October 5, 2015

When I Really Like a Story...

So I recently discovered this series that a fellow blogger has created. Heidi asks other readers what three things make a good story. It got me to imagining how I would answer such a question. As my mind wandered hither and yon, I decided my own blog post was a must and here we are! :)

The more I thought about it however, I decided I needed to clarify something before sharing my list. Namely, there is a significant difference between a "good" story and one that I will read over and over and fall in love with every single reread. For example, I can acknowledge that Dune by Frank Herbert is a good story. It's well-plotted with amazing world-building and certainly beloved by many! But it's not one I ever imagine rereading. So it's a good story, just not a great one in my opinion. Yet I know there are those readers that absolutely LOVE that book. See what I mean? Thus, when trying to create this list of things that make a good story, I decided that it's much more true to say these are the things that make a story one that I will pick up again and again.

Now then. Let's get to it, shall we? (I should note that Heidi only asks for three, but I couldn't limit myself thus.) (Which is no surprise, right? I do love to analyze! :)

Characters I Can Connect With and Root For

This is probably the biggest make or break aspect of a book for me. As I noted in my review of Dune, I couldn't connect with any of the characters, which truly disappointed me. And made me realize how important characters are to the story. I mean, yes. We all know characters are important! (I'm so great at stating the obvious, aren't I? :) But reading that book really opened my eyes to how HUGE this is for me. If I can't connect with at least one character (and preferably a main one), if I can't root for the hero or heroine in some way, if I can't feel their emotions, it almost ruins the story for me. Not completely! But almost. I need to understand the character at least a little bit in order for me to want to know them better.

Great Relationships and Chemistry Between Characters

This one kind of goes along with the first one, but I thought it was worth its own description. Relationships, whether they are friendly or romantic, will keep me riveted. Especially if it's a relationship that starts out a bit antagonistically and then grows into a mutual friendship. Watching two characters learn to respect and love each other can be such a delight! One such example is John Thornton and Nicholas Higgins from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Of course, my opinion of these two is hugely impacted by my love of the adaptation and Richard and Brendan's portrayals! ;) Watching their respect and understanding of one another grow agonizingly slow makes the resulting friendship worth every single frustrated moment I had. I was rooting for both characters individually from the very beginning, but when they grudgingly began to note the goodness in the other, well....that just made me love them more! And the chemistry comes in when I can feel the friendship/relationship growing right along with the characters themselves. I suppose it's that I love to be swept away into the characters and their story, so I want to feel their emotions.

Good Writing

I know, this should be an obvious one that doesn't need stating. But I'm going to state it anyway! Because while I know that what constitutes good writing to me may be vastly different to you, the writing style of an author makes a big difference on whether I'll decide to read the book or not. I am so grateful that you can sample ebooks for this very reason! (Even if I do wish some of the samples were just a few pages longer. Especially if half the sample is made up of the title page and chapter index! *frustrated sigh*) Some writing just flows so naturally, while others do not. And I can typically figure out whether I'll be able to stomach an entire story by how the first chapter reads. Sometimes I'm wrong! A few books can start rather slow and off-putting, but then gather speed and sweep me away by the middle. And sometimes the beginning is awesome, while the middle and ending are horrible. Yes, it is completely subjective, but still an important aspect of a book for me.

Happy (Hopeful) Endings

Reading is a bit of an escape for me, so I require happy endings for the stories I love! Reality is hard, people. It can be rough and miserable, we all know that. (Of course, it can be happy too! But that's not my point here. :) As such, why would I want to read about the same miseries and impossibilities in my books? If you like to do so that's great for you, have at it. But I much prefer to read a story that reminds me of the happy moments in life. That after all the hard and yuck the characters have dealt with, happy still wins in the end. I should note that my definition of a happy ending doesn't mean that no one is sad. (*Spoiler alert*) In Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember a main character dies, but I still consider that one having a happy ending. Because the other character grows and learns and becomes who he was meant to be because of knowing her. I just don't like the endings where everyone is dead and/or miserable. An ending with no hope. I like hopeful endings!

Romantic Storylines

Yes! I admit it! It's shallow, but I admit it. I like romance in my stories. It doesn't have to be the main focus, I'm totally okay with the romance being a secondary plot, but I do love it when there's a bit somewhere in the story. I can (and do!) have some favorite books that have hardly any romance anywhere in them. For instance, The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner has very little. In fact, the first book has zero and the second barely mentions it. They are not what I would term romantic stories at all. (It's really more alluded to by what isn't said, than what is. Brilliantly written, in my opinion! :) Alas, what can I say? Give me a swoony hero and I'm a happy reader! So there.

What do you look for in stories you love?



  1. "It doesn't have to be the main focus, I'm totally okay with the romance being a secondary plot, but I do love it when there's a bit somewhere in the story."

