The Sword and Laser discussion

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)
This topic is about The Name of the Wind
2014 Reads > notw: What "turns your pages," character development or plot pace?

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Icelord | 35 comments So I just started this book today (going Audible since I can listen on lunch breaks at work) and have never read anything by this author before. In the first three threads that popped up on the book there is a pretty big split of "loved it" and "lemmed it" among people who have seen this book before, and a superficial reading of the threads leads me to believe that this is largely between those who like plot-driven stories or character-driven stories.

So it got me thinking--what keeps you turning pages of a book or a series? Do you want to see great character studies or do you want to see fast-paced plot?

Icelord | 35 comments As I think about my own journey as a reader, I have to say that as I grow older I care more and more about complex characters. I'll stick with "sword" (fantasy) fiction just to remain in the spirit of this group.

In middle school when I was first exposed to "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of The Rings" I loved those books because they were pure adventure. The good guys were good, the bad guys were bad, and there were chases and drama and action and the like.

But as an adult, I have to say that arguably two of the biggest series in the last 20 years have left me with different reactions because of the depth of character development.

I appreciated the epic plot of "The Wheel of Time" series, but the characters were dreadfully dull because after you got to know them in the first book they never seemed to grow. Every time a new book came out I felt like it was partly punishment to read it just so I could get to the end of the darned story. Nobody really seemed to change in that book from the first page of "Eye of the World" to the final scene of "A Memory of Light."

On the other hand, I look forward to each and every new page of the "Song of Fire and Ice" saga to see what facet of a familiar character's personality will shine next. Some characters that I despised in "Game of Thrones" I sometimes found myself rooting for (or at least viewing with a grudging respect) by "A Dance with Dragons" because of their growth.

Yes, there's plenty of action, but even a supporting character like Sandor Clegane has a depth and complexity that makes him a closer kindred spirit with James Joyce's Leopold Bloom than with Homer's Odysseus, if we're going to use a scale of complexity for comparison's sake. Yes, I know that's a pretty vast scale, but I believe when it comes to contrasts, bigger is better.

I'm only two chapters into The Name of the Wind so far, so I don't know which style this book will turn out to be. But I am enjoying the tale so far, even though it seems like a lot of "setting the stage" is occurring right now to help me get my bearings in this world. We'll see where it goes...

message 3: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments Strongly "character development". The plot is secondary to me. Tertiary, even.

Michele | 1154 comments Hmm, I'd say I have to "click" with a character - I have to be rooting for the protagonist/s for some reason. Either because I like them, am fascinated by them, wish I was more like them, feel sorry for them...something about them has to grab me.

Kvothe of the beginning of the story really interests me. Youthful flashback Kvothe not so much. But I do really want to know how he gets from a kind of jerky teen to the dark, haunted man of the present. Without that opening section this story would be just another typical coming of age, young talented nobody turns into world savior, type of story. And those, while still interesting if well written, I'm a bit tired of.

Anyways, I'll put up with all kinds of plots or even less than stellar writing if I like the characters. But if a MC annoys me at the start I'm very likely to lem a book, no matter how people may tell me he/she will change, how well it's written, how detailed the world building.

message 5: by Phil (last edited Aug 02, 2014 07:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil | 1152 comments I want to identify or sympathize or just plain like the main character but beyond that I don't really give a crap if they grow or change or develop as the story goes. If that's what the story is about (like Citizen of the Galaxy), that's fine but if not that's fine too. I guess I generally like more plot driven stories but of course there are exceptions.

Trevor Vallender (tsvallender) I can quite happily read either style, although a combination is always nice to see! My main problem with this novel is it didn't really seem to fall in either camp - you can get away with shallow characters if your plot rushes along, but it really crawls in places here.

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Elizabeth | 34 comments Awesomeness pure awesomeness

message 8: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments I don't need to like the main character or identify with them. At all.

I care most about what's beneath the surface, and a lot of that is driven by character development. So for me it's 1. Thought provoking ideas 2. Character development 3. Plot.

I don't want the plot to be the main focus.

Reader Reborn (readerreborn) I'm with Kenneth. Plot is overrated.

