What makes any book great? Great plots, characters, settings, and world immediately come to mind. So does a narrative style that pulls the reader into these and leaves the “real” world behind. But all that is common advice, not necessarily personal philosophy. What’s really important is what “great” means to you.
Great can mean what makes a book wonderful and first-rate. The (possibly)
bad news is that greatness is subjective. The good news is that your criteria for greatness are probably shared by your your reader.
Technique is important, but I also care about scope.
I care about the purpose of the book, the underlying meaning or
message. This sounds suspiciously like theme but can also be seen as
the book’s perspective or assumptions. I really, really love books
where hard work leads to success, where good wins out, where people
find true love. Whether the book argues for the existence of these
things or simply assumes them, I find that almost “great book”
has these elements. Find your own criteria of greatness
and incorporate them into your personal writing philosophy.
I also care about the room in a book for exploration of ideas and
perspectives, as well as exploration of the world (which almost
necessarily plays into the first two types of exploration). This may
or may not be important to you and your ideal reader. But it a
potential that books have and may be something that you find in a
“great book”. Exploration is very different than statements or
assumptions. While the first can satisfy a sense of ‘rightness”,
the second can promote openness and flexibility of thought. I think
it promotes creative thinking and personal involvement in a book. So
it is part of my writing philosophy.
In a less abstract sense, scope can also be the length or extent of the
work. I happen to most enjoy books that bring me back to (and expand
on) a world. I prefer series of series over stand-alones. You may be
just the opposite. You can see how knowing this informs how you
design the scope of your work. My belief that series allow for more
exploration of character, plot, theme, and world – and the value
that I place on these elements – predisposes me towards series.
In fantasy and in romance, I look for length, “what we wish might be”,
“a truer version of reality”, a complex universe, and “the
world as it should be” (excerpts from my own lists). These are
things that I think I always unconsciously looked for in the books
that I read. When I became conscious of this, I was able to
incorporate them into my own stories. I quickly found that my stories
gave me more satisfaction – and when they seemed lacking I knew what
to check (aside the obvious).
What does this all mean? To me, a book needs technique but it also needs
“greatness” or scope. And scope comes in many flavors. Because
of space limits I touched on only a few the elements that I think
make a book not merely good but great. What do you believe makes a