    SAME. :-)

    I'm the kind of person the people throw romance plots into stories/movies for. Books just aren't the saaaame without some love scenes and adorable romancey hints. :-)

    ~ Naomi

    1. It's so nice to know I'm not the only one that feels this way, Naomi! An adorable romance will get my heart every single time and possibly even make me enjoy a book I might not otherwise. Even if the romance is merely hinted at, I still enjoy those bits! :)

  2. I agree with all of these except romance. I like it but it doesn't have to be present for me to like the story. And I would add plot. I need a believable plot that's riveting and gripping either emotionally out physically.

    1. I understand, Jenny. I know it's such a silly little thing, but I had to be honest. And even if a romance is only hinted at, it still makes my heart happy! What can I say? :)

      Yes! Plot definitely makes a huge difference. If nothing ever happens (and I've tried a few books that had nothing happen), I will soon grow bored and not interested in continuing. (I'm also one of those readers that will stop reading if I'm not enjoying the story.) And if a story grips my emotions, I am usually reading as fast as I can, yet sad once it's ended.

  3. How about lack of worn out cliches. Or modern ideas and morals in stories set long ago. Or not making every sentence a declarative sentence. Some of the Amish fiction is a good representative of this. I won't name the authors but I ignore them like the plague. "She walked up the hill. She walked back dow. She was so worried. What could be wrong? She went into the house and had a glass of cold tea, which she had made at 5 am that day, after hanging up all the family laundry." Just riveting! I also don't need to know detailed descriptions of what the characters are wearing. Or the STRONG affect the heroine has on the hero, or vice versa. "He's so handsome and I'm feeling faint. I must be coming down with something " LM Montgomery, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thackeray, Dickens, Jane Austen all excellent. Grace Livingston Hill too. Modern writer Erynn Mangum is very good, very witty. Many others of course.

    1. You make some excellent points, MariElizabeth! Especially "...making every sentence a declarative sentence." If I read that in a story, I immediately put the book down. I've learned that the more writers can allude to rather than describe works way better. I want to use my imagination! That's one of the reasons I'm reading.

      And YES to the detailed descriptions of clothes. I don't mind a little bit, especially if it's relevant to the story in some way. But most times, I could care less what type of jeans or skirt the heroine is wearing, or what color the hero's shirt is. So much detail that can be left out. Same as I mentioned above, I enjoy letting my imagination run wild while reading!

      All those authors (at least the ones I've read, haven't tried Thackeray or Dickens yet. :) are excellent indeed! And yay for another fan of Erynn Mangum! Her writing is extremely witty and I always laugh my way through her books.

      Thanks so much for sharing your additions to my list! :)

  4. It's always cool reading about what other people's "must haves" for storytelling are. Mine are similar to some of yours: #1 Characters I want to be friends with, #2 Realistic dialog, and #3 Happy endings. Romance isn't a must-have for me, though I do enjoy a good one. I elaborated on mine here, on Heidi's blog for her series :-)

    1. Hamlette: I really enjoyed reading over what other readers had to say on Heidi's blog! We all have some preferences that are alike and some that aren't. Very interesting to say the least! :) And I like your number 2. Realistic dialog makes a huge difference in a story for sure! Kind of like what mariElizabeth mentioned above about declarative sentences. The writing and dialog NEEDS to feel realistic for me.

  5. First I want to say I LOVE this entire post!!! It has taken me way too long to get to comment. My thoughts on your points:

    -Characters to connect with-
    Yes! I think connecting or identifying with a character on an emotional level is super important for a good story. Or at least being able to understand them/their actions even if we can't identify with their circumstances.

    - Character relationships -
    Agreed! One example that comes to mind: Lizzy and Jane from Katherine Reay's book.
    Thornton & Higgins <3

    Yes, this is important. Even, like you said, if there are sad moments, it's the HOPE remaining that makes it a great story.

    Yes, I guess I'm a permanent fan of romance in a story! :) Especially a good old-fashioned one (Ahem, Persuasion!?). It doesn't have to be the driving force of the plot. But it's important.

    1. Aw, thank you, Courtney! :) And it's taken me way longer to respond, so no worries!

      Yes, exactly. To be able to at least understand a characters actions is needful. If I can't understand them, I lose my desire to spend more time with them and am more liable to put the book down permanently.

      YES! Lizzy and Jane are a perfect example! Their relationship is so realistic and heartbreaking and awesome all at the same time. I loved watching them reaffirm their friendship and sister-hood. :)

      So glad you agree! I know some readers don't mind unhopeful endings, but I want to end with the knowledge that those beloved characters will go on with smiles on their faces and hope in their hearts.

      A good old-fashioned romance will definitely make my heart sing. (As you well know by now, right? ;) Persuasion for the win! :D


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