Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Three Things I Love in a Story

 I've been mulling over this sort of thing for years.  What do I, personally, need in a story?  What do I want?  What do I not want?  I've discussed this various times, with various people, but it's always fun to revisit, so today, I'm sharing three things I love in a good story, whether it's a book or a movie or a TV show. 

(All photos are mine from my Instagram account.)

1.  Characters I want to be friends with.  No lie -- this is make-or-break for me.  If I don't want to be friends with at least a few of the main characters and hang out with them, I won't be re-reading or re-watching this, which means I don't love it, or even like it much.  I realize this is highly subjective, as no one can really predict what will make me want to be friends with a fictional character, but there it is. 

Actually, I do have some pretty basic things I like in a character.  They need to be nice and helpful.  I also appreciate characters who are loyal, sensible, and practical.  A little quirkiness is nice, and I appreciate both sarcasm and sass a lot.  But those are all gravy.  I don't love characters who are not both nice and helpful.  Now you know.


2.  Realistic dialog.  It needs to sound like things real human beings in that point in time would say.   (William Shakespeare gets a pass for this one -- no mere mortal talks as well as his characters.  But it would be nice if we did!) 

Also, I really appreciate it when an author tells me a character has an accent, say Scottish, and then lets me imagine the accent.  I dinnae apprrreciate it when they mun go to verrrah grrreat lengths to wrrrite oot the accent -- ach, mon, it gives me a rrroarrring headache if I cannae rrread it easily.


3.  Happy endings.  And by that, I mean endings that make me happy.  I want moral balance restored to the universe at the end of a story -- good triumphs over evil, etc.  This is why I consider the ending of Hamlet to be happy -- good has triumphed, even if at great personal cost.  If evil wins, or if good kinda wins but evil is still lurking somewhere, then it's not a happy ending, to me. 


How about you?  What do YOU love in a story?

18 comments:

  1. This is such a great question! I agree with everything you said, but also: friendships. Show me a book with great friendships, and I will show you a book that I will hoard with all my little book dragon heart. :) And if the friendships are badly done--I will be running away from that book as fast as my feet can carry me.

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    1. Samantha, oh, friendships are totally awesome! I like them almost as well as family relationships... except when the two combine, like in a found-family situation. Those are my favorites :-)

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  2. I also like this question.
    And I agree that interesting/likeable characters is vital. (If they have interesting friends too that's a bonus, but likeable loners are lovely as well.)
    Also, I find for me, there should be something more at stake than just everyday sorts of things. I remember being expected to read these boring "teen girl drama" books where the only thing at stake was if the main character was going to get to go to the dance with the guy she secretly crushed on, or similar, and it would drive me Up The Wall. Of course she'd always discover that he actually thought she was pretty cool despite being 'different' - 'different' usually meaning she wore glasses or played the tuba or something equally not really important but 'uncool' - after she first tried to be 'better' by fitting in - getting contacts and make-up and new clothes and quitting the band - and it was just so...condescending.
    I'm also not a big fan of romances, because they are also usually kind of boring. (Romance and self-discovery is okay for me as a significant sub-plot to a story, but there has to be something else going on too - a teen girl book where the main character has to rescue the boy from the clutches of an evil extraterrestrial by playing a certain tune on her tuba and then starting a fire with her glasses during a snowstorm to call in the army before they can go to the dance together might of been fine.)
    About realistic dialogue - I like stories that have fun with dialogue, and it doesn't matter that much to me if it's not "realistic" as long as it's interesting and you can maybe sense that the writer had fun with it. Although - if it's wildly out of keeping with what I think I know about a historic setting that might be a problem.
    My favourite stories usually have some sort of humour in them.
    And, yes, good should prevail - although for me, it doesn't have to triumph, as long as there is still some hope. I don't mind if evil is still lurking as long as the main characters (or if it's a sacrifice story then whoever is left behind) seem as if, with a little bit of luck, they'll be able to keep resisting Evil after the end.

    So, I guess, as I'm just trying to work it out in my mind here tonight, the 4 things I want most in a story are:

    Neat characters
    Humour (can be nearly pitch black, as long as it's there)
    Significant, often out of the ordinary, stakes (and maybe the stakes can be made to seem out of the ordinary by simply placing the story in a different time or place)
    And Good is still intact and fighting at the end.

    If I had to pick three, I guess I'd survive dropping the humour. Although if none of the main characters seem to have a sense of humour, I'm not sure I'm going to find them likeable...

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    1. VT, I'm glad the question got you thinking!

      I'm not big on romance-only stories. Even in things like rom-coms, I want there to be something else driving the plot besides will-they-get-together. Though I'm more apt to watch a movie that's romance-centric than read a romance-centric book.

      If you like pitch-black humor, have you ever seen the 1955 film We're No Angels? It manages this miraculous balancing act between adorably sweet and extremely dark humor.

