plot that moves forward. I like action, but not just for action's sake.
4) DIALOG. The dialog must be natural.
5) INTEREST. The world, tech (or magic) must be interesting and unique. Or at least put together in a unique combination.
And here are the things that will make me stop reading (or even throw the book across the room):
1) BAD SCIENCE. Remember this can also apply to sociology. Would people really believe that? Live like that? You get the idea.
2) SCIENCE LECTURE. Is this a science book or a science fiction book? Okay, great, you're a brilliant scientist who knows all this cool stuff. But if you're not telling a story, you've lost me.
3) MEETINGS. This will definitely get the book tossed across the room. I don't like attending them, why would I want to read about them? Quit talking about it - just do it already. I love a lot of James P. Hogan's stuff, but I quit reading one of his for this reason.
4) BAD DIALOG. There's nothing like stilted dialog to yank me out of a story. Stilted dialog and those "As you know, Bob..." bits. This is from the Turkey City Lexicon. My critique group partners will find, from time to time, AYKB in red pen on their manuscript. It's a transparent device for delivering information to the reader which involves the character telling something to another character which that character surely already knows. And addressing people by their name constantly. Or slipping in and out of dialect.
5) CHARACTERS. If I can't relate to them or sympathize with them, I could care less what happens to them. I like character-driven plots.
I would love to hear from you about what YOU like in a good book. And what makes YOU throw a book across the room. Leave a comment and let me know. It will make you feel better.