What Makes Any Novel Great?

If I were asked to describe what qualities make the best fantasy novels, I would have to say that it would be the same ingredients that make the best novels. First there is the question of pacing. As in the theater, if you race the audience from one scene to another and the characters are always in a hurry, then you wear the audience out. After a while they just want to go home. Likewise, a great novel gives the reader a comfortable breather from time to time, preferably right after the action has peaked. Then the respite is the most enjoyable.

Interesting characters, people we have never encountered before, are just as essential to the best fantasy novels as they are to the best novels. The timing for the introduction of characters is very important; the reader has to have an opportunity to absorb various aspects of a new character and put them together in his mind as a cohesive whole. When too many characters are thrown at the reader at the same time, he can neither appreciate nor enjoy them. They appear in the mind as a mob, and how interesting is a mob? The best fantasy novels, like Gahan Hanmer’s The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality, introduce characters the same way separate courses are served at a fine dinner.

Ideas appear in the best novels in a different way than in articles or in didactic works. They may be incorporated into the dialogue as the opinion of one of the characters; they may be set forward by the ubiquitous author; or they may be hidden in the consequences of a character’s behavior. The novel is a tricky form to try to be too didactic in. The reader expects to be entertained, not preached to. But the best fantasy novels are never lacking in ideas, often of a moral or philosophical nature.