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No one wants to share their opinion? Hm, that's a first.
The writing style is the first thing I notice about a book. Some books are written very formally, others are written casually (my preference), and some just sound like they're written by depressed teenage girls in heat. The next thing I notice, and without a doubt the most important thing, is the plot-line. A book needs a great story. That's the entire point. If a story can't catch my interest soon and keep it throughout, it's not a good book (assuming I'm the target audience). My advice to you as a writer is to consider who will be reading your book. However you classify your story will determine who will be listening to it, so you have to keep the audience in mind and think of whatever ways you can to captivate them and keep them reading.
I look for an intereasting plot line. I can also really tell if its a good book, if by the end of the first chapter i am dying to read more.
Hey, werewolf, I'm laughing at your follow-on comment (after the initial question). It's a tough question is all. Not easily answered. I think we'd all say that the book has to catch our interest, and keep it. *How* it does that, particularly for different readers, is the rub. Lots of books written on that. I know for me, as Ducky says, a strong plot and strong writing are important. I'm also bored by what seems to be the subject matter of so many novels these days, just the ins and outs of daily living, and who's chasing who and to what effect. Ho-hum. I guess that's why I was so riveted by Jennifer Egan's _A Visit from the Goon Squad_ . Have you read that one? What do you find compelling in a story?
Just thought of something else that's important to me: I have to care about at least one of the characters. If no one is sympathetic, it's difficult for me to care enough to keep reading. I don't mean to say that characters must be perfect or completely goody-goody, but if no one has any redeeming characteristics, I have a tough time continuing. For the first several chapters of _The Wimbledon Poisoner_, for example, no one seemed likable. It's a fun read, once you get into it -- a dark comedy which eventually becomes a hilarious tangle -- but it almost lost me in those initial chapters. I don't know how others feel about this, whether it's as important or not to their interest in a book. And what type of fiction are you writing, by the way? For what audience?
I have to agree - there needs to be at least one character that's believable in order for me to continue reading. He or she doesn't have to have relate-able characteristics, but the personality has to advance the story in some believable manner. I tend to think of the above in this way: -Tone/writing style is the very first thing I notice, and can ruin an otherwise good story if it's used improperly. -In the introductory stages, characters will either get me hooked or not. They're often the basis for my Ch.1 to Ch.5 ragequits. -Story is what I keep noticing, and it's what will prevent or cause a Ch.10 to Ch. 20 ragequit. Hope this helps!
@ RedwoodGirl No, I haven't. Guess I'll have to add it to my list :) Thank you for everything. Gives me a lot to think about. My book is a YA fantasy. A magical land parallel to our own with three werewolf queens and a legendary dragon leading war against each other. And one teen girl with a magic sword who can stop the war. @Unexpected Thank you as well. This gives me great ideas for when I'm editing.
For me, the most important thing are the characters, their personality, and how they develop over time. If I read a book and the characters at the end are the same as they were at the beginning, then I don't consider it as good of a book - there's no growth, shift and change. I agree with Redwood Girl, I have to care about a character and be personally vested in their story. I need to be able to feel angry on their behalf, to root for them and celebrate when they succeed, to feel their pain and to genuinely care. Plot is the next important thing. The plot should be unique and clever. It doesn't necessarily need to have a huge plot twist or anything overly dramatic, but if I can predict the ending pretty easily, then something should probably be changed.
Thank you. Good point