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    2. Hmmm. I don't think so, but I've added it to my "see sometime" list :)

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  3. I like your thoughts. I too want a happy ending. (I will like stories that don't have happy endings, but for the most part, I want the guy to get the girl and for them to ride off into the proverbial sunset together.)

    I find it really hard to enjoy things with totally unlikable characters, which makes a lot of modern television a no-go for me. It seems like a trend these days to make the characters so despicable and unlikable that it's difficult to find anything nice about them (a trend, I think, that Mad Men started!). I want a nice mix of jerks and pleasant people.

    I hate phonetic accents in books. It's so hard to read. :P (Glad you prefer just to be told: you can imagine all the Scots in my next book as having accents, since I did NOT 'spell them out' hahaha.)

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    1. Thank you, Charity! I generally want characters to have a happy ending too -- but I think sometimes I define a happy ending for them in a way that others wouldn't. Like, Philip Marlowe solves his cases, but he always ends up alone, and he's more or less okay with that, so I'm okay with that.

      Very glad to hear you have not done phonetic accents in your upcoming book!!!

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    2. Charity, oh, YES!!! Unlikable characters... are a no. I do not like them. I must like the characters. Now, I can like curmudgeonly (Wolverine) or stand-offish (Sherlock Holmes) or dangerous (Angel) or morally grey (Sawyer) characters... but they are likeable despite their unlikable traits.

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  4. Ahhh, I always love posts like these. *sighs with contentment*

    So for me, beyond my usual "I want characters I can relate to, and characters I can trust," I think I want endings which make the characters happy. Endings which leave the characters feeling, in fact, happy. There are a select few tragic endings which I wholly love and will defend with all my being, but even THOSE usually have the character in question dying with a sense of genuine fulfillment or peace ... and by and large, I really just seem to gravitate toward endings where the characters DON'T die and everybody DOES live happily ever after with hot chocolate and puppies.

    So I think for that reason, there's several notable stories with sad endings which you like (Hamlet, The Great Gatsby) which don't suit me. Because they fulfill your requirement for moral balance being restored to the universe, but they aren't about happy feelings and hot chocolate for the characters xD

    This is very interesting ... very interesting ...

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    1. Thank you, Katie! Glad you enjoyed it :-)

      Like I just said to Charity above, I tend to crave happy endings for characters too. That's one of the reasons I love X-Men: Days of Future Past so adamantly hard -- my beloved Wolverine finally gets a chance to lay down some of his burdens and be... happy.

      But yes, I can be fine with not-happy endings if they balance. And if the tragedy feels inevitable, not contrived or avoidable.

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  5. This is a very interesting and well-written post. I love all of these in stories. I definitely agree with you about needing to have a happy ending. Or balanced, I guess. Actually, I agree with all of these things.
    What I need most in a story is good characters. I've put up with bad writing and slightly shallow storylines because I cared about the characters. And I need characters who are complex. I mean, the heroes should be good, but they shouldn't be too perfect. The villains should be bad, but with a few redeeming qualities, and the anti-hero should be less heroic than the hero, but still, at their core, a hero. I also want characters to be believable. Characters who are too perfect drive me crazy, but so do characters who are too imperfect. I want them to be like real people. There's more stuff that I love, but characters really are the most important thing to me.

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    1. Thank you, McKayla!

      Good characters are so incredibly important!!! I also don't like non-likeable heroes. Anti-heroes also have to be heroic deep down, and those who aren't... are non-heroes, not anti-heroes.

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  6. Great list, Rachel! I feel the same way, especially with #1. I can put up with other flaws in a book if I find at least one character interesting and sympathetic (on some level).

    With that, I also love any kind of psychological or spiritual exploration - what makes this character "click"? Could the character exist outside of this particular story? etc.

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    1. Thank you, Marian! Yeah, I just read a book (which I will rant about on my book blog soon) where I didn't like a single character and man, it just made that book such a drag.

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  7. Ooo such good answers!
    Realistic dialogue is a big one for me. I get really frustrated when a male character sounds like a girl or vice versa. Overdoing the accent is a pet peeve for me too.

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    1. Thank you, Skye! Oh man, don't get me started on guys who sound like girls, girls who sound like old men, or historical characters who sound modern. Especially that last one. You can have a reason for a guy to sound like a girl (was he raised by four maiden aunts?) or a girl to sound like an old man (was she raised by her grandfather?), but there has to BE a reason for it. Not just lazy writing.

      But nothing pulls me out of historical fiction faster than modern-sounding dialog. Ugh.

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  8. Fun list! "Happy endings are quite my favorite kind." :-) Like you it can be bittersweet as long as good wins in the end and spreads hope for the future. I am the worst at writing endings, though. I can never figure out how to wrap it up!

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    1. Thanks, MC! Yeah, I agree with Bilbo that "books ought to have good endings." :-) They're hard to write, though! I never start writing a book anymore without knowing how it ends.

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