Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books . . . what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not?
My favorite authors without exception are ones that write absorbing stories that allow me to completely ignore my life and get lost in their world. Genre doesn’t matter. I have lately realized that the ones I love the most are inevitably sad and moving. I find that happiness is just not as affecting for me as sadness, so a story that ends on a bittersweet note is a more likely candidate for a favorite book, just because I am more engaged and my emotions are on edge.
Some specifics – I love Stephen King because I feel that he portrays characters magnificently. His plotlines are necessarily off-the-wall, but the personalities, reactions, and emotions of his characters jump off the page and make you really understand them. Robin Hobb and Jacqueline Carey are both up there for their fantastic world-building as well as brilliant characters. Actually, GRRM is on my list for those reasons as well as his brutality. I do enjoy authors who aren’t afraid of letting beloved characters die, although I think he’s pushing the envelope a bit. I suppose it just feels more “true” to me because in real life, the hero doesn’t always win, and I like that reflection of reality even in a fantasy novel.
I could go either way on quality of language. It’s very nice and I appreciate great prose, but simple can work too, as long as it doesn’t read like a five year old wrote it. It all depends on the quality of the author’s storytelling for me, not necessarily on their quality of language.