It's like when you suggest a movie to an average person and they always ask you the two least important questions that in no way should determine whether or not they'll like it: "Who's in it?" and "What's it about?" Me: "Um. Nobody you've ever heard of, and space cowboys." To them all that matters is getting something familiar. Maybe because I myself am a writer, but to me I really believe ideas are cheap, and plots are cheaper. Execution is key, and if Rothfuss can do anything, it's execute (me so punny).

message 10: by Dara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2702 comments I'd say it's a 75-25 split character-plot. I need to want to spend time with the characters but if there's no plot, I don't care how great the characters are, I don't want to read it. On the other hand, if the plot is fascinating and engaging, I'm willing to forgive lack of depth in some characters.

Paolo I'd like to answer this but could someone clarify what exactly the distinction is between character development and plot?

Is plot merely advancing what happens in the story? If yes, does this mean that Kvothe's flashbacks are all within character development?

Are character development and plot pace mutually exclusive? Just my opinion, but I think that in a lot of the most well-written stories, character development and plot tend to overlap complement each other based on my perception of both.

Hope some folks can help me sort out the distinction :) Thanks!

Michele | 1154 comments Plot is what happens in the story. Character development or complexity is revealed (or the author fails to reveal) by the actions and emotions of the character as he/she/they go through the motions of the plot.

The plot here is slow paced, I'm sure deliberately so. And it serves mainly to move Kvothe along his path from child to adult.

Though we get the beginning set up that gives us a taste of Kvothe as an adult, Rothfuss is going to show us the entire transformation from tragic childhood to cocky teenager to adventurous young adult to desperate man to bitter angry innkeeper who just might feel obligated to save the world.
At least, that's where I see this going through the 3 books.

I'm intrigued enough by the current Kvothe to go along, even though young Kvothe of the flashbacks isn't surprising me with anything, and neither is the plot. Thankfully Rothfuss has a nice style, decent world building, and believable secondary characters to support Kvothe's story. For me anyway.

message 13: by terpkristin (last edited Aug 03, 2014 03:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

terpkristin | 4188 comments Well, I'm going to disagree with most people here and say that character development isn't enough. It has to have a plot for me, though the best books have both--they develop the character through the plot. But I'm more ok with flat characters and something interesting in the book than I am with possibly interesting characters and nothing happening. This is actually mostly why I hated Ancillary Justice and am appalled at how many accolades it's received. It's 280 pages of inorganic character development and 40 pages of plot. Utter failure. (note, I'm biased because I also found the author uninteresting and kind of a...well, I can't find a nice word to say it, so I won't...but I have listened to a few interviews with her and basically want to smack her...I think I hate the book more now after listening to those interviews than I did when I read the book).

Note I'm not saying that a book can't have any character development...but if it's all characters, it fails for me. This is probably also why I get bored by most movies. They're either artsy fartsy character studies or they're all action with no characters. That doesn't work. I'll respectfully disagree with the poster above who said that the 2 most useless questions about a movie are "who's in it" and "what's it about?" The first one is agreed, useless to me. I have no idea who actors are and I generally don't care (except Sandra Bullock...if she's in it, I'm out), but "What's it about" is absolutely key. And that comes back to how you describe it. If you say "space cowboys" then of course nobody's going to care. But that's a jerky way of describing ANY movie. If you say something richer, "it's about these astronauts who get rocketed into space to lasso an asteroid and save the earth from imminent destruction," then you've got something more that will potentially captivate interest.

Another case in point is real life. The story of the Apollo 13 space mission captivated America--once when it happened, and again in the 90's when the movie came out. But remember, when it launched, nobody cared that Jim Lovell was the commander, no matter how charismatic a person he was. Nobody even wanted to watch the launch. It only became interesting to anybody when something happened.

TL;DR: it's gotta have both. But I'll forgive "less" character development for a fun plot more than I'll forgive "less plot" with hundreds of pages on characters.

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Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments just a neutral observation. don't read too deeply into this. I find it interesting how the choices seem to stack up on gender lines, generally.

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Tamahome | 6350 comments That's kind of a personal question.

