What Am I Looking for in a Story?

Recently, I tried to join a read-along group on Instagram. The idea was to all read the same book, discuss, and share pictures. It seemed like lots of fun and not too time consuming, plus I was in a spot where I had the time to read. The book was announced and we all dutifully got our copies. I started mine at the proper time and knew right away I was in trouble.

I’m not going to mention what book it was because my problem isn’t with the writing. I don’t want to discourage the writer or the reading group. The problem wasn’t the book, it was me. LOL. I think I just friend-zoned a book. But, it’s true. I couldn’t get into the story. I didn’t care one bit about the character. I dreaded having to read it. I knew in an instant, I didn’t care about this story.

 There have been times when I’ve had to wade through a book, really wade through it. When I was a kid, I refused to leave a book unfinished. If I started it, I would finish it. As I’ve gotten older I give myself the freedom to put a book aside that I’m not enjoying. Life is too short to plow through books I’m not loving. I weighed being in the group, but hating every minute in the book. I worked on it through to chapter 9 hoping against hope that something would grab me. That happens sometimes. I’m unsure if I like a book, then this magical line pops out and I’m hooked. Chapter 9 and I’m not only not hooked, I’m despising every line. Time to let it go.

I looked the book up on GoodReads wondering if anyone else had the same issue with the book. I watched the comments of the other readers. Everyone loved the book. Everyone praised the book. Everyone talked about how they were strongly impacted by the story. It had glowing reviews, a lovely cover, and was enjoyed by people who also love Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Stormlight Archives and such.

So why not me?

Why didn’t I love it?

What am I looking for in a book? What matters to me?

I can’t say that the book was written poorly. I had no complaints about setting, magic, or description, though I tend to enjoy meatier and more unique description. There wasn’t anything wrong with the worldbuilding. I just didn’t care.

I sit in a corner and ponder. I flip through pictures of scenes I love in my favorite TV Shows and movies. I think about my favorite books. What am I looking for in a book, show, or movie? What am I looking for in a story?

The first element that may produce a lack of interest may be that I’m weary of the female protagonist who goes it alone against the world. I’m tired of stories with strong central female warriors. I’m tired of women against women stories, and this story was all about a mother and two sisters who didn’t get along. That turns me off right away. I love stories with strong male leads. I love stories with strong families, strong teams, and strong brotherhoods. I couldn’t get through the first few chapters of this book, but have binged through the first 9 Sharpe’s novels in a matter of weeks. Now, I don’t dislike women in stories. There are plenty of female characters I love. I’m just more intrigued by the women who aren’t at the forefront. I’m more intrigued by the HearthKeepers than I am by the female warrior. And, I’m more interested in stories of sisterhood, not female conflict.

You may see the theme of teamwork here. I love team stories: Band of Brothers, Firefly, Criminal Minds, Sharpe. All of these have big teams working together. I love it. I love stories of smaller teams, like Endeavour, Chuck, or even 24. Jack always has his team backing him up. I love stories of family like Blue Bloods and Fringe.

I grew up in a big family. We worked together, played together, moved across the country together, and still live within the same state, be it hours apart. We have ridiculous group texts, jokes that are so old we hardly remember where they started. Our family days are crazy, busy, and loud. We love nothing better than to be together. As a believer, I don’t hold with a me-myself-and-I mentality. We are part of a church, historically and locally. We aren’t going it alone. I rarely have any of my characters go it alone. I love teams and families.

 So, having a young female lead fighting with her family and going it alone, being different and isolated, just wasn’t appealing to me.

Hotch’s ear blown out.

Another problem for me was the lack of intensity. I don’t know how else to describe it, and it seems silly since the story was about being trained to kill people in their dreams, but it lacked some sort of intensity that I’m looking for. There was nothing offered up at the front to move things along. No impending doom. No murders. No war coming. The story was just a girl learning her powers. Harry Potter has Voldemort. He’s there, always in the background. Lord of the Rings may take many years to get going, but the threat of the ring is there from the beginning. It clouds everything in a growing darkness. In this story there was no lingering sense of horror coming. Nothing united reader and character in a fear that drove you to read, read, and read. It was just her training and learning her powers with the hope that a greater mystery would appear.

