What I look for in Fiction

Since I have been writing more, I find that I now read a little differently. I am paying just as much attention to the writing style and content as compared to just reading for the story. This probably leads to me being more critical than I used to be as I cozy up with a good book. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not but it is happening. With that in mind, I wanted to share what I find are things that I’m noticing now that I like and don’t like.

Things I like:

A little bit of wonder – I like it when the author doesn’t tell me the whole story and let’s my imagination fill in the rest. Subtle hints at things without stating them. I guess that is called foreshadowing but I like it when it is done so subtly that you are not sure if it was intended to be foreshadowing or not. And at the end of the book, leave it a little open. I don’t always like it when everything is tied up in a neat little bow. Leave some questions unanswered and let me fill in what I think will happen.

I like to be surprised – When I’m reading along and suddenly go “Whoa. I wasn’t expecting that.” A lot of books seem to follow a sort of formula. Once you’re about a third of the way in, you kind of have an idea of where it is going and you settle into the story. I love it when I’m surprised and it takes a turn that I didn’t expect. It keeps me intrigued wondering what might happen next.

Things that make me react emotionally - I want to feel things as I read. I want to get angry, jealous, ecstatic. I want to fall in love with a character. I want to hate a character. I absolutely loved Jody Picoult's Small Great Things for this reason (among others). It was an emotional roller coaster.

Thinks I don’t particularly like:

Preachy: Don’t tell me what I am supposed to think or how I am supposed to feel as a reader. Present the story and let me decide how I want to react.

Stating the obvious: I don’t like to feel like the Author is dumbing down the information for me. Readers are intelligent. I was reading a book recently and several times after a scene, the author explained what the character was thinking. I found myself on more than one occasion saying to myself, “Well duh. Of course he’s feeling that way.” Let the reader interpret the scene their way.

Gratuitous sex – Now I don’t mean that I don’t want to read about sex in a book, but I feel that there should be a reason in the story why it is there. I was recently reading John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries and there was chapter after chapter of sex scenes that I still cannot figure out how they mattered to the story.

Glenn Seerup