Guest Blogger Carmen Stefanescu: The Qualities of a Good Book

Today, I’m delighted to welcome my good friend, Carmen Stefanescu back to my blog with a post about the qualities that go into a good book. I’d love to get your opinion in the comments, and I know Carmen would too. So….

To be or not to be a good book?
By Carmen Stefanescu

The question What makes a good book? has been popping up in my head quite a bit lately while reading, and especially, writing my own books.

I stop writing only to reread what I’ve written and wonder, “Is this good?”

Now, what is a good book? I think it’s a legitimate question to ask ourselves. What defines good? Should it be my own definition, someone else’s, or based on popular opinion? The opinion of what makes a good book is almost entirely subjective.
Think of an old favorite book you’ve read again and again. Can you picture it in your head, almost as if you had a copy in your hands, ready to open and start reading right now?

A woman sitting on the beach reading a book. Her back is to the camera, with ocean in front. Done in a wash of faded colors

Think about it for a while. Pick the story apart and mull it over a bit. What makes  you love the story? What makes you keep coming back to it time and again? What makes your mind wander back to the story and muse about it? What qualities of that book do you love and cherish?

What are the elements of a good book for me? Well, here’s what I have in mind, speaking from a reader’s POV:

PLOT
The best kind of plot is one that keeps people reading because they are so engrossed and intrigued that they just can’t put the book down. Personally, I like when I don’t know what’s going to happen in a plot. Predictability is something I tend to dislike because, in my eyes, nothing kills a story faster than too much predictability. Predictability in small doses is fine – but readers don’t want to be right all the time. Unnecessary scenes that don’t add to the plot or character growth in any way, shape, or form should be edited – or cut out completely.

ELEMENTS YOU RELATE TO
It doesn’t matter whether I’m reading  mystery, paranormal or fantasy as long as there are realistic and relatable elements to the plot and characters. Realism may not apply to realms of fiction, but elements of realism always should. Nothing is perfect, not even in a utopian setting, because people are not perfect. The imperfections add a relatable element whatever story is being told.

Emotion is probably the highest relatable factor for me when I’m reading. I may never have met a vampire or kissed a shapeshifter, but I know the tugs of love and the irrational thoughts and passions that come with it. The circumstances don’t matter as long as readers feel along with the characters. It’s a challenge for writers, yes, but it leads to more of a deep and meaningful story.

CONSISTENCY
Storytelling needs to have a flow to the writing – and there’s nothing that breaks a flow in storytelling like inconsistencies in characters, backstories, or the writing style itself.

Don’t you hate it when you’re reading a book that’s keeping you guessing – only to hit a snag and get thrown out of the story completely because you read something that just didn’t make sense?  Writers need to know their worlds, the worlds’ rules, and the characters inhabiting said worlds. Readers will settle for the  easy resolution but they don’t like them because they don’t reflect real life, which almost always bears struggle and conflict. Happily ever afters are preferred by readers, but they’re much more meaningful if the characters have ‘paid their dues’ to earn the HEA.

conceptual idea with an open book standing on a hillside, with clouds above and 3D images of a chair and trees within the bookWRITING
I often know a book will be good if I am envious of the writing. While that sounds a weird thing to say, keep in mind that I am a writer myself. If I can read a first passage in a book and think, “Wow, I wish I could write like this,” then that’s saying something, isn’t it?

Though tastes vary, descriptions aren’t a bad thing since a writing style can help give a book its own specific kind of atmosphere. The point, is less is more. Not many readers like to barrel through paragraphs of description, no matter how beautifully written, because it slogs down the story.

CHARACTERS
I may be a bit critical, but I always fall hard for characters. I look at it this way: why read about characters I don’t like? I want to root for that character no matter what. I want to stand behind him/her and his/her decisions. I want to follow him/her on whatever journey is unfolding in his/her life.

Flaws  and ambiguity. They’re necessary. Why did so many of us Pride and Prejudice fans come out loving  Darcy, arrogant man that he could be? Because he was flawed and ambiguous only to show greater depth and emotion than any reader had likely imagined.

To conclude – I leave the question to all your followers: what makes a good book for you? Make it a big question of the day, because, honestly, isn’t a good book what anyone is hoping for any time they sit down and open a book to read?

Keep your reader reading.

Author, Carmen Stefanescu smiling for cameraAUTHOR BIO
Carmen Stefanescu resides in Romania, the native country of the infamous vampire Count Dracula, but where, for about 50 years of communist dictatorship, just speaking about God, faith, reincarnation or paranormal phenomena could have led someone to great trouble – the psychiatric hospital if not to prison.

High school teacher of English and German in her native country, and mother of two daughters, Carmen Stefanescu survived the grim years of oppression, by escaping in a parallel world that of the books.

