Monday, April 25, 2016

My Favorite Story Elements

Last week I posted about being brave and writing the things we personally love. That got me thinking: “What do I love to write about?” Well, that’s a good question. And since I love lists, I decided to make a list of story elements I love to read and write. It’d be very useful to have a handy list of some of my favorite story things to keep in mind whenever I’m plotting a new book. Then I thought, why not post the list? Because, hello? books and lists are like my favorite things. So!

Convoluted Plots
On occasion, I enjoy a fun, simple little story. But the majority of the time, I absolutely crave complexity. I want a thousand different plot threads all twisting and tangling together. I want ginormous wars with three or four different sides. I want dozens of plot twists that absolutely blow my mind. I want a sense of vastness. I want depth. As a result, I tend to lean in favor of larger books or series. Small, standalone stories are often too short to give that scope of broadness. Now, that is absolutely not always the case. Many authors are extremely skilled in packing a whole lot of awesome in small packages, which is fantastic. (I wish I had that talent.) But most of the time I get more out of series.

This kind of goes along with the big plot thing. I get ridiculously excited when a story reveals all those half dozen different plots each actually connect in the end. Those two different people we’ve been following on separate adventures for a while? They were childhood friends. That character over here that died was actually the sister of the character over there. And so on and so forth. Such connections are so fun, make great plot twists, and can add a lot of depth to the story.

Imaginative Worlds
J.R.R. Tolkien is the father of fantasy for good reason. Not only did he weave loveable characters and beautiful stories, but he spent so much time creating an enormous, complex world. The very thought of his dedication to world-building blows my mind. I love, love, love stories with big, beautiful, fascinating worlds. You can always tell if an author worked hard on world-building or not. And this doesn’t just apply to fantasy. Suzanne Collin’s futuristic version of North America in The Hunger Games was heavily thought out. It feels so real. Jill Williamson in her The Safe Lands trilogy did the same. It’s set in the not-too-distant future of our world, but the unique technology and even lingo Mrs. Williamson created just brings the novels to life. (Though I’ve actually only read the first book, but I plan on remedying that soon!) Creative, well-thought-out worlds can make a story for me. And I really admire authors who manage it, because that’s one of my biggest weaknesses.

Character Arcs
This one! This is probably my most favorite story element in the history of story elements. I’m obsessed with big character arcs. And not just the bad-guy-becoming-good ones. I’m also fascinated by decent people turning into villains. I love it all! But of course, watching a villain turn over to good is so, so satisfying. I always lean in favor of anti-heroes. If there’s an anti-hero in a story, almost every time he or she becomes my favorite character. Watching these people slowly turn away from their own selfishness to join the good side just. . .AGH. I can’t get enough of it! But there’s other types of character arcs as well. Such as a hero learning a valuable lesson and becoming even better. Or a semi-villain turning over to complete evil. I will read it all! If there’s a good character arc in a novel, there’s a 97.4% chance I’ll love that story.

You probably picked up from my last post that I enjoy the drama. In real life? Uh, no thank you. But in fiction? Gimme all the drama! Give me the tension and strife and danger around ever corner. Put me on the edge of the seat. Make me feel something. If a story doesn’t give me emotions, I’m not going to enjoy it. I actually want a story to make me an emotional wreck. I like stories that make me cry. Or cringe. Or even scream on occasion. The deeper a story makes me feel, the more and more I’ll love it. I’m not much on light reads. Destroy my emotions, please and thank you. But some stories can lay it on a little too thick, which brings me to. . .

Yes, I want all the drama, but I want a mix of emotions. I don’t want to be depressed the entire story. I love to laugh. (Though, really, does anybody not enjoy laughing?) Little jokes and fun characters and hilariously embarrassing moments in between the emotional trauma is a perfect balance to keeping me happy. Some stories slather on the sadness so much it just gets tiresome. Using The Hunger Games as an example again, those are some of my absolute favorites stories but I would have loved a bit more humor. I can think of about two parts in the whole trilogy (both involving Finnick) that made me chuckle. As my brother said one day, it almost felt as if the author was trying a little too hard to make us readers depressed. But again, they’re amazing books, I just would have loved a few lighthearted jokes every now and again.

