When reviewing fiction, there's a certain quality that's very important to me, which I can best describe as being "solid." By which I mean: the story is well thought-out, well constructed; it flows naturally and believably; I'm never struck by something that seems overly absurd, implausible, contrived, or manipulative.
Though in some senses this is a basic requirement for a story - you want your story believable and non-contrived, right? - I like to mention it outright in reviews. That's because a lot of stories don't feel solid to me, and that's because writing something that's both convincing and compelling can often be very difficult. So it's important for me to recognize the pieces that do manage this, and I'd personally see this as a significant recommendation for many types of fiction (because often, a story which is solid has the minimum requirements to be enjoyable - not necessarily much beyond the "light fun read" tag, but at least that).
My difficulty is that I feel that describing these stories as "solid" is damning them with faint praise. It doesn't sound like much of a compliment, somehow (though maybe I'm wrong on this?). Here's some other phrases I've used or considered:
- "Competent" is another word that, taken literally, is an accurate description of what I'm trying to praise, but actually sounds really really bad.
- "Flawless" would be nice if taken literally, but it's much too strong a superlative for what I'm actually trying to describe.
- "Well-constructed" is a pretty close to what I'm looking for, but I don't think the average reader will understand what I mean by it - it sounds like generic praise that means "this is good in some way."
Can you think of other ways to phrase the positive criticism I'm trying to convey? Alternatively, do you think I'm being overly-sensitive in rejecting some of the phrasings I've already considered?