Here's another exercise from the online writing class I'm taking this month. We were asked to list ten things that make us love or hate a book as a reader, with the idea that it'll help us focus our writing toward our passions. Which sounds silly--you'd think you'd automatically write what you love and avoid what you hate. But as I look at this list, I can see that a lot of the changes I'm making in my current rewrite are refocusing the story toward the things I love about it, but that I'd lost track of in the drive to finish my first draft and make my plot line up.
10 Things I Love:
1. Communities of characters: I like to read about friends, close-knit families, and lovers who have a strong friendship and the ability to work well together as well as passion. I love the friendships in Jennifer Crusie's romances, and what keeps drawing me back to books as different as the Anne of Green Gables series, the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries, and the Aubrey/Maturin novels, to name a few, is the chance to revisit that community of characters and watch them work together.
2. A good long-running series: When I really love a set of characters and a world, one book isn't enough.
3. Good world-building--anything where the setting is a character in itself, whether it's a fantasy world or England in 1820 or one of Jennifer Crusie's towns.
4. Historical accuracy: I read historical fiction of any genre because I love history so much, and I want to feel like the author shares my passion and has chosen her setting because he or she loves that place and time. I'm looking for a sort of mental time travel.
5. Women who are tough in ways that make sense for their place, time, and circumstances.
6. Warriors, whether they're literal soldiers or people who believe in their cause strongly enough to take risks for it.
7. Honor: I love characters who have principles and the courage to stand by them.
8. Serious stories leavened by humor. Especially gallows humor. It's probably not a coincidence that I work at a hospital.
9. Smooth prose and a strong voice.
10. Intelligent characters: Brains are sexy.
10 Things I Hate:
1. Historical inaccuracy: Not every little detail has to be right, but if the author misses something I know to be easily researched or writes characters who feel like 2008 people in fancy dress, I can't enjoy the story because it's not giving me that mental time travel experience I long for. Other inaccuracies can bug me, too--I've read contemporary books with baseball player heroes that turned into wallbangers because the author clearly knew much less about baseball than I do, and I don't consider myself anything like a true expert. I'm just married to one. :-) But since most of what I read and all of what I write is set in the past, it's usually historical errors that ruin stories for me.
2. Alpha Heel heroes: I like strong men--see my love for warriors above--but I want them civilized and confident enough of their strength to treat others with respect.
3. Over-the-top villains: You know, the kind who's a traitor AND a bully AND a blackmailer AND a pedophile AND....
4. Villains who are too weak and/or too insane to be a real challenge for the hero.
5. Women who are spunky for the sake of spunkiness--if a woman is going to buck the values and rules of her time, I want it to be well-motivated.
6. Helpless damsels in distress.
7. Passive characters--people who just let life happen and don't fight for what they believe in or what they want.
8. Clunky writing
9. Gratuitous sad endings: I'm fine with a grand, Shakespearean tragedy, but I hate books where it seems like the whole point is to prove that people are weak and life is meaningless.
10. Being told that a character is smart, strong, or whatever but seeing no evidence of it in his/her actions.