Speaking of not too much drama, I’m a sucker for a good happily ever after. There’s nothing like reading that last page of a novel before closing the book and breathing a satisfied sigh. Now, I understand not everything can turn out well. Characters may have died, others may have scars for the rest of their life. After certain ordeals, nothing can ever be perfectly happy. I’m okay with bitter-sweet endings if it has to be that way. But what I’m not okay with is endings that leave me feeling empty. Reading takes a lot of time, and I don’t want to waste my valuable time reading something that just leaves me depressed and hollow by the end of it all. I don’t want to fall in love with the characters only to have them all die or their lives be ruined forever. I want to be shown that there is hope in this dark world, that things can be okay. Traumatizing middles to books are fine. Like I said, I want ALL the drama and feels. But when I finish a book, I want some form of satisfaction. There’s too much depression in this world. Books are my escape from that.

Character Relationships (of all kind)
What really bugs me is when characters in novels really don’t seem to have any sort of bond with each other. What’s more fun than a deep friendship? Or some brotherly and sisterly love? Or a bonded family? And most of us are pretty partial to romantic couples, am I right? But hey, the relationships don’t have to be all positive. What about some rivals? Some strife between families? I’m even one of those few who actually enjoys a love triangle (I know, it’s true). Actually, I’ll take a love quadruple! If it adds tension and is entertaining, I want it. Interesting character dynamics make the stories for me. Relationships with our friends and family and co-workers and everyone we come across shapes who we are. I just don’t enjoy stories where the author merely moves the characters along with so much action that they forget to give the characters deep interactions and complex relationships.

Admirable Heroes
I’ll admit, I have this pet peeve that has grown and grown through the years the more modern stories I’m introduced to. This could probably be a topic for a whole other post, but to sum it up: I’m tired of heroes with absolutely no morals. Now, like I said, I love me some anti-heroes, and I am all for making characters flawed. People aren’t perfect, and we want our character to feel real. Perfect characters drive me insane. I want flawed people. BUT if our supposed hero is living immorally and it’s never once portrayed as bad, that’s when I get veeery annoyed. I more see this in TV shows than books, but the problem is still there. What happened to the days of looking up to heroes? I read books to be inspired, to read about people that will motivate me to do better, to stand up for what I believe in and fight for good. These days we’re getting heroes that go off and live immoral, selfish lives in between the “saving the world” bits. Again, character that live wrongly are okay as long as there’s character growth and these wrong things are portrayed as just that—wrong. Character arcs are my favorite, remember? I have plenty of characters that do things I’d never do, but in the end I do try to make them turn from their sin. (And by that I mean I destroy their lives and completely break them until they have no choice. *cough, cough*) Anyways! (This is getting long.) Like I said, I could probably make a whole post about this. But the point is, I miss heroes that are admirable. Flawed, yes. But ones that learn from their mistakes, strive to do better, fight for the good. I miss heroes that I can look up to, and I absolutely love when I find books about people like that.

Character Centered
This is probably the biggest reason I love the YA genre the most. There’s something about YA books that centers so deeply on characters that I don’t see much in other genres. Intimate points-of-view are my favorite. I want to be inside the characters’ heads. I want to feel their emotions, to be right there alongside them. Stories that feel detached from the characters just don’t interest me at all. I want to see them grow, and hurt, and laugh, and form friendships, and fall in love. I want to become so attached to the characters that when I close the book I start missing them. The deeper a story gets into the characters’ lives, the more I’ll love it.

~ ~ ~

So, there we have it! My favorite story elements. Well, a few of my favorite elements. My list actually got a bit longer than I wanted, so I limited myself to ten for this post. I may just have to do another list with yet more one day. I seem to have a lot of story elements I love. I guess that’s not a bad thing though.

But, basically, characters are everything to me, if you didn’t notice. Being as how half my points had something to do with characters. That’s really why I read, for the people between the pages. If a book has every single point I listed—an epic plot, imaginative world, drama, humor, etc—but ignored the character bits, I wouldn’t enjoy it. A lot of people categorize stories as “plot driven” or “character drive”. But why can’t we have both? I want a big complex, epic plot with deep characters points-of-view and growth amidst it all. Those are always, always my favorites stories.

