How do you make a novel interesting?
Ooh, what a difficult question.
My late wife, the English teacher & editor, Mary Cooke Hoeft, was all about the characters— those she wanted to know, or, better yet, those she wanted to be.
She loved the characters in John Irving’s books, and in Gail Godwin’s.
She loved Jane Eyre— she wanted to be Jane Eyre.
She love one of my characters, whom she wanted to be.
As proven by her deep affection for the Irving book Son of the Circus (1994) she was willing to tolerate all manners of improbable story & contortionist metaphor as long as the book offered her more characters.
My own tastes are a little different.
I’m not particularly fussy about the characters, as long as they make sense in their universe (I’m a big fan of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter— a monster whose motives & habits are always internally consistent, and whose erudition and elegance are immensely attractive).
I’m more attracted to the style of language used by the narrator, and the scope & complexity of the plot & setting: I want the universe more than its inhabitants (which is why I am perversely more attracted to Tolkien’s Silmarillion than I am The Lord of the Rings [though I still love The Lord of the Rings]).
In the end, I think what makes a novel interesting is hard to pin down— tastes, and even reading skills, are so varied— but one thing is certain: the writer needs to be able to inspire the reader to keep turning the page, to keep the reader curious about what happens next, or how it happens next.
Our work is not going to appeal to everyone, but I’m reminded of a line from the 1999 European film, Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod, about the allure of the female protagonist, Ilona, which I’ll paraphrase: we want it all— something to fill us up, something to leave us hungry.
And that’s what makes a novel interesting…
Come up with a good idea that hasn’t been done half a million times over, have an engaging writing style, and be open to feedback.