Saturday, May 14, 2016

My Favorite Story Elements

Not too long ago, my dear online buddy Christine blogged about her favorite story elements. (Go check it out! It's a wonderful list. Just reading it makes me happy and hungry for books.)

It inspired me to ponder about what I like in a story, and so with Christine's permission to use her idea, I thought I'd share it with you lovely folks. As I was brainstorming my list, I noticed that everything falls into one of three categories, so I organized them accordingly.

The People . . .

Firstly, I love characters who make me care. If I can't step into the character's skin in some way, you've already lost me as a reader. Put me in someone else's mind for several hours. Let me hear their thoughts and feel what they feel. Let me live their lives for a few hundred pages. How much I care about the characters will determine how much I care about the book. If they fall flat, even the most amazing plot won't make up for it. On the other hand, good characters can make up for a multitude of (plot) sins.

I also love character arcs! Round characters, dynamic characters, whatever you want to call them. People who change over the course of the story, whether for the better or for the worse. Being fascinated by people and the way their minds work and why the make the choices they do, I want to see the characters transform in some way.

Speaking of regressing . . . I like genuine characters. As uncomfortable as it can be, I want to see a reflection of humanity, including the not-so-pretty parts. (How much of that is revealed depends on the story, and there are certain things I shy away from because I have zero desire to wallow in them.) But everyday imperfections? Yes, please.

Christine mentioned character relationships in her post, and I couldn't agree more! Siblings, parents, friends, couples, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, brothers-in-arms, rivals--I want those deep, realistic characters to interact with each other. To have a bond of some sort, whether that bond be solid or shaky. What's better than an awesome character? Seeing two or more awesome characters bounce off each other through conversation or shared events.

There's also a couple of character types I adore (okay, there's actually a lot--but I'm limiting myself to just two of them today). One is the chivalrous hero. A guy who's morally white and noble of heart, who treats people with respect and takes a stand to protect what is good in this world. I find those fellows incredibly inspiring.

And let's not forget the heroines. I'm tired of the popular definition of a strong heroine, the kind who "don't need no man" and won't stop broadcasting that opinion. The kind of heroine I love is a girl who's strong, yes, but also feminine. She can kick butt, but she still has a heart, and she desires to nurture and protect in whatever way she does best. A warrior princess. She can be independent in the fact that she stands on her own, but she also recognizes when she needs the support of her comrades. Balance is key, people.

The Plot . . .

I did say that worthy characters can make up for many things, but that being said, the best books deliver on both fronts: character and plot. Here are a few plot elements that make me over-the-moon excited.

A reason to worry. Tension, conflict, high stakes! Bad things are happening, and I have to wonder how the heroes will ever win and find a happy ending. It's worth noting, however, that "high stakes" are relative. I might be worrying over whether the protagonists will save the world from annihilation, or fretting about whether the main character will stop pushing away the guy who's obviously perfect for her. The level of tension can be vastly different from one book (or genre) to another, and that's fine by me. As long as the stakes feel high for this particular situation, I'm hooked.

I absolutely love connections. (Another thing Christine mentioned. What can I say? We have similar taste in books!) Discovering how one character over here actually has a history with that character way over there . . . and this particular challenge is connected to what took place back in chapter two . . . and this country's decision is going to have a massive effect on the neighboring kingdom . . . and so-and-so is related to the enemy and didn't know it . . . ETC. In real life, everything is intertwined, and one thing has a domino effect on so many other things. I love it when books are the same way. Not only is it super fun to piece everything together, but it ups the believability factor.

Plot twists make my day. I recently read one in a certain story I'm beta-reading, and it made my head spin. My favorite twists are obviously the ones that work--the ones that are foreshadowed, but in such a subtle way that you don't figure it out until BOOM, something happens.

This one is more of a plot type--I love quests. Ha, bet you didn't know that, did you? (*cough* The Prophet's Quest, anyone?) Some also call it the Hero's Journey, but overall, I just like those linear, goal-oriented plots. Not to say I don't love other kinds too, but quests are one reason I read so much fantasy. Something big is at stake. A person or object must be found. A villain must be stopped. A disaster must be averted. And the whole book is a series of attempts, failures, and eventually successes along the road toward that goal. Much epicness ensues.