All right, I’ve shared more than enough of my thoughts. It’s your turn! Remember, these are only things I personally enjoy, not things that should be in every single story by any means! I’m allll for variety. So I want to know what some of your favorite story elements are. Do we share any? Do you absolutely detest some of my points? We all have different tastes, and that’s awesome. So do tell! I seriously want to know.


  1. OH MY GOODNESS YES TO ALL OF THIS. *hugs post* Just... I AGREE WITH ALL OF THIS. :D (apart from the love triangles *winkwink*)

    "Destroy my emotions, please and thank you." YES, I LOVE BOOKS THAT DO THIS. xD

    Wow, when you read the Ilyon Chronicles you will find ALLL of this stuff in those books. Especially amazing character arcs. Jace goes through such an amazing transformation and will go through much more before the series is over. I JUST LOVE THE ILYON CHRONICLES, OKAY? *hugs all the charries*

    As for really intimate POVs, I suggest reading the Books of the Infinite by R.J. Larson. Knowing you, you'd LOVE those books... the relationships, the action, the epic-ness. And you REALLY get inside the characters' heads. I just love that. <3

    There are just some books I love so much that I don't know what to do with myself. :P (Except to pray, "God please, PLEASE let me find a magical wardrobe that will take me inside all my favorite books...") ;)

    I SO loved this post! *grins*

    1. Woot, woot! Book twins! :D (Except for the love triangle thing, but that's normal. I'm in the minority with that opinion I think. XD)

      Exactly! If it doesn't make me feel, then I really just don't want much to do with it.

      Really? Okay. I HAVE to read those things. I've had the first book for the longest and still haven't gotten to it! I've only ever heard amazing things about this series. I WANT to read them, I've just had so much to read. So many books keep moving to the backburner. BUT I NEED TO READ THIS THING.

      I've never heard of this book. I'm looking this thing up right now and adding it to my to-read list. *nods* Thanks for the suggestion! I love when people recommend books to me.

      Oh me too, me too. I'm a major re-reader because I just have to return to certain characters and the storyworld so bad. We need magical wardrobes, yes!

      That makes me incredibly happy. Thank you! <3

    2. *sneaks into conversation* You haven't read The Ilyon Chronicles yet? Oh Christine, you MUST! Emily is right, Jace is done exceptionally well. You must must must read those books soon, okay? I read the first two and loved 'em to death :D.

      (and also, Books Of The Infinite is a pretty good series. Actually, who am I kidding, I love those books :D.)

    3. I knoooow! It's just shameful I *still* haven't. I'm going to fix this, I am!

      They look really cool! What's funny is when I looked them up, I realized I already had the first one on my to-read list. I just had forgotten the series title. XD But yes, they look amazing and I need to read them! Those AND the Ilyon books. *nods*

    4. Ooh, Savannah, you've read the Books of the Infinite? *squeals* I LOVE THOSE BOOKS, TOO. Kien and Ela... *sighs happily* *doesn't know what to do with myself because I love them so much*

    5. I obviously need these books ASAP!

    6. Yes Christine, ALL the yes! (and Emily? I agree. Kien and Ela are awesomeness :D)

  2. This is great, picking apart well-loved stories to see what makes them work. I love doing that! I agree with your points, but I think you should maybe have a post dedicated to each one.

    1. Me too! I've done it so much, it's just automatic now. My brain can't seem to stop picking apart things from stories. Sometimes it's annoying when I just want to turn my brain off and enjoy a story, but for the most part I like it because it's sure useful for when I'm writing my own stories.

      Hmm. A post for each one? That would be a really cool blog series! I'll have to think about this one.

  3. I love the post! It was extremely interesting. I LOVE intricate plots, like you - in fact, I spend a dreadful amount of time trying to plot them so that I overwhelm neither myself nor the reader! I also think a good mix of humor and drama can be very hard to achieve, but PERFECT when it's pulled off well.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

    1. Thank you! :D
      Intricate plots are so much fun. Hahaha! I totally end up completely confuzzling myself with my *own* books. It's crazy. XD
      I totally agree. It's really hard to find that perfect mixture, but when it's achieved it's absolutely amazing.