Several of her poems were successfully published in a collection of Contemporary English Poems, Muse Whispers vol.1 and Muse Whispers vol.2 by Midnight Edition Publication, in 2001 and 2002.

Her first novel, Shadows of the Past, was released in 2012 by Wild Child Publishing, USA.

Carmen joined the volunteer staff at Marketing For Romance Writers Author blog and is the coordinator of #Thursday13 posts.

Books by Carmen Stefanescu

shadowsofthepastbkBook cover for Till Life Do Us Part by Carmen Stefanescu shows a trees at night framing a full moonShadows of the Past
Paranormal/light romance/light historical/light mystery

Till Life Do Us Part
Paranormal/light romance/light historical/light mystery


You can stalk the author at the following haunts:
Blog | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook | Goodreads | Google+ | Amazon

BONUS THOUGHT:
I don’t know about where you live, but here, in Romania we experienced a heat wave this past summer with temperature over 45 Celsius degrees. Hot! The weather brought thunderstorms and lightening strikes. Did I say I was happy for summer to end, even though I don’t really like autumn? Here are my feelings about autumn:

AUTUMN AGAIN 

Autumn has turned up

on my doorstep.

Again !

country lane on a wet rainy autumn day,Drenched, tempestuous, frowned.

Rusted leaves are coiled

in her dripping hair,

a gray, foggy cape

wrapping her to the ground.

She pierces my soul with

cold, distant eyes.

Her breath smells of

rottenness and rain.

Dejected I bend my head,

and I sigh.

My hopes she forgot

where I lived were in vain.

That Magical Moment by Mae Clair

Have you ever struggled to understand something, then had a moment when it magically falls into place?

Recently, a couple who needed directions came into the real estate office where I work. They didn’t speak a word of English, only Spanish. Our receptionist, who knows I’ve been trying to teach myself, asked if I could help. *gulp* Learning a few words and phrases in another language hardly prepares you to converse with a native speaker.  Even so, I was willing to give it a try.

Once I greeted the couple, I knew I was in over my head. They rattled off three or four sentences and I only understood about two words. Not a great start. They had an address typed on a piece of paper and I understood they needed to go there. I was familiar with the location, a doctor’s office a short distance away, but was unable to relay the directions with my limited Spanish.

Spanish book and bookends in the shape of text Habla? (Do you speak?) Speak Spanish concept

Improvising, I pulled up Google translator on the reception computer, typed the directions for  Google, then read them back to the couple. Blank stares.  Apparently my accent was all wrong.

Next, I copied the Spanish from Google, plopped it into Word and printed it out so they could read it. For some reason that didn’t work either. They pointed to the phone number on the paper they had and mimicked calling. That I understood. I also saw the woman’s name on the paper—Guadalupe.

I led  Guadalupe and her husband to a conference room, got them seated, and called the doctor’s office. Meanwhile, our receptionist tried to track down an agent who was fluent in Spanish.

The doctor’s office couldn’t help me—no one there spoke Spanish— but by that time, our receptionist had reached Ricky, our Spanish-speaking agent. I put him on the phone with Guadalupe and she talked to him for a few minutes. Again, I tried to catch a few words, but most of what she said soared over my head. I ended up putting Ricky on speaker, relaying the directions to the doctor’s office in English, which he then translated for Guadalupe.

Afterward, he had me pick up the phone and told me that although he could understand everything the woman said, she spoke a Mexican Spanish with a very thick accent. It was almost like a mountain dialect, and thus understandable I couldn’t decipher what she’d been saying. That made me feel a little better.

After I hung up with Ricky, Guadalupe’s husband stood and began talking, but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. I had to reply “no entiendo”—“I don’t understand.” I could see he was disappointed which made me feel bad. Then, like magic, a lightbulb pinged on in my head.

“El bano?” (restroom / toilet) I asked.

Smiling, he nodded. “Si.”

We laughed, realizing we had communicated. We understood each other. *fist pump* I was giddy.

Once I knew what he needed, I was able to rattle off my limited Spanish and direct him to the men’s room. When I pointed out the door for the ladies’ restroom to Guadalupe and said “la mujer” she understood me.  Another score!

If this seems trivial, remember I spent a good 10-15 minutes with this couple, neither of us understanding the other. Those last few minutes of limited conversation felt like a monumental breakthrough. The elation kept me on a high for the rest of the day.

So what does this have to do with writing?

magic Aladdin genie lamp with blue smokeAs authors we try to reach our readers on multiple levels, hoping to engage their emotions. We can’t always be certain we’re expressing ourselves properly, reaching our readers on a visceral level. Sometimes, it may even feel like we’re struggling with another language as we try to build an emotional bond between readers and characters. But when it happens—when we know we’ve nailed it—it’s magic.

Here’s wishing all of you a little magic today.