And when it's all said and done, please, please give me a satisfying ending. None of this completely hopeless stuff. Things don't have to end perfectly happily, but I want to find some satisfaction upon turning the final page. I want all the struggles to mean something. The characters may have lost much, but I want them to gain something worthwhile in the end. A good, satisfying ending gives me hope for my own adventure in this life.

. . . & Other Epic Things

Okay, so everything else is pretty miscellaneous, and some of it is admittedly specific to fantasy. Here goes.

Deep world building. Just like I want to delve into a character's mind, I want to be immersed in the world of this story. I want people, places, history, and beliefs to be organically conveyed. I want to get a sense of where and when I am. Nothing makes me happier than a world in which I can settle in and put down some roots.

Writing style. Whether the author's words are bullets (like Andrew Klavan, Travis Thrasher, or Suzanne Collins) or more like flowers (such as Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Jeffrey Overstreet, or Maggie Stiefvater), I love reading a story told in distinct and delicious language.

Another thing I love is cleverness in general. Brilliant battle plans, sly characters manipulating others, or particularly well thought out plots--just impress me with the cleverness, please. Make me wish I'd thought of it first.

More specific to fantasy, I enjoy objects of power. The One Ring, Jack Sparrow's compass (okay, yes, that's from a movie, but they count as stories too!), candlestones, a talking sword, a horn that summons help when blown, an orb with mysterious transformative/transportation powers (oh look, a shameless plug for my own book) . . . There's something fascinating about cool devices or weapons. They lend themselves nicely to those quest plots I was talking about.

Speaking of which, I love DRAGONS. And that is all anyone ever need say on that subject.

One of my most favorite things, though, is symbolism. Whether it's on a large scale like an allegory, or as small as a passing description, I love when one thing stands for something else, be it a person, object, or concept. C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Heartless are two examples of allegories I treasure. But even something as brief as the dropping of a sword representing that character's inner surrender--that makes me tingle with happiness.

I also get a kick out of the strange and the scary. Not over the top, mind you--I do have my boundaries--but stories that are odd or out of the box shake me out of my comfortable rut. And a certain measure of creepiness or scariness (like in Ted Dekker's or Robert Liparulo's thrillers) will guarantee that I devour the book.

You'll never, ever guess this one. I like humor. (What a shock. Because I never laugh or joke around here, no sir.) Whether it's an inherently funny scrape the characters get themselves into, or a character like Walter Foley or Sir Eanrin providing comic relief, I'm happy because "I dearly love to laugh."

And lastly (for today, anyway), I love a book that affects my vision of life. Preferably in a good way, of course. When I have to pause and stare off into the distance, or when I close the book and spend the rest of the day thinking about it, that's when I know that the story is affecting me on a deep level. Most of us don't read to get a sermon, but if we can learn while being entertained? That's fabulous. My favorite authors are those who have opened my eyes to something about God, life, or myself. Some wording or images have even seeped into my daily thoughts. These books enrich me in the best way possible.

Well, that was much lengthier than anticipated. If you've read this far, you're a dear. Now tell me, what are your favorite story elements? I must know! (Feel free to provide examples of those elements, too.)


  1. Ahh, such a fun post! ^_^

    Have you read the Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight? Her characters have FABULOUS arcs, and just GAH. READ THEM IF YOU HAVEN'T. LIKE, NOW. (like, now now. I guess I've made my point. :P)

    Ack, yes, the culture-defined "strong" heroine. *cough*Katniss*cough* Another AMAZING aspect of the Ilyon Chronicles. Kyrin, the MC, is just so loving and feminine and yet not a weakling. JUST... I COULD FANGIRL ALL DAY. :D

    1. Thank you! ^.^

      NO, I HAVEN'T! But I keep hearing about how much people love them, so... I guess I really need to check them out! :D I'll have to see if my library has them, and if not, I should request the first one.

      Ooh, I'm looking forward to reading about Kyrin, then! Such passionate reader recommendations are very convincing. ;) I actually didn't mind Katniss. I think the nature of her circumstances, and the mental/emotional effect they had on her, are hard for people to identify with. So I *understood* her most of the time, but there were moments where I didn't necessary *empathize* with her. I think I'd need to reread THG to form a stronger opinion, though.

  2. You did it! YAY. I was hoping you would. Hearing what people prefer in fiction is fascinating to me.

    This was brilliant how you categorized your list. I think over half my list would fall under People. I just love how similar our fictional tastes are. It's way too much fun! I agree with every single thing you said about characters. Make me care! Give me epic arcs and relationships and imperfections and heroes and heroines (actual heroines, not girls trying to be heroes). Yes, yes, and yes! You're so right on good characters making up for flawed plots. I've read a lot of books where I'd squint an eye at the believability of the plot, then I'd be like, "Who cares! I love these charries!" Buuut with that said...

    All your points of epic plots are spectacular! I want the stakes to be high, and plot twists to blow my mind, and things connecting right and left. It's so exciting when they are all are thrown into a plot! And quests, yes! We fantasy lovers do love our quests. XD But it's so fun following characters on a long journey across miles and miles of a fantasy world. Can't get enough of it! Then a satisfying ending is a must. *nods*

    Oh, oh! Objects of power. You put it into words! See, this is something I've always loved, but I've never really thought consciously about. When I'm plotting a book, I often want to put some sort of cool item that becomes a big part of the plot, but I've never really thought out the fact they, hey, I like cool objects of power. It's just been a subconscious thing, I think. You're bringing realizations to the forefront of my mind! (And I'm totally interested in this magical orb in your book!)

    DRAGONS. That is so perfect! XD I cannot believe I didn't put that on my list. I'm probably going to have to make a part 2 someday. I love too many things...

    Okay, this is going on for ages. I just love fangirling bookish things with you! Let's just say I agree with ALL your points! This post was perfection.

    1. I did it! Thanks so much for coming up with the idea--and for sharing it! ^_^

      Lolzy, I have a feeling yours would be a very people-oriented list too. ;) Yes to all the arcs and relationships and imperfections! Give me all the epic charries!

      It's so funny how similar our tastes are. Because I'm just nodding along to your comment, and wondering what else to add because that's basically it. XD
      Long journeys are so fun. And it really showcases the worldbuilding, too. ;) Though I'm tired just thinking of the poor Fellowship trekking across SO much land.

      I hadn't really thought of it in specific terms either, until I wrote this post. The dagger in your Burning Thorns kind of falls under this category, doesn't it? :D And I'm so glad you're interested in the Prophet. Even *I* don't know all its mysteries yet. Meaning there's much to plot out for the rest of the series. XD

      DRAGONS JUST DESERVE THEIR OWN SLOT ON THE LIST. *nods* I'd love to see a part 2! You did say you limited yourself with part 1. ;)

      Oh, trust me, I could fangirl over bookish things for hours! It's the best when you have people to fangirl WITH. Thanks so much!

    2. I agree with everything Christine said *nods*. Especially about characters. I NEED characters that I absolutely love to death, otherwise the book isn't getting five stars from me :). Plot is pretty important too. If I can guess every plot twist before it comes ... well, I'll just say I definitely won't enjoy it as much. I like to be surprised :D.

    3. Saaaame about the characters! It makes a huge difference to me too. Plot as well, though in a different way. Like you mentioned, unpredictability is a definite plus! Which is why PLOT TWISTS ARE SO EPIC.


  3. I love dissecting my favourite stories and figuring out what makes them tick. So I won't put a list of my own up right now, otherwise I'd be here all day. But I like yours, and I agree with so many of the points- connections, world building, character arcs, etc.

    1. I'd be totally interested in seeing your list in a blog post someday! *wink wink, nudge nudge*

      Connections and worldbuilding just make the story feel much more REAL to me, and character arcs are often the reason a book is inspiring to me. ^_^ Glad you enjoyed this list!

  4. I think I like the same types of stories too. We need more strong female characters who act like normal girls.

    1. High five for similar book taste! I know, right? I'd love to see more of those characters.

  5. We have similar taste here! And thank you so much for the link to my article. ^ ^ I can't get enough of dragons. I don't care how many there are and I also love objects of power. They're so fun!

    1. Yay! :D And you're so welcome! It was a great post that had me nodding along the whole way through.

      JUST GIVE US ALL THE DRAGONS, PRECIOUS. I'd love to see lots more variations of them. With fantasy species, you have wiggle room to play with it and make it your own. Objects of power are really great instigators of conflict, or helpful aids to the heroes. ^_^

  6. Love this post! Symbolism is so awesome! I love it when its subtle and just genius!

    Also, I'm all in for anything clever. Battle plans, dialogue, tricks, etc.