  4. Pretty much every single one of your points (except for the Hunger Games references, because I thought the first and second books were okay, but by book three it was obvious she'd run out of ideas and I was hoping she'd take the story and actually make it into something compelling, but instead she just recycled her story over... and over... and over... until I wanted to tear my hair out). Ahem. I don't have strong feelings about that story... at all.


    But in all seriousness, all of these are my favorite story elements as well! I like a story that is both plot-and-character driven. I love deep emotions. I love humor. I love it when the characters have deep relationships and sweeping arcs. I also enjoy stories where there's more humor than serious (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, for example and the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde... both of which make me laugh way more than they make me feel deep, intense emotions (they do that, too, it's just way more humor). I love redemption stories for anti-heroes and tragedies where a mostly good character turns villainous. I love happily ever afters and satisfying endings... a story that leaves me hollow at the end is not one I am going to re-read or recommend. I love complex, amazing world-building (but not at the cost of plot and character... which I feel happened a little bit in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson... he was very enamored of his world and magic system, to the detriment of his characters in many cases). Admirable heroes... who are real and flawed... but not all those flaws have to be an "Achiles Heel" - sometimes it's nice to have a realistic admirable hero whose flaws are more internal... self-doubt or bitterness over a past event that affects them, but doesn't destroy them.

    I love picking through stories and contemplating what they do well and what they do not so well. I grew up in a family that enjoyed stories of all kinds together, and it was never an anti-social event to watch a movie... it was a pause and discuss, a finish the movie and discuss the whole thing over chocolate cake or pizza afterwards - what did we like, what didn't we like, what were our favorite lines... etc. Nice to know I'm not alone in that enjoyment! :)

    Okay, sorry for the long comment!! Thanks for the fun post! Loved it!

    1. Hahaha! The Hunger Games did get pretty repetitive. The first book is absolutely my favorite, then it kind of petered out. But I still really enjoyed them each.

      We seem to have the exact same taste in books. I love that! :D I agree with everything you said, and I loved how you described it all. If a book has any or all of these elements, I'm just sure to love it.
      I adored The Enchanted Forest Chronicles! Absolutely hilarious. Sadly, I've yet to read any Jasper Fforde books, but I've been wanting to for a while, and you're making me want to even more. I need to get my hands on those!
      So the Mistborn trilogy leans in favor of the world more so than characters? That's a shame. Those are also books I've been wanting to read for so long. I still want to though! I just hate the characters get put on the back-burner in favor of the world. That seems to be a common trend. Authors get so into their amazing plot and complex world, they forget to focus on the characters.

      Oh, me too, girl! It's my favorite. That sounds completely delightful to have a family that joins in with you. That's just precious!

      Don't ever apologize for long comments. They are my favorite! Thank YOU for the awesome comment and sharing your thoughts. I love hearing them! ^_^

    2. Hey, do you ever read Heidi Peterson's blog? She has a 3 Things I Love in a Good Story meme that she's been having other bloggers over to write guest posts for... if you haven't done it already, you should totally sign up - since you pretty much have the post written already and would just have to pick the three you most want to share!

    3. I do not, I'm not sure I know her. But I obviously need to fix this! Thank you so much for telling me. It sounds so much fun! I definitely need to look into this.

  5. This poooost! I LOVE seeing lists of favorite story elements and I TOTALLY need to make one of my own. o.o

    Okay, so I am SO bad about just writing what's "there" instead of actually trying to write things I love, so I'm trying to do better about that. Which is why I love this post! And I agree on several of the things... though not all...

    Convoluted plots are the BEST, and so are connections and imaginative worlds! LOVE LOVE. And of course characters and relationships (YESSS) and admirable heroes and humor and happily ever after! I have actually been realizing that humor is coming out near the top of my own likes for story elements and that if a book has a lot of humor I'm wayyyy more likely to read it. LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO LAUGH AND HAVE FUN AND HAVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER ENDINGS. I too hate those "empty"-feeling endings. Bleh. :-/ I really like heroic heroes too and you're right, they're disappearing and it's SAD!

