“We were in the business of mutual amusement, and we were reasonably prosperous.” - Paper Towns
I said I'd write a post about Bones, but then I realized there isn't really much to say about it other than that it has great characters. So then I was thinking about why I love it so much if the plots are predictable and traditional (there is a murder which is solved by the end of the episode. Pretty straightforward.) And I believe I have an answer.
I was originally thinking about this a month or so ago when watching the recording of an award ceremony for books published in 2010 with which a few of my friends were involved. Someone asked what they believed the most important element of a book was. The most common answer was "characters."
Which makes total sense, even though you expect it to be plot without really knowing why. It's like asking "Which matters more to you: the events in your life, or the people involved?"
Well, I don't plan on getting married simply for the sake of being married. I plan on getting married because I want to spend the rest of my life with said person. And I bet the vast majority (if not all) of you feel the same. Would you trade your best friend for a different best friend? Of course not. You don't love him/her because he/she is your best friend. He/she is your best friend because you love him/her. (either that or because he/she is your only friend, but...)
So there it is for life. And in books, it's the same. It doesn't matter how flawed the plot is (to a degree, of course) if you're spending the time with some awesome characters-- and that's the main issue with my current manuscript. The plot is alright. The world is cool. But I despise both of the protagonists.
And that's why I love Bones. The characters-- not the plot. (And it's funny.)
Now, characters taking the front seat, if you have some fantastic world in which your story is set, I will pretty much fall in love with your book. I don't mean a world in which I'd want to live, necessarily. I definitely don't want to live in Matched's society, or the London Below of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, but those worlds are so complete-- so vivid-- so real--that they carry with them an entire atmosphere around with them.
Think about it. None of the Super Bestsellers Of Sci-fi/Fantasy that I can think of made it big because of plot or characters.
Take Harry Potter. Great plot and characters, sure. But my six year-old self didn't become obsessed with it because of that. I wanted to go to Hogwarts.
Star Wars. Characters are alright. Plot is straight-forward. Why do people love it? Jedi are so freaking cool. They want to use the Force. They want to wear tunics and robes and be knights with spaceships.
Lord of the Rings certainly didn't gain popularity from being well-written or having engaging characters or a well-paced plot. Until the movies came out, it survived on the sheer comprehensiveness and novelty of Middle Earth. Elves. Dwarves. Hobbits. Wizards. Giant Demon Bad Guys in towers with legions of monsters to do their bidding.
Also Eragon, which is basically a combination of the last two: YOU GET TO RIDE A DRAGON AND DO MAGIC! Who cares if it's a rip-off?(critics and people bothered by rip-offs, of course, but you see my point.)
It doesn't matter whether or not the actual events of the stories are interesting. What matters is that the worlds are breeding grounds for daydreams.
And so you see what went on inside my head for most of middle school. I didn't spend every spare minute reading, you idiots. I spent them flying around on my dragon and killing orcs Urgals because I was a totally freaking awesome elf warrior lady person thing. (And you think your life was cool.)
So that is why world-building is important. And now you understand all of the people at Star Trek conventions a little bit better.
If your world is such that your readers will fantasize about living in it...you're set. Because they can ignore the annoying characters and become the hero themselves. Some people do this in a healthy balance with everything else, and some do not. But that's the way it is for everything.