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments I really need both. I prefer both. If one is too weak it turns me off. I suffer from both "I don't care about these characters" and "Freaking nothing is happening". On the other hand, if one is extremely compelling, particularly well done, I can overlook the other. For example, I found the characterizations in The Man on Table Ten to be compelling to me even though not much happens except reminiscence until the end. On the other hand, I've been arrested by the ideas of many an old-school scifi story by Asimov, Isaac or the like even though the characters were hopelessly dated.

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments This is going to sound like a complete cop-out, but: I like books that are well-written and succeed at what they're trying to do.

To illustrate some examples using recent S&L picks: I liked The Martian, A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, and Old Man's War quite a bit. But they're all doing completely different things.

The Martian is pretty much all plot: Watney and the other characters get broad character sketches, and are even likeable, but they don't really change or grow throughout the narrative. But the plot was gripping and suspenseful.

A Natural History of Dragons--the plot wasn't anything particularly special for me. I barely even remember it. But the character of Lady Trent was really well done, with the older narrator commenting on her younger self's escapades. And if I'm going to read a first-person narrative, I go in hoping I won't hate the main character, or it's not going to go well. But I liked Lady Trent, and most of the other major characters were also well-written.

Old Man's War--it doesn't really have much in the way of character development or plot (unlike its sequels). John Perry's a likeable character from the get-go, but he doesn't really change from the beginning of the book to the end except that he gets better at his job and (view spoiler). And the story is a series of vignettes from an ongoing war, but one far from resolved by the end of the book. But somewhere between the intriguing world-building and the witty dialogue, something sucked me in.

And then sometimes you get a story that works on multiple levels, like Tigana, The Curse of Chalion, or Wool.

I find these days I tend to appreciate characters over plot. But I think that's a result of a) having read and watched so many stories over my 37 years it's rare to come across a really original plot that doesn't end up falling on its face, and b) despite the evolution of the genre, most SF&F writers still seem to prioritize worldbuilding, plot, and escapism over writing genuine, deep, empathetic characters. And I understand that, and have the same inklings myself. But it means when I find an SF&F book with really strong characterization it stands out for me.

message 18: by Ben (last edited Aug 04, 2014 12:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben (bennewton_1) I'm firmly in the either or both camp. I can get more or less equal enjoyment from a character-driven book (e.g. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) or something that's all plot (e.g. Death's Head), but my favourites are the ones that balance them both (like the Revelation Space books). As terpkristen said above, the very best for me is when character is developed through the plot advancing.

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Wow, Ben, I just looked up Death's Head, and from the plot synopsis, it sounds like Takeshi Kovachs from Altered Carbon gets hired by someone maybe like the emperor from Ancillary Justice to fight the Borg from Star Trek, only to be noticed by a group like the Culture from Iain M Banks' novels.

Julian Arce | 71 comments Copying a bit of something I said in another thread.

"In a way is a deconstruction of classic heroes... Kvothe exploits are so adorned by the local people, that the real story of a real boy/man is lost. Kvothe tries to show that heroes are normal people, that their futures were not always as clear, and that the groundworks of a story are always more mundane and gray that the fairy tale we weave around them."

Casey | 654 comments It's all about the writing. Then it becomes about character. So long as the writing shivers the page, and I can track character change, I'm a happy camper.

Plot plays third fiddle.

message 22: by Ben (last edited Aug 04, 2014 11:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben (bennewton_1) Joanna wrote: "Wow, Ben, I just looked up Death's Head, and from the plot synopsis, it sounds like Takeshi Kovachs from Altered Carbon gets hired by someone maybe like the emperor from..."

You're actually not too far off.

message 23: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 64 comments Kenneth wrote: "Strongly "character development". The plot is secondary to me. Tertiary, even."

I'm the opposite ... I can deal with cardboard characters if the plot/story is interesting, but interesting characters doing little/nothing loses me every time.

Which is likely why this book did little for me. Started well but then ...