    Now I will say that I don't necessarily want aaall the drama/feels/love-triangles etc. because I don't like my feelings shredded, but I'm apparently an oddity in the bookworm community. >.> *COUGH* I also don't like when people turn villains, and it doesn't have to be character-driven for me, since I'll enjoy stories sometimes even more if it's just about the story because character-driven stories often have again the feels and the un-heroic heroes etc. so that there can be "growth" which I don't always enjoy because when our heroes/heroines make so many mistakes etc. sometimes it has me banging my head against a bookshelf going WHY WHY WHYYYY and wanting to throw the book. :P But that may just be me. XD But that being said YES I do read for the characters most of the time (anti-heroes! <3 I love me a good redemption arc tooooo! ^_^) and I'm most likely to love a book in proportion to how much I loved a particular character. I'm totally normal, honest. XD

    Basically I could probably go on about this ALL DAY but that's probably enough for a start... Ahem. BUT BUT THIS WAS SO IIIINTERESTING TO READ! Thank you for sharing! :D

    (Also your blog pics aren't showing up on my computer and I don't know whose end it's on but it makes me sad! D: Bad blog! Show the loverly Lauri pics which I must seeee! <3)

    Fabulous post, thanks for sharing! Huzzah for readerly/writerly posts! ^_^

    1. Oh, oh! You should absolutely make a post like this. I'd loooove to see your list!!! :D :D :D

      I am so often the exact same way. Sometimes I just go with the flow and follow along my characters' every day lives instead of jumping in and hurling complex, dangerous problems at them. I'm getting better, but it's still often something I have to force and remind myself to do. Now, I'm all for letting the story "tell itself", ya know? But I guess we still need to cause awesome things to happen if they're not doing it on their own. If that makes sense...

      Life is absolutely too short to not laugh and have happily-ever-afters! YES. Why read if it's just going to make you depressed and empty? There's enough of that in every day life without adding yet more to our fiction.
      I am really, really sad to see all the heroic heroes fade away. We need to stand up and create our own! *fistpump*

      Celti! I LOVE how you don't want over-dramatic, feelsy stories! Sometimes I worry about this world (myself included) because of how we actually want to cry and have our feels bleed all over the place. It's...strange. I love how you enjoy light, happy things, and always root for the good guys and not bad (which is another trend going, in which I'm sadly a part of...). You've got it totally right, and give me hope in humanity. Don't ever feel bad for not enjoying all those dramatic, sad stories! Keeping being your sunshiny self. <3

      You know I could talk about it all day, too! You should totally do one yourself. *poke, poke* *wink, wink* *hint, hint*

      (Really? D: I can't imagine why. They're showing up on my end and all my devices. I wonder if it's working for other people. Huh. I may need to look into that.)

      Thank you!!! <3

  6. I love all of these things, and might I add that you do a wonderful job of incorporating these themes in your own books!

    1. *clutches heart* That is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Thank you, sweet Skye! My day is MADE. <333

  7. AHH, THIS POST MAKES ME SO EXCIIIITED!!! Because a) books, b) awesomeness, and c) Christine. (Ha, I just realized I should switch a and b around so all the letters match. :P)

    So many of these are things I love to read about too! Convoluted plots... Well, that one really depends. I'd say most of the time YES, but there are some that are confusing and hard to keep track of when they're not supposed to be. Does that make sense? Of course there's foreshadowing and mystery and intrigue and whatnot, so I'm not supposed to know everything right away... But some big, twisted plots don't manage to successfully untwist themselves when they're supposed to. Or maybe that's just me. XD MOST of the time, however, I love an intricate mess of subplots.

    And I utterly adore connections and gorgeous worldbuilding and character arcs! (Connections and arcs are two of the reasons I love OUaT so much.)

    And give me all the drama! Make me feel! Dive into intense emotions: panic, grief, ecstasy, confusion, fear, love, bliss, everything! If my emotions aren't engaged, I'm not usually a big fan of the book at all. (It's important to note that not ALL books need to utilize ALL emotions. Some books are meant to be thrilling and dark and intense, and others light, funny, and warmhearted. I want both, but not every book needs to deliver both, though they certainly can if that's what the author wants.)

    Humor--oh, yes please!! That's something I enjoy in just about any read. Plus it's fun to catch yourself snickering out loud in public. #bookwormandproudofit

    Happy endings, or even bittersweet: yes. None of these depressing, pointless finales. Like you said, there's enough of that out there. When I read, I want to be reminded that good DOES win.

