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What makes for a good novel?

As I writer, I’ve thought a lot about this question. Perhaps it’s all a matter of opinion, dependent upon the reader’s preferences…

Of course, the literary critics and English teachers will tell us there are certain criteria that make for a proper narrative.

But I’m not so much thinking about plot development, dynamic characterization, realistic dialogue, balanced sentimentality, or the proper amount of anticipation to keep the reader turning those pages. I’ve noticed the best novels, those we call “classics,” tend to have certain elements in common.

For one, the authors who have endured the test of time had something worth communicating. Writing for them wasn’t just about entertaining the audience or selling books. It was about a message burning in their bones that they felt had to be conveyed. Whether anyone agreed or even cared was beside the point. And they chose to convey their perspective through the medium of a fictional tale.

Secondly, it seems to be me that the best stories are stories of redemption. There is inherent in the human psyche a yearning for the broken to be fixed, the lost to be found, the underdog to triumph and the guy to get the girl (or vice versa). We relate to characters in novels that overcome, because we all live in a world where it the odds are often stacked against us.

And lastly, the best novels are those that stay with us. They in some way become a part of who we are, intertwining themselves into the fabric of our lives. I may not have ever had a particular experience, but a good writer can make me feel as if I did.

What do you think? Do you agree, disagree, or have your own idea of what makes for a good novel? I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment!