The other day I saw this Pixar Story Rules list on Twitter. A few of the items stuck out to me, such as
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
I’ve heard this advice many times but I haven’t actually sat down and done it. So, what do I like to read? What sorts of things do I dislike? Am I guilty of writing the very thing I dislike reading? (Scary thought). Well, here goes. In no particular order,
- Well-written, beautiful prose. It doesn’t have to be a “literary” style for me to like it, but if it’s so sparsely written that there’s almost nothing on the page, it grates on me. If it’s not on the page, then it’s not in the story.
- Long novels with fleshed-out subplots. Ambulatory paces are just fine with me.
- Humor, or light mixed in with all the darkness.
- Stories that end well or with an open door of hope and everything working out. Also a sense that their story continues, not all threads tied together in a neat package, etc, but still a sense of closure.
- Trilogies or multiple-book series that follow the same protagonists. I prefer taking a long trip with a character than a bunch of shorter trips with more characters.
- Character-driven novels, idea-driven short fiction. (I don’t really believe character-driven short fiction exists, since it’s not enough time to really get to know the characters. And there’s not enough time for the characters to run away from the writer’s tidy plot and idea? I don’t know. Prove me wrong.)
- Depth enough that there’s more to discover on a reread. Not just the second reread but the third and fourth.
- Creative and unique ideas and worldbuilding. And I mean more than just tweaking old tropes by two or three degrees. I want at least a 45 degree angle change in what’s already out there. (Stone vampires that sparkle like granite in the sun? You’re totally jealous of not being able to make your vampires moving statues, aren’t you. That’s why your vampires are cliché and boring, right? Your snobbery isn’t giving you any brownie points if you can’t be creative, yourself. Just fyi.)
- Great dialogue.
- Genre benders, particularly science fantasy.
- Husband-and-wife or other couples or duo teams. But I should add–with no contrived conflicts. Everything they do deal with stems from their personalities and circumstances, rather than be invented on-the-spot for some quick conflict.
- “Trilogies” where the first book takes one set of protagonists and books 2&3 have a completely different set, such as Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy or Books 2&3 after Howl’s Moving Castle. However, if I have the expectation going in that it’s not really a “trilogy” but simply books connected by the same world, that’s fine. Still, if I invest time with characters, I want to see the trilogy belong to them.
- Too many Point-of-View characters. It’s an investment thing; I only have so much to give at a time. I even have difficulty reading multiple books at the same time.
- Everything going wrong all the time. As in, if something can go wrong or break, it breaks, no question. So I guess I don’t like catastrophe plots. An example would be Falling Free by Bujold, Robin Hobb’s Royal Assassin (book2), or Timepiece by Heather Albano. I like each of those books, but this is something I dislike in each: everything goes wrong with every attempt to get things right. It just grinds you down, and real life doesn’t operate that way. So why should I escape to a world that’s more pessimistic than my own?
- Rape within the story’s plot framework. But I’ve already discussed that.
- Kisses without passion or poetry. (When I say ‘passion’, I don’t mean erotica, I just mean they need emotion, detail, attention.) I dislike it when a romance subplot is building and then the author writes, “He kissed her.” Um, what a climax? There are a million and one ways to kiss someone. Was it tender, sloppy, tentative or confident? What did it taste or feel like? Was it quick or lingering? More details are needed! And if you’re not going to give concrete details but rather stay in the abstract, then give it poetry. A Kiss is magical, so give it magic. Don’t run from the climax or skip over it. The equivalent would be like saying “And then he died.” Yeah, don’t do that.
- Fiction whose sole purpose is a shock or edgy factor: disturbing, gruesome, lots of purposeless swearing, carnal sex (rather than romantic). Fiction that makes me feel disgusting and disgusted as I come out of it, I guess.
- Mistaking “being in a relationship” or lust for love. Also, relationship montages or handwaviums rather than taking the time to develop real relationships between characters, whether friendship or romantic.
- Token mascot female characters, and the reverse, “strong” female characters who lack confidence but are always on the defensive with their status to prove. (Also, giving a woman a sword does not make her strong, just fyi.)
- Love triangles. They seem to happen more often in fiction than in real life, has anyone else noticed that? I mean, there’s a certain percentage of the population and personality types that seem universally loved and admired by all. Geeks and underdogs and the types of personalities that seem to be the heroes and heroines in fiction aren’t generally from that percentile. In fact, underdogs and geeks are rarely noticed by ONE person, let alone two. There needs to be a stinking good, plausible reason to convince me I should accept the love triangle as anything other than wish-fulfillment or conflict-creator.
What about you? What do you like or dislike reading?