I started a new novel by an author I’ve never read before. And so far, I love everything about Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. But I think the thing that’s hooked me the most is the author’s voice. It’s unique. Her take on characters and plot points is different than I’m used to. She goes places I don’t expect her to. Her female protagonist is addicted to pills. It’s the only way Chess can deal with battling ghosts from her past and ghosts in real life. But she’s no downtrodden victim. No one in this novel is. The drug seller and his enforcer both feel real. They are what they are because they’ve worked their way up the ladder. They’re at the top of their food chain. Their dialogue, their take on life, their way of handling problems all feel practical, necessary. And it gives the novel an edge that I like. But it’s made me think. What is it, when I really think about it, that makes me love one novel more than another?
Unholy Ghosts has plenty of action, and I like that, but it’s not necessary to make me love a book. It’s why I love Ilona Andrews. There’s always a battle, a conflict that tests Kate Daniels’ mettle. But I love Patricia Briggs too, and her Mercedes Thompson novels have as much character building as world building and action. There’s always danger, of course. That’s what urban fantasy is all about. But I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth George and Sarah Allen Addison–and their conflicts are every bit as internal as external. So action, in and of itself, isn’t necessary to win my devotion. As a matter of fact, I don’t even finish some action-packed novels because I don’t care what happens to the characters. So action, alone, doesn’t guarantee a good book.
When I think about it, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Elizabeth George, and Sarah Allen Addison aren’t all that similar. They each know how to balance all of the components of a great novel–tension, pacing, emotional impact, characterization, and plot. Their pages aren’t filled with misspellings or bad grammar. They know the basics. But what makes a novel soar above those basics? What makes a novel stand out?
I think, part of it, is voice and language. Les Edgerton wrote a how-to book on VOICE, because it’s so important to the feel and texture of a novel. It takes an author time to find her voice. That’s why it’s so important to just write, to find yourself, when you’re starting out. A writer can learn the basics from books/reading, but voice is his way of encompassing all of those ingredients. Voice is the thing that makes one writer unique from the next. It’s part of why I loved Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. Her language was almost lyrical, at times. Sarah Allen Addison’s voice can feel whimsical to me, almost poetic, at turns. Elizabeth George’s language just blows me away, like a literary novel and a mystery whirred in a blender. Ilona Andrews uses a sort of kickass, smartass voice and some authors–like Shirley Jump, Dorothy Cannell, or Janet Evanovich–use humor to distinguish themselves from others. But each author has his own take on life, and that carries over into his writing. And that becomes voice. And that, I think, is what makes me choose one author over another.
What about you? What makes you like one writer more than the next?