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Gaines Post (gainespost) | 202 comments I've read stories that have strong plots and 2D characters. Those plots are moving enough to keep my attention, *however,* at the end the stories feel... well, empty. And I don't remember them very well. On the other hand, my memory is full of characters from novels I've read over the years; I don't necessarily remember what they did / what the plots were, but those strong characters are engraved in my mind to this day. Maybe it's just a difference in how people's brains function. Kinda like how some remember song titles, some just remember the melodies. *shrug*

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Todd Carrozzi | 60 comments Can I throw in a vote for how awesome I think this thread is(and Sword and Laser in general)? I haven't started re-reading yet, and as I just read it less than a year ago, I may or may not, but to some extent this thread mirrors my internal debate after reading this the first time...and liking it a lot.
I had a block of some sort, call it a character flaw where while I felt that I liked both sword and laser genres pretty equally, when it came to reading I was almost pure laser. I finally broke through that block with Assassin's Apprentice, and have read every sword pick since(I think).
Both before and after that point, though, I tried reading various asoif books and didn't enjoy them. My initial thought was that I still wasn't into epic(and non epic but longer) fantasy. Then I read this and enjoyed it, and to be fair I almost immediately read day 2, and then stormlight archives, and liked them all.
So I am now going back to asoif and I do like them a bit better, but what I decided I did not like was the very topic of this thread, although in my head I stated it differently.
In my view, the point of a work of fiction is to tell a story. This story is made better by adding details about the characters and the world they are in. If you don't tell me a story, then I start to feel like I am reading either a diary or an almanac. Now Rothfuss goes back and forth, but the fact that this is told in flashback and is supposed to take 3 days, limiting him to one more book, makes me optimistic.
Anyway, when I saw this thread and how many people who feel the exact opposite than I do, I was psyched! That's what makes this group so awesome!

message 26: by AndrewP (last edited Aug 07, 2014 08:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

AndrewP (andrewca) | 2501 comments Here's my theory. I think it's more than simply those 2 choices. I would list the following components of a book: (For S&L only, other genres have other important attributes).

- Characters
- Plot
- Thought provoking principles
- Creativity/Worldbuilding
- Pace/Tension creating an emotional response
- Excellent writing

For me a good book has to have at least 3 or more of those, or be exceptional in any 2.

EDIT: You can also have too much of one thing. I'm sure we have all comes across books where the pace is just one mad rush from beginning to end.

message 27: by Skip (last edited Aug 07, 2014 12:44PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Skip | 517 comments Tor does a podcast, and they interviewed Lev Grossman in the most recent one. One of the first things they talk about is Lev's article in the Wall Street Journal, titled Good Books don't Have to be Hard where he describes the historical depreciation of plot by the Modernists in the last century, and why it isn't really necessary anymore.

Personally, I want a book that grabs me and entertains me. I read and explain poorly written things for a living, the last thing I want to do is work for my pleasurable reading. Where that comes from is irrelevant to me.

Joshua (joshua_tree) | 4 comments For me, it’s a matter of getting close to the right balance. I think it depends on what the author is trying to create and what I want out of it at a particular point in time.

I'm in a similar boat with Icelord about The Wheel of Time series. I wanted to know what happened and how it resolved, despite the characters--in the entire span of the story, I don't think one of them matured in any significant way—they became 2-d cardboard cutouts of people. In the end, I was invested enough to continue to the conclusion, but almost grudgingly.

In other series, even a much better plot and depth of character, if I read it at the wrong time, just give up in frustration at a real or imagined “shallowness”. That was my reaction to A Game of Thrones. Early on one of the women (I don’t remember a name) had some relation to the King arrested and taken back to her castle to protect her husband and family (or whatever). That was the point I stopped that book. I was frustrated with characters (and especially female ones) being stupid (for no reason) and doing stupid things without thinking. Despite all the positive reviews both on good reads and by people I know, I stopped reading it right then and there. Looking back, it was probably a reaction to the WoT books I had read just before. (My intention is to give A Game of Thrones another shot in the future.)

With NotW, I think the balance is about right, although I might like a little bit quicker pace, but maybe not. As it is autobiography-ish, having some slower parts might make it more “real.” Ultimately, I don't want to stop reading/listening when I get home at night and instead continue listening while I make/eat dinner.

message 29: by Russ (new) - rated it 2 stars

Russ Linton | 23 comments Skip - Thanks for the link to Grossman's article - an excellent read. In the five years since that was written, I believe trends have proven him right in many ways. All those YA readers have grown up either literally or become more sophisticated and want more depth while still being pulled along on an exciting read. Good stuff and great times ahead for literature!