    Relationships, actually admirable heroes, and books that give attention to both plot AND characters--you know what, I'm just going to say a hearty amen to this post! :D

    Hmm... Maybe I should (with your permission, of course) make my own list for a blog post. :)

    1. And your comment makes me happy!!! (LOL. Matching letters. I love it! XD)

      You make a very good point about that! Some stories are pointlessly confusing. It's like the author didn't even know the plot and just threw out a bunch of nonsense. But those plots that are completely tangled but get all straightened and connected at the end--those are the epic ones!

      I was actually thinking about OUaT while writing this, because that show has ALL these elements. Those writers, I declare...

      YESSSS. All those things! I don't want to feel disconnected or just, ya know, not feel at all while reading. I want myself and my emotions utterly immersed.
      Oh yes, I agree! We desperately need a good variety of reading material for everyone. Definitely not everyone wants to be emotionally damaged while reading. XD We need thrilling books, and deep books, and lighthearted books, and all! I just personally lean toward the emotional ones for myself.

      Absolutely! I actually love when someone is reading in public and they start snickering. It means they're enjoying their book and it makes me feel all happy. ^_^

      Seriously! Life can be so depressing. Sometimes I really need those reminders that there's still light no matter how dark the world is.

      Hahaha! I love how we have basically identical reading tastes. It's so fun!

      OH YES. Do it, do it, do it!!! I'm encouraging any and all who want to do it to go for it. I LOVE seeing people's bookish tastes! :D

  8. Hi Christine,
    I love what you've said here. I think I'll do this too. It'll probably be on my blog in the next day or two. I was looking for a topic.

    1. Thank you so much! Oh yes, go right ahead. It's fascinating for me to see what others enjoy in fiction. I'm thrilled to see others join in!

  9. YES YES YES TO EVERYTHINGGGG. I literally cannot think of a single point on which we disagree. (Well...I'm not entirely sure what I think of love triangles. I don't hate them, but I don't particularly love them either. WAIT THAT'S NOT TRUE BECAUSE ONE OF MY BOOKS SORT OF HAS IT. Actually just forget I even said that. I guess I do like them sometimes. XD)

    ANYWAY. YES. I had a point in this comment?

    ACK, YES. CONVOLUTED PLOTS. I love love love deep, intricate, thought-provoking plots. BUT I also have a thing for light, whimsical reads. So it's kind of a balance on my part.

    Imaginative worlds? HECK YES. I'm a sucker for that. It's probably one of my the main reasons I love The Hobbit so much. Tolkien just created SUCH a beautiful, complex world. It gives me all the happies when writers pour all their time into creating worlds like that. most FAVORITE story element is the CHARACTERS. GIMME ALL THE CHARACTERS. *grabby hands* Character arcs, character relationships, JUST CHARACTERS. They are what make me love books so much. If I don't connect to any of the characters remotely, chances are I will NOT like that book. THIS is the biggest reason why I love LOTR and The Hobbit. IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CHARACTERS.

    BUT YES. I ALSO LOVE ME SOME HUMOR. (It's actually become one of my favorites.) Oh, and drama. I WANT TO FEEL ALL THE FEELS. (We're crying buddies, remember? ;D) And admirable heroes. And happily-ever-afters. AND BASICALLY EVERYTHING YOU JUST SAID.

    I just loved this post, Lauri! You obviously have good taste in story elements because we share the same favorites. ;)

      Hahaha! I understand about the love triangle thing. I love them, it's true, BUT there are a few that are a little annoying. Sometimes it's hard to believe every guy in existence falls in love with certain female protagonists, you know? Sometimes it can get a little ridiculous. XD

      The occasional light, whimsical read is a wonderful thing to have! That's awesome you're balanced in that.

      Tolkien was the MASTER at worldbuilding. I mean, seriously. That man. o.o An inspiration!

      YESSSSH. CHARACTERS FOREVER. Even if the plot is AMAZING, if I don't like the characters then no thank. I need to love all the babies! <3

      I'm realizing humor is more and more becoming something I adore in a book. You gotta have a few hilarious lines now and again! But, on the other hand, make us cry! (Crying buddies forever. XD)

      I'm being incoherent here, your comments just make me so happy I forget how to speak properly. IT'S JUST SO FUN HOW SIMILAR WE ARE.


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