Ducking the Unexpected in Writing by Mae Clair

They arrived unannounced, without fanfare, and made themselves at home. I wasn’t expecting guests that day, much less the pair of ducks that settled in my back yard.

I’m not in a neighborhood that attracts waterfowl. I live in a small community of approximately 25 homes that is surrounded by farmland. In the rear, my home backs up to a church. When my husband and I originally bought the house, that plot of ground was comprised of acres of fertile crops. The local farmer had a habit of plowing at night using the headlights on his tractor. I never did figure out that routine, except maybe it had something to do with moon phases.

But back to my unexpected guests. Since we’ve lived here, we’ve had an assortment of critters stroll by at one time or another. Like most semi-rural communities, we have our share of squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, skunks, ground hogs and hawks. We’ve also had deer, fox, pheasant, turkey vultures and even a colorful peacock. But we’ve never had ducks.

So it was a surprise to look out the back door and see this.

DSCN0192

I immediately started wondering where they came from, how they ended up there and what their plans were. It’s the same way my mind works when I conjure up characters. Of course the drake (hero) was courting the female (heroine). She appeared to be standoffish, so maybe he’d ticked her off by eying up some floosy hen. Or maybe he’d been wheedling for a roll in the pond (or my back yard) and she wasn’t in the mood.

On the other hand she might have been running from some vindictive mallard and our hero flew in to protect her, the duck in shining armor. Maybe they were brother and sister or friends from childhood, embroiled in a mystery that had them on the run. Could they be clones escaping their creators or doppelgangers fleeing the sorcerer who’d conjured them into existence?  Maybe they’d time-warped from another dimension and mistakenly arrived in my yard when they should have landed somewhere else.

As I was busy spinning possibilities, hubby and I left and hit the grocery store. When we came back, loaded down with seafood, 99% lean ground turkey, broccoli, chips. Greek yogurt and coffee (the essentials in life), we spied the ducks three doors down across the street. They’d separated with the male in the front yard and the female on the other side of the driveway. A lover’s spat?

I never did discover the answer as it was time to unload the groceries and cart them inside. If I want an ending, I’ll have to write one…or at the very least, take some of those ideas and spin them into a story for later.

I certainly didn’t expect to find character inspiration in a pair of ducks that materialized in my back yard, but that’s the unexpected. A writer’s paradise.

Where do you find your inspiration? Do you ever stumble over character and/or story ideas where you least expect them?

Thursday 13: Aloysius Who?

Happy Thursday, friends! I recently discovered a new reason to be excited about this particular day, a weekly meme called Thursday Thirteen. Each week you blog a list of thirteen items – – any items – – of your choice. Imagine! So many topics, so many possibilities! For my first Thursday 13, I thought I’d start with a subject everyone can easily relate to, thirteen favorite male literary characters. Yes, male, because I’m dividing them in two weekly sessions.

So, here’s my list of my thirteen in no particular order (er, except for number one.  No question that Aloysius Xingu L. Pendergast holds the top spot in my heart):

1.       Aloysius Xingu L. Pendergast

First introduced as a supporting character in RELIC, a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, FBI Special Agent Pendergast became a leading character who has appeared in eleven successive novels with a twelfth scheduled to release before the year is out. If you don’t know who this guy is I highly recommend checking him out.  No other character even comes close! I’m beyond in love with this man, I’m besotted (and he isn’t even a romance hero)!

And now for the remaining twelve delicious male characters in no particular order:

2.     Caleb Hawkins
        Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts
3.     Louis Kincaid 
        Louis Kincaid Mystery series by P. J. Parrish
4.     Phillip Quinn  
        
Chesapeake Bay Saga by Nora Roberts
5.     Sir Francis Crawford of Lymond
        The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
6.     James (Gem) Carstairs
        The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
7.     King Arthur
        The Once and Future King by T.H. White   
        Also of legend
8.     Robin of Locksley (Robin Hood) 
        Various legends
9.     Jace Wayland
        The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
10.   Elric of Melnibone
        The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
11.   Gerald Tarrant 
        The Coldfire Trilogy by C. S. Friedman
12.   Menion Leah
        Shannara Series by Terry Brooks
13.   Captain Francis Crozier
        The Terror by Dan Simmons
        Fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin’s attempt to find the Northwest
        Passage in 1845. Captain Francis Crozier was captain of the HMS Terror.
        This novel presently ranks as my favorite of all time! 🙂

So there you have my 13 favorite male characters from literature. I could have easily added a few more without much thought.  Who are yours? You don’t need to list thirteen (although I’d be happy to entertain that many if you’d like to elaborate) but I’d love to know a few. Do share. Inquiring minds (that would be me) want to know!

And check back next Thursday for my thirteen favorite female characters, followed by more Thursday Thirteens each week. I think this could turn out to be a fun meme that I hope you’ll frequent now and again! 🙂