Tyrion pisses off the edge of the world in George RR Martin’s mind. Daenerys walks into the fire to bring forth the dragons in George RR Martin’s mind. Frodo perseveres to take the ring to the Mount Doom in JRR Tolkein’s mind. Krishna convinces Arjun to fight in the battle in the Kurukshetra in Vyasa’s mind.
Great books are those that let the reader peek into the mind of the author and the author speaks to the reader through the characters like in a dream. There are many characters in a dream with their own rationales, emotions and abilities albeit they are all being inside the mind of the dreamer. A good book is like a dream. Each character lives its own life while being inside the author’s mind. They are all very different from each other while still being the same by virtue of being brought forth from the mind of the author.
Each character arrives at the moment in the story with its own history that defines its ethics, rationales and ambitions. At the same time, it also retains the capacity to change itself while living its life. More the author disappears and lets the characters speak for themselves, more the story becomes great. Any hint of the author imposing its will on these characters, and readers start shunning the book over time. A rule, which I first found in Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s book, that I use to choose a book worth reading is: older the book, worthier it is. The book that the readers over the years have kept on reading must have something worthy to offer. If a book has been read for thousands of years, that books is definitely worth reading. This means, all the scriptures and the original books of the major religions are definitely worth reading. They offer something eternal that have been proven useful in life centuries after centuries.
Just like in real life, there must not be any intrinsically good act or intrinsically bad act in a story. Every action should have a potential to be a good one or a bad one. When Frodo lets Gollum live, it is never obvious whether that is a good action or a bad one. Or when Arya frees Jaqen H’ghar, it is not obvious whether that is a good action or a bad one. And when Yudhishthir loses everything including Draupadi, it is also not obvious whether that was a bad action or a good. Only thing all these actions have in common are that they all have potential to be bad, good or both. It all depends on what section of life we look at. Life unfolds over a long stretch of space and time. And results of an action continue to reverberate throughout space and time and even after the death. All these characters act just like in real life rather than seeming to be guided by the author’s whims.