What, for you, are the more "important" aspects of fiction? What makes a work stand out in your mind as "the best"? Where did that work put its priorities? More importantly, what aspects of writing do you privelige in your own work? For me, it's: 1: Character and Empathy. I can't handle a text unless it's relatable. That's why, even though I have a lot of respect for Richard Flannagan's style, I find a lot of his work unbearable because I have no idea why I should care about the characters (see: The Unknown Terrorist). 2: Language and Style. The words, the structure, simile, alliteration, metaphor, allegory; the big overt and subliminal things which make the work stand out against the crowd. 3: Theme and Purpose. It took some deliberation not to put this higher up. Themes are the things which are discussed and debated; the things which give books longevity. But this doesn't mean that they're the most important aspects of a text. Ayn Rand's fiction, for instance, has many themes I find sither silly or downright abhorrent - but Atlas Shrugged remains one of my favourite books, because she made me empathise with the characters and drew me in with her style. 4: Plot. Many authors see plot as paramount. Often, as a result, they develop brillant, intricate stories which bring joy and sadness through the power of events alone. However, I don't see it to be as important as the rest. Again, I'll use Ayn Rand as an example: if Atlas Shrugged were simply about a businesswoman trying to keep her transit company running, I doubt I'd have read past the blurb. While this is an oversimplification (things get awesome towards the second half), it were still the foreshadowing, the characters, the philosophical interludes and the flourishes of powerful language that kept me reading through 600 pages of rail, signals and bridges to see if Dagny would finish building the John Galt Line. 5: Setting. This is personal preference; lots of genere-fiction writers would probably disagree with me. But I choose my settings based on how best to explore my themes. I wouldn't sit down to write a post-apocalypse story; I'd set out to write a study of human greed or something, then choose a dead-world setting as the best environment to explore these themes. Perhaps some philosophers of art have written on this subject. No doubt many of you have put more thought into it than I have. So tell me: what's most important to you?