November 11, 2013
What Makes A Good Book?
To me, all good books are mysteries—in some fashion. I don’t mean there is a corpse or a detective in all good books, but there is usually a question that readers want the answer to, a puzzle that has to be solved, a character with a mysterious past—something. It is sometimes so compelling that you have to turn the pages until you find the answer. At other times it nags at you little by little, coming at you in slow doses.
My books are tagged as mysteries, but they’re not hard-core mysteries. Seldom is it that a reader can’t figure out who did it, and sometimes pretty quickly, but there is normally a driving need for something else. In Murder Takes Time, the “mystery” is more why did he do it as opposed to who did it.
At other times, books are filled with what I like to call “secondary mysteries.” These are things that a reader doesn’t know about a character or something in the character’s past. One of my favorite books is Dune, a scifi novel from the 1960s. It is so filled with secondary mysteries that I read that huge book in one sitting. It wasn’t a mystery by any stretch of the imagination; it was pure scifi, but there were secrets to characters and other mysteries that drove me to turn the pages. I have read Dune half a dozen times since then and enjoyed it more each time.
Sometimes there isn’t a mystery, but an unresolved question or conflict that you must have the answer to. One of my favorite movies of all time was the 2004 version of Phantom of the Opera. There’s no real mystery to it. Everyone knows the Phantom is the antagonist, but there is a question of “how did he get that way?” And perhaps more important, “Is Christine going to go with him?”
Casablanca was similar. There wasn’t a mystery, but the intrigue of, “will Ilsa go with Rick,” was powerful.
A lot of other things have to come together to make a great book, but for me there needs to be a mystery or unanswered question to drive my interest. If neither one of them is strong enough, I usually end up putting the book down.
What about you? What makes you keep turning pages?
If you enjoyed this post, please share.
Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”