I ask myself this when I read some SF/F novels that go on for dozens of pages with no action or character development at all. I will keep complaint posts to a minimum here; writing is a wonderful experience so I want to maintain a positive tone as much as possible.
The last novel I read—Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray was excellent and kept me engaged, beginning to end. But there have been many, too many that did the absolute opposite. I’ve endured some real stinkers: books that droned on and on with nothing going on, and with wooden, emotionless characters to boot. One novel that I won’t name featured no action for 100 pages, and the protagonist was the dullest guy I ever met. Yes, I said ‘met’ because in a good novel, one connects in my view to the characters as though they are real in a sense. And especially the protagonist of all people; if one has to follow this person for a few hundred pages, s/he should be engaging and intriguing.
After about 150 pages, I finally had to put this book aside. I’m not even sure where it is now. Ditto another that I bought as an e-book. It had a hair more action in its first chapters, but every character had the exact same personality—another of my pet peeves when reading a novel.
As a new novelist I have some issues of my own to work on. But I know my writing strengths and weaknesses, and I can safely say two great strengths of mine are scene development and character development. I have a vivid imagination and a love for action and surprise, so this finds its way into my writing pretty quickly. I will never write anything that has nothing going halfway through it. And, I like to employ what I call a ‘community’ of characters: a diverse set of people with varied personalities. Real people as a former writing instructor called them.
I don’t say this to toot my own horn, I say it because my readers have told me these things, and because I feel it in my writing as I redraft it. But with my natural abilities that I’m thankful for, I have also learned from novels good and bad. And the ones that slog on with nothing at all going on and no one I can relate to are the ones that have said to me, “don’t do what this author is doing. Keep your scenes moving nicely, and keep your characters interesting and engaging!”