I'm thinking a little bit right now about what makes story work for me. I'm not sure what it feels so important right now for me to define this, but I seem to have come to a place where I want to be able to say this is what works for me.
I want to be positive about this. It's easier, somehow, to say what doesn't work, than what does, maybe because for me what does work is so ephemeral.
But here's the list I have come up with this morning:
1. First, and more important than anything else, I need to feel close to the characters. I get all those terrifically written and crafted books but they don't work for me. I love books, no matter how flawed in other ways, where I feel every emotion the character feels, where I laugh and cry and mourn and hate and get angry with the characters.
2. Because I do so much editing myself, books need to be well edited. Oh, I don't mean the occasional spelling mistake - though if there's more than one or two, I'm usually looking for the next one, which spoils the book for me - I mean I don't get bumped out of the story by stupid mistakes, whatever they may be, that should have been caught be the writer, his or her first reader, or the editor, or the copy editor.
3. I love books that take me to the place. This for me isn't so much about setting, but about feel. Each place has a different feel - New York is different than Vancouver is different than San Francisco. The beaches in the South of France are different than the beaches in Hawaii or the west coast of North America. I want to feel as if I've been there. Details help but it's easy to get bogged down in them. I mean the thing that defines the place. You can't just say Vancouver is all about X, but you can write it into your story. So maybe I can say that I like books where the setting is another character, probably not the main character, but so intrinsic to the story that you remember it. Pat Conroy, Alice Hoffman, Michael Ondaatje and my friend, Lisa DiDio are masters at this.
4. I love great dialogue, so a writer who gets great dialogue on the page almost always sucks me in - whether or not the story itself lives up to the dialogue. Everyone talks about Elmore Leonard as a master of this craft and he is, but I think Dick Francis and Nora Roberts are also really good at it.
5. I'll go back to number 1 - character, character, character. Great characters make - or tell - great stories. Doesn't matter what else works or doesn't in a story for me - characters suck me in and I'm committed.