If a formula existed for a great novel, everyone would benefit. Authors would write perfect novels and readers would never be disappointed.
So, what makes a great novel? My answer is connection and intimacy.
Writers need to connect with their readers and readers are on the lookout for authors whose stories invade their hearts and minds (intimacy) and become meaningful (connection).
A reader’s response to a novel is personal, intellectual, intimate and complex.
Novels speak to the readers’ minds, that hidden, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, darkest, sometimes unpredictable, elusive part of our brains that surprises each one of us, more times than we’d care to admit.
Readers want to be immersed in a story, transported and moved. They want to feel what the characters feel, understand their predicaments as if they were working with the author.
Writers want readers to be active participants in the narrative, reliving their character’s experiences and reinterpreting their stories. As Stephen King has said, “All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies…’
Readers enjoy finding themselves in the story, with the characters. That’s the moment all writers and readers crave; the moment the reader becomes actively, emotionally and intellectually involved in the story.
A colloquial expression might be that the novel gets under their skin, but where it really gets is inside their minds; that’s what makes a great novel.
So, how do writers find their way into the minds of people they don’t even know?
The answer is as simple as it is complex: writing about universal themes, feelings and events which are (and have always been) common to all of us.
That’s one of the reasons why Shakespeare will never be outdated.
Great novels don’t have to be about extraordinary people or wondrous events. Great novels are about feelings we have all experienced or witnessed, such as love, anger, jealousy, greed, happiness, optimism, depression, and universal events such as falling in love, parenting, sibling rivalry, sickness, death, earning a living, quarrelling, making friends, travelling, etc.
Great novels make readers feel something beyond themselves and the scope of their ordinary lives.
Great novels reach their minds, taking them on an unknown journey of self-discovery. Readers become part of the story, because they are involved with the characters and events, and when they finish reading, they are not the same person they were when they started reading, because they have changed their minds about something, or thought about something that had never occurred to them before, or felt something they hadn’t felt before or for a long time.
The challenge for both readers and writers is that one particular author will rarely be able to reach every reader’s mind, because of course all minds are different and no two readers will react in the same way to a novel, or even to different episodes and characters in a novel.
The good news is, there are so many types and genres of novels to be read and so many ways of reading, paperback, kindle and other e-books, and audio books, that it’s hard not to find something for everyone.
How to find a book that’s perfect for you?
It’s hard to get it wrong if you follow these three steps:
- Read the blurb (writer and editor’s information and views).
- Read a few varied reviews (diverse readers’ opinions).
- Read the look inside pages (read the first chapters and decide whether to continue reading or not).
If you do so, it’s unlikely you’ll choose a book you won’t enjoy.
And when you finish, don’t forget to post a review, because it will help the author and other readers, too.
Are you looking for a great book? Here are some of the great books I’ve recently read:
Us by David Nicholls. Themes: love, marriage, parenting, and contemporary life, from the perspective of a middle-aged Englishman. Poignant and humorous.
Eleanor Oliphant by Gale Honeyman. Themes: abuse, loneliness, serendipity, from the point of view of a young woman. Poignant, humorous, Feel good.
Our House by Louise Candlish. Themes: marriage, infidelity, crime, parenting, told from two points of view, husband and wife of two young children. Family drama.
The Guest Room Chris Bohjalion. Themes: marriage, infidelity, corruption, sex trafficking, narrated by an American husband and father and a Russian prostitute who is an illegal immigrant in the USA.
Don’t Let go by Harlan Coben. Themes: love, corruption, crime. A suspenseful thriller. This is his latest novel, but all of them are fabulous. Missing You is one of my favourites.
The Good Girl by Maria Rubrica. Themes, crime, kidnapping, family, love. A dark family drama, told from the point of view of the kidnapped daughter, before and after the event.
The Sister, by Louise Jensen is a suspenseful psychological thriller I enjoyed, but all her novels are great reads.
It Ends With Us, by Colleen Hoover is a heartbreaking family drama about abusive relationships told in the first person by a young woman living in Boston.
The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorback is a unique and moving novel about survival, loneliness and serendipity, told from the point of view of a lawyer who attempts to help a homeless young woman on a freezing night.
But don’t take my word for it, what’s meaningful for me may be boring for you.
Follow the three steps (blurb, reviews, look inside) and find those great books you’re longing to read!
What do you think makes a great book?
Would you like to tell me about a great book you’ve recently read?