The fashions of writing shift with the times. Sir Walter Scott was revered in his day; now many scoff at his style. Donna Tartt won a Pulitzer in 2014 for her best-seller, The Goldfinch, and this has triggered a debate about what makes a good novel.

A Vanity Fair article earlier this year discussed The Goldfinch, praised by Pulitzer judges as "a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart." Some reviewers loved it - this was Tartt's first book in 11 years. The head New York Times book reviewer called the 784-page work "a glorious Dickensian novel."

Others disagreed. The New Yorker critic James Wood pointed to relentless, far-fetched plotting, cloying stock characters, and an overwrought message tacked on at the end. Francine Prose in The New York Review of Books commented on the book's cliches (e.g., "the tip of the iceberg") and "bombastic, overwritten" passages.

As the Vanity Fair piece notes: Time has a way of recasting opinions about what makes a work literature and who gets to decide. Henry James called Dickens the greatest of superficial novelists. The NY Times said Lolita wasn't worth any adult reader's attention.

Here are three questions to ask yourself if you're trying to create a page turner:

1. Are your characters well-rounded or flat?

2. Do you present a problem that needs to be solved? One that pulls the reader through the story?

3. Have you written with sensory details and images that make the reader feel they're in the scene?

Stay tuned for my review of a book that is engaging, with good characters, plot and writing from the senses.


Do you write to get published or for personal pleasure?

Copyright © 2014 by Laura Deutsch

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