    But to be honest, I'm a sucker for all fantasy tropes. I think the only cliches I can stand are fantasy cliches. I know they get done over and over again, and someone else has may have even written it better than the book I'm reading. But I can't help but love the quests, the objects of power (as you call them), the dragons, THE LOST ROYALTY. Anything fantasy and I'll love it. :)

    1. Thanks, Ashley! Oh goodness, ME TOO. Subtlety + geniusness = a very happy Tracey. XD

      Clever dialogue! I think I forgot to mention that. I love dialogue, and I love it even more so when it's clever.

      So it's not just me? :D Fantasy tropes get bashed so often, and I'm often left going, "Yeah, but...I *like* that stuff. And I write that stuff. BUT I PROMISE IT'S NOT EXACTLY THE SAME AS EVERYTHING ELSE." XD Haha, lost royalty almost made it onto my list. Something about that, as predictable as it is, is still really fun to read. Whew, I just breathed a sigh of relief over hearing you love the tropes too. ^_^

    I love all the things on your list, too. Especially the last point. Stories that make me think differently or more deeply about something are the ones that tend to stick with me the longest.

      Mmhmm, you got it. I love stories that stick. The more sticky a story, the better it is. I should coat all my novels in peanut butter, methinks. ;D

  8. I love all of these! Especially characters and plot twists. I just read a book recently, where I guessed one of the plot twists, but there was another one that I was not expecting.

    1. Sometimes it's fun to guess the twists, but not ALL of them. A 100% predictable story is boring. It's good there was at least one that surprised you! :)

  9. Character aaaaarrrccccs!! I love it when characters change over the course of a story!! :D Plot twists are so exciting, and plot connections make me SQUEAL LIKE A FANGIRL! No lie. XD And then everything in your "Other Epic Things" category is just YES. YES YES YES. I LOVE. XD

    This was such a fun post! Now I'm all excited over the fact that good stories exist in the world. XD

    1. Arcs are one of the most necessary ingredients, IMO. *nods* If none of the characters change, what was the point, right? And OH YES, CONNECTIONS MAKE ME SQUEAL TOO. Or else grin like a lunatic at the book on my lap. XD

      So glad you loved it! I think with all the critiquing we get into these days, it's good to remind ourselves of all the awesome books out there! :D

  10. Love this, I was nodding my way through! You so need to care about the characters or the book just falls flat. That's the trouble with the Bartimaeus trilogy, you might've heard of it, of which I'm currently on book 2. The magic is awesome, but I don't really like any of the characters, so ... !

    YAY FOR QUESTS! AND MAGICAL OBJECTS! AND DRAGONS! Also there was that spotlight on Stievater, of which I heartily approve <3 Also connections are the bessssst. Austen is great for that. So is the Les Mis book, actually.

    Also I enjoyed your plugs of TPQ! XD

    1. Bookworms of similar taste seem, crawl together, don't they? (LOL, that's the best variation of "birds of a feather flock together" I could come up with.) I don't believe I've heard of the Bartimaeus trilogy, but that sounds pretty meh... Considering you kind of have to BE one or more of the characters when reading, you want to like the head you're in, amiright?

      QUESTS AND MAGICAL OBJECTS AND DRAGONS, OH MY! Heehee, thought you'd like that. ;D I've only read one Austen book thus far, that being Pride and Prejudice. Maybe I should pick up another this year... *nods* And ooh, Les Mis. I want to read it, and yet it's very daunting.

      Couldn't resist. XD

    2. Haha, it's not the most appealing of metaphors, is it?
      My book has got a lot better, actually, I am now really enjoying it. It was more of a slow starter. And I've got more onboard with the charries, so, yeah.

      YOU SHOULD PICK UP ANOTHER. Emma is my fave. So. Much. Love. Gosh but Les Mis is so good though!
      "Really, Emily?! We didn't know you liked Les Mis!"
      Ha SHUT UP.

    3. Not particularly, no. We should be bookdragons instead--then we could fly. Hey, maybe we're bookWYRMS. (Doesn't Cait have some Society6 mugs and things that use that term?)
      Well, that's good! A slow start can be redeemed by the ending. And good characters.

      I REALLY SHOULD. And Emma just might be my next Austen read. *winks conspiratorially* Re: Les Mis: so I hear! XD Maybe one of these days...