I have a lot of different books, and enjoy reading a lot of different types of fiction. I might enjoy a book a lot, but that doesn’t mean that the author achieved any greatness. So what’s the difference between a book that achieves greatness and a book that I merely enjoy? Note: these are my opinions, and I don’t like literary fiction, so I’m only talking about genre fiction.
“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” -Hebbel
1. It makes me feel, deeply. If a book achieves greatness, I’m probably laughing out loud in spots and/ or crying in others. It’s a book that makes me connect with my own humanity and the humanity of others.
2. It entertains. I know that some people think that entertainment is overrated, but I don’t. I don’t mean that there has to be juggling clowns, but just there’s a story. If there’s no plot, I’m not interested. It’s why I’m not a fan of literary fiction. Maybe The Red Pony by John Steinbeck is a classic, but it’s also BORING.
3. The language flows and there is a distinct style. This one probably is one of the most basic tenets of writing, but it’s important. Maybe most people won’t know why what they’re reading moves slow or even though something is interesting, it just doesn’t keep them reading, but the reason is probably the writing. Writers have distinct styles, like flavors. They use words in a certain way, and that certain way has a melody to it. A writer can be technically correct, and still not have that flow and distinct style, and I think it takes practice rather than teaching to learn it.
4. The writer is willing to take chances. Great writers don’t just write the same stuff over and over again. They write the different and the unique. They write what they have to write, and not what others have told them. Dean Koontz talks about how early in his career, he was told that he needed to stick to one genre so that he didn’t confuse readers. He gave us more credit than that, and the result is some books that break the rules and that I’ll never forget.
5. They don’t give up. No matter what. Writing is hard work, and people who tell you it’s not have never sat facing a blank screen and then poured themselves out onto it. Even for writers who have achieved greatness, it usually takes getting through rejection after rejection after rejection. But a true writer has the words inside, and nothing can stop the flow. They might get discouraged or angry or depressed. But the words have to come out, so they keep writing and keep submitting.
There’s no recipe for how to achieve greatness, but every book I think qualifies has these qualities. What are your thoughts?