I have recently finished reading two really good book, Starhawk by Jack McDevitt, and Old Mars edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin. Whenever I finish good books, I’ve found in the past that I have a very hard time deciding what to read next. The same is true today, but in giving it a little thought, the same revelation I had toward writing stories seems to apply, at least for me, to reading stories.
I think I became a better writer when I realized that the single most important factor, for me, is story. Everything else is secondary. If the story isn’t good, good characters won’t carry it over the goal line. Brilliant writing won’t carry a bad story over the goal line. First and foremost, there must be a good story.
Looking back over the list of books that I’ve read, and glancing at the standouts, in every case, it seems to me that the story in those books was outstanding. And interestingly enough, this goes for nonfiction, as well as fiction. Nonfiction books that tell a good story are far better than those that just dump information. I think of examples like The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, or John Adams by David McCullogh, or Death By Black Hole by Neil de Grasse Tyson. If there is no story, or even a weak story, I will struggle with the book.
I haven’t yet decided what to read next, but whatever ends up working, it will be something that seems to have a good story from the very outset.