What is it that makes a book GREAT!
It's the questions!
Being well written helps. If it is grammatically correct, the reader isn't distracted by errors they stumble across. Miss spelled words lower the opinion the reader may have of the author's knowledge of words, and this sticks with them. A good story is a plus, and a base requirement to a good book.
I am finding more and more that how the story is told is almost as important if not more important than the story being told. As I have been using almost every spare moment I have editing, correcting, rewriting pieces of my second book, I have become a much more critical reader. It seems lately when reading other authors books I am catching mistakes, noticing the elements of style they use, or don't use. I notice every piece of information that is introduced realizing as an author myself that what I am reading has more than likely been read over and combed over by beta readers, editors, and the author themselves to the point of being ridiculous before it gets to printing or submitted through the Internet for e-publishing. Every useless word, repeat of information, unwarranted description has been stripped. It has been worked over to make it as easy to read as possible, keep it correct, concise and to the point as possible.
So with that being understood and stated, I notice all the tidbits of information, the mentions of things that seem unimportant but help build to what's coming in the book. Questions are created in the readers mind. Some questions are presenting material or situations which begs questions that the reader will come up with on their own, to be answered or not answered at a point further along in the book. Some questions are stated by characters within the story, again to be answered later in the book. It is how the questions are presented? When they are presented? Stated or unstated, that builds an urge to continue reading.
As a reader you want to know the answers to the questions. Why did that happen? What is going to happen to so and so? Sometimes the really good authors raise questions and by their means of answering the questions raise more questions than were there before you got your initial question answered.
I Brag, and I don't think Brag is too strong of a word here, about Mr. James Rollins, and his books. I get frustrated when I read them because he presents questions, and then something else will happen, which makes you ask more questions. Then something else happens, related or unrelated? But this begs even more questions? Characters come into the story and you don't know their loyalties, are they good guys or bad guys? If you have read the Sigma Force Series there is a female character that you never really know, for sure, which side of the fence she is on and she is intelligent, a survivor, and lethal at best. Everywhere and everything she is involved in has shades of no good all over it. The end result is three or four chapters into one of his books you're on this roller coaster ride of action, with twenty new questions for every, one he might get around answering. You don't have the luxury of getting comfortable with the most recent explosion, or near death run in, before you're thrown into the next set of problems and questions. You're stuck frantically turning the pages, and when you don't think things can get any worse they always do. I read what he has written about writing and how he likes to bring his readers up to a cliff through exciting action, peril, questions, and plot twists and then throw them off the cliff. Which is about as accurate as you can get with Mr. Rollin's work, as it will not be a leisurely read for casual enjoyment, he won't afford you the luxury of relaxing.
Another great book in my opinion was Kate Morton's, "The Forgotten Garden," as I feel it could have easily been three or four full novels that she expertly twisted into one fine mystery story of the life of one little girl. As with anything it never actually starts and ends with one person. This book ends up encompassing the family she came from, the extraordinary circumstances of her mother, the girls actual life, her search for the truth about who she really is and where she really came from and because of a similar circumstance with her granddaughter to her life, it is left to her granddaughter to solve the puzzle she herself was so near discovering through her life. If you want a fine example of a great story, told in just the right piece at just the right time, to keep you turning the pages and finding out the next piece to the puzzle, this is an excellent example.
With all of the great books I can remember, the crux of the matrix is the questions. Some are slow, some are fast, some are good stories, some are great, some suspenseful, some slow, but it's the questions that are the key to the lock. It's the plot that is the lock to be opened. It is the suspense and tension of the stories and your relationship to the characters which determines how fast you have to get to the keys to unlock the story.
As a budding author who is writing this blog for others who are interested in pulling the pencil out of their eye and following in this wonderfully strange career known as being an author, it is a process. A process which I learn more about with everything I read, and with everything I write. Writing is such a mixture of so many things all twisted and wrapped up together, part real, part imagination, part being dramatic, part being too real. It is playing with people's emotions, tugging at their heart strings, or tearing them out as Mr. Nicholas Sparks enjoys doing with his readers. ( I honestly feel he owns stock in the Kleenex company.)
I wonder with so much that should and could go into a story to make up its many facets if I will ever develop to the point I can do that on a regular consistent basis. I fear success as far as reaching the point, of the authors I have mentioned, because it begs the question. How do you top your last book? Right now, that's easy for me. My unfinished second novel will kick the hell out of my first book every day of the week and twice on Sunday's. By the time I get it finished it is going to be awesome, compared to my first book.
I have so far to go in this process that my really decent books won't be coming out for a few years yet. Of course that is why I also have secretly hid away the series I refer to as my master piece series until I feel I am worthy enough as a writer to attempt doing them in the style in which they deserve. So for the first few books it will be Wiley Randolph and crew in some decent adventures at sea. With my second novel it will be Alexander Hawk, General Harrbinger, and Intel, and their saga they will rage against the Gators. I am learning and improving along the way. I really have nowhere to go but up!
If you're thinking about writing a book and you haven't started, start today. You're never too young or too old. If you have written a book, find an editor and fix it, then publish it. While you're finding an editor and fixing your book start that next one! If you're recently e-published, don't get discouraged, there are more books being published with e-books allowing people to side step the main stream establishment than ever before in history. The amount of reading at this time is not going up. I foresee a time in the near future where e-readers or the such will become so prolific and easy to get your hands on, that a natural rise in reading will take place around the world, especially in the parts of the world where people don't have as many avenues for getting reading material as easily as they do in the industrialized parts of the world.
I foresee a coming revolution of enlightenment from people reading and sharing ideas, stories, and writing more as a result of the current publishing revolution which is very definitely taking place in the world right now. I feel the number of people reading in the world is going to grow in the next twenty to fifty years like the world hasn't seen since after books became somewhat readily available after printing presses started mass producing books and the explosion in reading during the eighteen hundreds and into the early nineteen hundreds.