As a reader, you rarely think too much about the difference between a good book and a bad book. You typically have authors you read regularly that you know produce good books. Most of us read specific genres and are good at picking things we like based on the blurb back cover. But for a writer, it’s a more important question.
For writers, good books build relatable characters that readers identify with, stories that engage from the start, and plots that captivate the reader. Conversely, bad books stand out because they have underdeveloped characters, boring plots seen before or uninteresting non-original settings.
We all know that what is a good book versus a bad book is somewhat relative. There are plenty of books that I love that you probably hate and vice versa. The good news is there are some key concepts to help you.
Let’s take a look at these 10 essential concepts in a bit more depth, 5 to help you consciously write a good book and 5 to watch out for to avoid a bad one!
A Good Book
Grabs You From Page One
If you’ve been a writer, or at least interested in writing for some time, you will no doubt have come across the advice to make sure you have a killer opening line.
To make sure you produce a good book, you need to take this and extend it to the whole opening section of the book.
This part will really form a critical opinion of your book for the reader, so you need to be sure to write a strong opening that really grabs the reader right from the beginning.
Make sure to take your time to edit and rewrite this until you know it is an engaging opening that grabs the reader’s attention and interest.
You will use this to build on for the rest of your book so it must be a solid foundation.
Captivates Your reader
Following on from your opening, you need to captivate your reader throughout the story.
The key to this generally goes back to the plotting stage. You need to make sure you have a good plot that flows well throughout the text.
It can be tricky to find the right balance, but you need to have a plot that is not so convoluted that it is impossible to keep track of, but not so easy has to be completely obvious to the reader.
As you write, you need to make sure you have good descriptive sections so people can really be pulled into your world and your characters. Write passages that give the reader small plot pieces as you go but don’t bash them over the head.
Readers like to follow and try to guess the plot as it keeps them engaged, so use that to your advantage.
Next is to build relatable characters. To really be pulled into a book, readers generally have to see something in the characters that they can relate to, even if they are very different from themselves.
The best way to do this is to make sure you have well-rounded characters and very well described and developed in your text. Help the reader get to know your character by slowly giving them descriptions, background and many different little peaks into who they are.
It is very easy to make the mistake of only describing things about your characters central to the plotline. Unfortunately, this will make them very thin in the readers’ eyes.
Make sure to include other information that may not be related directly to the plotline, as this is critical for the reader to build up a mental picture and, hence, relatability.
A Point Beyond A Story
Many good books have something else to see in the text beyond a simple plot. Typically they will have some other point that will help relate this fantasy to the real world.
This doesn’t mean you need to pick a serious, political opinion or societal issue that you will try and argue or convince the reader about. This isn’t a political pamphlet!
Think generally about things that your characters may typically argue about within your world, just as we would do in ours.
Have them discuss, comment on or even make fun of these things in small additional descriptive passages in your book.
These extra things all help the reader be pulled into the characters and the world you have built.
The key is to not write one single plot and nothing else from start to finish but to add what we can call color to the world, which makes everything more realistic.
You are adding depth.
It makes a huge difference!
When we read good books, we generally don’t have to overthink about the actual writing of the language used. Instead, we simply read it and enjoy it.
What I mean by beautiful language is using language that is readable and understandable the first time.
It very quickly becomes tiresome if the text is written using as many complex sentences or fancy words as the author seems to be able to fit.
Don’t do this, as this puts people off very quickly if they feel like you are trying to show off your language skills.
Just make sure your writing is clear, understandable, not repetitive and generally properly-suited for your story.
Keep it simple and beautiful.
Bad Book Problems
There is nothing worse as a reader than working through a whole book and then getting a very abrupt ending.
Spend some time to make sure you build a solid ending for your book. You should have a finish that is both satisfying and importantly matches the plot’s tone you just covered. It can be easy to get frustrated trying to develop a good ending and have to resign yourself to a less than ideal one.
Part of your plotting stage should be to make sure you have a good ending that wraps up all the minor plot points and the main plot before you start writing.
It’s far easier to find out now that you don’t have a good ending than after writing 90% of the book.
Boring Tropes with Nothing to Say
As writers, I’m sure we have all heard the comment that every plot has already been done. While this may be true, that does not mean we have to allow ourselves to write the same boring trope for our plot many others have already done.
Even though the main plot you’ve picked for your book has been done, you should be able to spend a little time and come up with your own twist to make it fresh and original.
Fantasy novels, for example, have done magic, wizards and sword fighting a million times, but there are still writers coming up with fascinating new variations.
It is valuable time spent right up front to make sure you have something fresh.
This leads us to…
Following on from this is the whole process of worldbuilding.
There are far too many authors who rush this faze and end up creating a world that, to a reader, is really very obviously not well done.
Don’t be lazy during your design and planning phase.
You need to spend enough time on your worldbuilding to create a more in-depth environment than you will actually use in your book.
Many writers have found that having more” facts” about the world than they really need makes writing and creating realistic and entertaining environments far easier.
Changeable Characters With No Depth
We’ve already mentioned characters a little earlier, but they are so important it is worth mentioning again.
Many bad books have characters that are very flat and one-dimensional in most of the book. This makes them difficult for readers to really become attached to and have any genuine interest.
Typically worse, to resolve a plot point, a writer will suddenly introduce a new aspect about a character that has never come up before purely as a required convenience to resolve a plot.
Avoid this with a passion.
Incorrect Facts From a Lazy Writer
One of the most glaring problems that often occur in bad books is incorrect facts. So if you include anything you are not 100% sure about, make sure to spend time doing your fact-checking.
It is easy to slip into assuming something is correct and not bothering to check.
Don’t be a lazy writer who gets caught out. Spend the little time it takes to thoroughly check all your facts.
It makes a big difference to your reader engagement.
Bonus: Bad Editing
Last in our short list of the main issues to watch out for is your editing. We know it can be tough to cut out writing that you have spent so long creating in the first place, but this is, unfortunately, something you must do properly.
The editing stage is where you will do the most good or the most harm so make sure to do this properly.
If you are not adequately critical about your own work, you can find that you leave a lot of weak writing. Take the time to cut it out or rewrite it at this stage and it will strengthen your book immensely.
One final tip for better editing is to step away from your book for a period.
It can be hard to judge correctly if you edit right after you finished writing, so walk away from it for a few weeks or longer before starting the editing process and you will find it will be far more effective.
So that is our brief list of five things to watch out for in a bad book and five things to keep in mind to help you write a good book.
Most of them are not too difficult. You just have to keep them in mind and pay attention as you go through your writing process.
What have you found in a bad book you now consciously avoid? Let us know in the comments below.