Rob  (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I'm surprised no one has really mentioned prose. For me, if the simple act of reading a sentence of a book is fun or enjoyable, it's easy to speed through the book. A Nabokov or chandler or Wodehouse or Douglas Adams or Rothfuss (after the first 100 pages where the prose is pretty lacking) makes it easy to just keep blasting through every sentence until suddenly you've read the whole book. It's like, it's easy to get immediately immersed in The new and extremely popular Guardians of the Galaxy film not because of the plot (which is barely there and cobbled together from other marvel movies and other ensemble cast movies) or even because of character development (you know from the start that this lovable band of misfits is going to learn THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP, and none of them really change all that much by the end) but because every scene is shot well, beautifully, and snappily, and the dialogue is amazing.

If the prose is mediocre, or "workmanlike" or whatever, as it is with 99% of genre novels that aren't terrible, then the other stuff fills in, with either plot or personalities or, least of all, an interesting setting.

I think the above isn't just true for me but for people in general, and we don't realize it because the majority of genre lit today features mediocre prose, and the majority of literary fiction published right now that is damnably awful

message 31: by Russ (last edited Aug 10, 2014 07:07AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Russ Linton | 23 comments I think a lot of factors play into "workmanlike" prose. One could be the amount of material the top genre writers are expected to produce to remain in the public eye. It's tricky to crank out anything more than workmanlike prose you mention with tight deadlines.

Mass market entertainment is about consumption nowadays and not about reflection. Much (not all) of the mega-popular YA stuff falls into this category. I'm not saying those are bad books, but simply easier to digest and understand than literary prose and literary themes.

But you mention plot, personality and setting filling in the gap and genre fiction thrives on that. Rarely do you hear people geeking out about that "awesome sentence" a genre writer wrote, but you definitely hear about people dedicating enormous amounts of time to celebrating those other aspects: using the fictional world as their own playground, roleplaying / cosplaying characters, excitedly discussing plot twists on internet message boards, etc. For me, one of the strongest things about NotW was the prose and you don't see threads devoted to it (though people do mention it in passing. (*EDIT I should say you don't see nearly as many discussions about the prose as there is at least one thread on quotes from NotW!)

As I mentioned earlier though, I think readers are becoming more sophisticated after the recent wave of YA fandom and I think we'll find more looking for the fantastic prose you mention alongside those other elements.

message 32: by David (new)

David (dbigwood) Rob wrote: "I'm surprised no one has really mentioned prose. For me, if the simple act of reading a sentence of a book is fun or enjoyable, it's easy to speed through the book. A Nabokov or Chandler or ..."

+1. Bradbury, Gaiman, and LeGuin are a couple of authors I'd add to your list. The prefection of some of their writing just stops me short. I take longer to read their works because I want to savor the exquisitive prose.

Setting can also be important. In Tolkien the places are describes so well I'd know them if I saw them. Same with Austin Tappan Wright. If I saw the house where they passed the winter, or the mountain pass where they repelled the invaders I'd know them right away. It does take a special skill to make settings come alive. When it happens it's a special kind of magic.

Stephen Richter (stephenofllongbeach) | 1339 comments Rothfuss give the readers the plot arc from the get-go. "I trouped, traveled, loved , lost, trusted and was betrayed." I always tell friends who I give the book to think of Gandalf, did he become a great wizard like someone becomes the Dali Lama, or did he create himself, became the great wizard by his own actions. Kvothe is the story of the latter path.

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Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments Russ, I'm one of those "wow what an amazing sentence" guys.

message 35: by Russ (new) - rated it 2 stars

Russ Linton | 23 comments Kenneth wrote: "Russ, I'm one of those "wow what an amazing sentence" guys."

Right on! Yeah, didn't mean to imply they aren't out there, just that you don't hear much about readers of genre fiction focusing on the prose.

