1. Galadriel says:

    For me, one of the most important elements of a story is the characters.  Even if there are some plot holes or setting combinations, I can fall in love with a story if I love the story. Conversely, if I don’t like the main character(s), I’m likely to put it down.
    For example, almost everything was the same with the two half seasons of Doctor Who–except he got a new companion for the second half.  And I don’t like her, so season seven (b) is really low on my list of episodes.

  2. That’s a good example, Galadriel. I think character is really important too, so I guess we’re saying a book wouldn’t be award winning if it had a weak character arc or an unlikeable character?

    But what if the characters become likable? I’m reading a book right now that’s hard for me to get into because the characters all seem so hesitant to do anything. They’re all feet draggers, not people I really want to cheer for. I want them to snap out of it and do the right thing.

    So, what if they do? What if the change and I start liking them? Does a character who made it hard to like her at the beginning drag a book down?



    • Last year – flush with enjoying Stephen Lawhead’s Bright Empires series, and always kinda liking Robin Hood – I decided to read Hood, the first book of Lawhead’s Robin Hood trilogy.

      And boy, was it a let-down. Bran (Robin) was – to put it briefly – a jerk. I didn’t like him, and there were times in the book when I didn’t even care if he lost.

      This weakness reinforced the novel’s other weaknesses. Hood is slow-paced, and Lawhead takes many pages to enter the Robin Hood legend. That is not necessarily a flaw; I can have patience with authors who linger, and I don’t really mind taking 300 pages to get to Sherwood. But I didn’t have much patience with Bran, and I do mind taking a 300-page journey to Sherwood with a jerk for company.

      I was furthermore disappointed to find Hood a cheerless rendition of what I had always thought a merry tale. Lawhead’s transformation of Robin Hood from a likable scoundrel to an unlikable one just aggravated the loss of merriness.

      It’s not that Lawhead set up a jerk as the protagonist and didn’t even notice. That, when it happens, is an unforgivable error. He knew Bran’s shortcomings, and wrote a character arc to bring him out of them – a hero’s journey. I saw it. But it did not make me enjoy long, slow sections revolving around a character I didn’t like.

      When you judge a novel, you have to take it altogether. Whether a weakness is fatal has a lot to do with how it coincides with other weaknesses – and strengths.

      In fairness to Lawhead, I want to add this note: Hood had its merits, and if the book did not in itself pay off the investment of reading it, the rest of the trilogy did. Yes, I finished it.

  3. Jon R says:

    Nice post. Writing and setting can really serve to grab the reader. My two favorite sff novels are very strong on both, but for different reasons. In the first, the prose pops out as intellectual, but that serves the setting, which is mile a minute weird. And in the second the prose is almost comically simple, because the setting is inhabited by immature and insecure people. In both cases, the writing is stylistic, but the style keeps you locked into the setting.  
    Looking forward to your take on the other elements, but as characters was mentioned, I’ll give my take. I love it when characters undergo transformation, either good or bad, during the course of a novel. I’m a big pro wrestling fan, and it’s always fun when a ‘babyface’ or ‘heel’ undergoes a transformation (known in the wrestling world as a ‘face turn’ or ‘heel turn’). It’s always hamfisted, but that makes it easier to dissect. When I begin with an expectation for a character and it’s turned on it’s head, I respect the effort a lot more. 

  4. I think you’ve got it right. For me, the question is more of how the elements work together, and did the book and did it deliver on its promises?
    There have been books that haven’t been technically perfect; maybe the writing wasn’t as smooth as it could have been or there were a few inconsistencies, but the author promised a rollicking adventure and that’s exactly what the book delivered! Other books try to be a thought-provoking story or a social commentary, and while they may not be my summer fun reads, they “work as advertised.” (I’m specifically thinking of Nancy Kress’s “Beggars in Spain” with this one.)
    I think when the writer makes a promise to the reader and then follows through on the promise, that deserves to be recognized. Otherwise, we just boil books down to whether we like them or not. As readers that’s fine, but as judges, I think the authors probably deserve more.

  5. […] Last week, I began a look at the Clive Staples Award voting standards in order to help readers make the tough selection. In summary, this award of Christian speculative fiction is not a popularity contest. Consequently, no voter should choose a book he has not read! Our aim instead is to honor fiction well written. […]

  6. Disappointing news. Looks like there’s lots of work to be done.

    One book that I know is coming out some time very soon which I am looking forward to is Alpha Revelation by P A Baines (http://www.pabaines.com/). This is the sequel to his previous book Alpha Redemption. and will be released through Splashdown Books.

    • I apologise for the above mis-placed comment. I intended to post it on a different thread (the one about not many spec titles coming out this year) but I confused myself having too many tabs open. Please disregard.

What do you think?