Hey, newsletter folks! Thanks for coming here. If you're not on my newsletter list and have somehow stumbled upon this at the end of an internet rabbit hole session and have no idea what's going on, get yourself a cup of tea and scroll down for the story.
I made this, then discussed it with my partner, and it turns out I may have neglected matters of plot, characterisation and world-building. I mean, it's there—without good characters, there will be no emotional experience. Deep subjective truth is found in good world-building. Plot too is tied to emotional experience, personal resonance and even deep truth. But I think this is actually part 2 (yes, I've done it a bit backwards), and part 1 concerns the more foundational story aspects that have to be there to get to any of this. Whoops. Well, I'll have to draw another one!
Did you not come here from the newsletter? Well, hello, welcome, and please, read on…
What makes a book great? I don't think there's any one answer, unless that answer is 'context'. Certainly I've read books (especially on school literature lists) that I'd say have great impact, but were not really the epitome of what greatness could be to me. Not today, with the changes in literary style and social order and cultural impacts. And really, since reading is a hugely personal experience, the 'to me' part is what's important. What would art be if we all held the same ideals?
For me, a story (or any art, really) is great if it makes me feel something. Laughing, crying, the stab of betrayal, the longing for my favourite ship to hurry up and kiss already. The frustration when they STILL HAVEN'T FIGURED IT OUT OMG (which I secretly love. And hate).
This doesn't mean bad prose is excusable if there's sufficient emotional rollercoasting. For some readers it is, and that's perfectly fine, but, probably because I spend my days buried in words and learning all the grammar rules I missed in school and then learning how to creatively break them, passable prose is a given if we're talking greatness. Poetic prose is when the writing goes from good to great, when the emotion is delivered with beautiful or savvy word choices and brilliant sentences.
Those moments when a line or passage that make me go "Yes. I feel that in my soul. I feel seen by this book." This can be big stuff, such as a plot development being eerily like your own life, but more often is in the little details, like an observation about the hardness of tile floors, or a character going for a run and concluding that running is the worst activity known to humankind. I will forever love a certain prince in Tansy Rayner Roberts' Castle Charming for this very thing.
Deep Subjective Truth
Subtle observations about the world and our society that are never written out in words but conveyed in the subtext with tone, character thought and behaviour, world-building and plot developments. Not to be confused with morals, which are something else entirely (and definitely not on my list of requirements for greatness, but they may be on yours!).
Capstone time! When the deep truths and the characters, plot and world can be understood in different ways depending on the interpretation of the themes and external context. Arguably, most texts can have multiple readings, but some lend themselves to it better than others. This is a book that leaves me thinking about it for ages after, and is a whole new book if I read it again.
Hey, you made it! If you'd like to get the next installment of this, among other bits of news, in your inbox instead of the murky forest of the internet, sign up to my newsletter on the home page. Thanks for sticking around!