Love David's list up there by the way - Bradbury, Gaiman and LeGuin. I'd add Margaret Atwood as well. They are all popular authors that straddle the boundary between literary and genre fiction with powerful prose and a greater focus on character development than is typical for genre fiction.

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Alex | 78 comments I think at the moment I am very plot driven, I love the story and the plot is my main focus of 'o what's going to happen? how will they do it?!' but if the characters don't match my taste then I definitely won't like the book as much. For example, at the minute I'm reading The Queen of the Tearling - the characters are rather dull, rather stupid when it comes to decisions and I don't like any of them but I keep reading because I want to know the world's history and the ultimate plot of the book 'how will the queen keep her thrown' and the plot is what's keeping me from lemming it atm. Even with its massive problems.

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Tommy Hancock (tommyhancock) | 100 comments I can't think of a single book that I really liked that didn't have both to at least semi significant degrees.

If I HAD to choose, I'd rather see extraordinary things happen to ordinary people than ordinary things happen to extraordinary people.

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Adelaide Blair Plot. Which is why this book is killing me.

Nathan (tenebrous) | 377 comments Mostly characters. I hated Old Man's War because it was all plot and very little character. This book is it's mirror opposite. In OMW, when the main character's friends started dying in the course of their duty, I could care less. In NOTW I care even about the minor characters.

Icelord | 35 comments Great bunch of responses. As I said at the top I'm a character development fan. Rob mentioned quality prose as a criterion, and as someone who studied a lot of the classics in college I appreciate great writing as well. But sometimes great authors put writing ahead of story, and in my case it sometimes makes the whole work suffer.

A book that comes to mind (neither sword nor laser, but it has a classical sword influence) is Ulysses, which I re-read recently in anticipation of taking a trip to Dublin. For me that one suffers a bit because Joyce is such a great writer and he knows he is a great writer and there are times he cares less about where the story is headed than he does about trying to impress you with how clever he can be. A couple generations earlier on this side of the pond it seemed like Herman Melville also got a bit lost in the sense of his own cleverness in Moby Dick. Both books are deserving of their place in the canon, but they take a bit more concentration and work to slog through than I generally look for when I'm reading something for the sake of just enjoying a well-constructed novel.

NOTW felt a bit flat for most of the book since it's being dictated in an inn apparently many years after the events. Even though it's novel length that narrative style gives it kind of a fireside tale quality, or a sort of series of fireside tales strung together about the same protagonist. I guess since the bulk of the book covers less than one calendar year from the time Kvothe reaches the university, I guess that's understandable.

I listened to it via Audible, and I have to say the voice actor reading the story helped me enjoy it more than I might have reading it, especially with his accents and inflections. Even so, it may be a while before I go try any of the other books in the series. I'll save any other comments on the book for threads about the title to avoid spoilers.

Tsedai | 68 comments I think I'm going to have to go in the I need a mixture of things camp. A good book is like a brownie - it should be greater than the sum of its parts. I mean, you could eat a raw egg, some flour, and some cocoa powder, but separate they are kinda nasty. Mix them together, pop them in the oven... Delicious chocolate bread. Such is the way with stories. I think that different ratios can work (ie, if the plot is super exciting then maybe the characters don't have to be as deep or have time to grow/change as much), but you need to have more than one thing in a story to make it successful. The way it is written by the author is important too - they need to make you care, whether it be about the characters or about the plot. I can't even say that I tend towards one direction more than the other - I've enjoyed plot heavy books (The Martian) and character heavy books (NotW), which are about as different in style and tone as you can get. So I'm going to add my voice to the "it's all in the execution" crowd.

message 42: by David (new)

David (dbigwood) Another thing that doesn't make me turn pages but rather enjoy a book or not is the philosophical underpinnings. I found Dune distasteful because of the Darwinist survival of the fittest idea. Pulman's very strong anti-religion stance was also a turn-off. Heinlien is another author I just can't read. On the other hand I find the ideas behind Le Guin and Tolkien very much compatable with my view of life.

message 43: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina | 32 comments Definitely character development, I loved the slow unfolding of this story and the chance to enjoy spending time with the characters.

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