 If there is no impetus to move forward than there is no impetus to keep reading.

From this story, I learned that I really need some pretty big, frightening, and horrific drive to enjoy a story. And if it takes awhile for that to arrive, I need creative and intriguing writing that grabs my imagination, or I need a team.

Endeavour being helped by Thursday.

Lastly, back to the team idea. The story lacked the visceral-ness of a team in pain. When your friends are being hurt, or they’re watching you be hurt, the agony is ratcheted up. There is a pain in friendship and family so much deeper than when you’re alone. It’s the holding your best friend back as his girl is taken away because you know if he tries to save her now, he’ll die. It’s the pleading for the life of someone you love. It’s the tears in a warrior’s eyes as his team is slaughtered. A mother who doesn’t care that she’s causing you pain because you have to learn is way less moving than Molly Weasley watching her children die. Gandalf knowing what it will cost the hobbits to go to Mordor is so much richer than siblings competing and hating one another. Watching Endeavour get broken and put back together by Thursday is what I’m looking for. Watching Hotch scream in pain cause his eardrums are blown but still ordering his men to fire is what I’m looking for. Watching Harper keep Sharpe’s back time after time, loyally following him into hell is what I’m looking for. Watching the look on Winter’s face when he thinks Nix has been shot. Watching Walter willingly go to another world for his son, Peter. Watson being Sherlock’s best and only friend.

 

Winter when he thinks Nixon got shot.

 There is a friendship, a bond, a family that I’m looking for. It is a theme woven through so many of my favorite stories and books. It developed in me as I grew up in a loving family, as my Mom read Lord of the Rings to us, and the Fellowship became a central part of my life. It is my belief that as a Christian you are part of the Church, not just out on your own. I love brotherhood/sisterhood stories. I love the stories of weary cops holding each other up, of soldiers broken down but still there for each other. Of those who fight for good backed by a great team who would die for them. These are my stories.

There is a necessary driving force beyond the character themselves, be it a murderer, war, or the crashing of worlds. Sometimes it’s pushing out from the government but running into Reevers. Sometimes it’s terrorist in Burbank. Either way, the characters must have something to fight for, and fight against. I need to be able to bleed, die, and hope with them. These are my stories.

This is what I look for, this is what I love and yearn for. This was why a story about a young woman finding out she had this power but being isolated and at odds with her family didn’t hold my attention. This is why dream assassination without a reason for assassination didn’t hold my attention. Not for even three chapters. Sorry. It just wasn’t for me.

Sharpe and Harper.

6 thoughts on “What Am I Looking for in a Story?

  1. I love this post! Congratulations! You’ve had your Realization.

    “Realization” is what my bestie and I call it when someone figures out exactly what it is they crave in a story. What makes them love a story, not just enjoy it. What makes them return to it over and over.

    For me, it’s characters I want to be friends with and hang out with. That’s all it is. Are there characters I want to hang out with and be their friend? And that’s why I love such a vast diversity of genres and eras and styles and settings.

    This is why you and I have so many overlapping faves. Like Firefly and Sharpe. I love them cuz I’m imaginary friends with the characters!

    (And you still must try Combat! sometime. The whole squad-of-warriors-as-family thing is what the whole show is about.)

    Once you’ve had your Realization, you’ll find it is LOADS easier to figure out if you’re going to enjoy a book or movie ahead of time, and to avoid ones that you just can see aren’t going to be your thing. People have accused me for just liking everything and always giving books high ratings cuz I rate most books 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads, but the truth is, I just know pretty well by now how to choose things I will enjoy and not waste myself on things I won’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m generally pretty good at spotting a book I’ll love, but sometimes I have a hard time explaining it to people, cause there are books I love that don’t fit this mold exactly, they’re just beautifully written. But for the most part, yes, this is my “realization”. This is what I write, read, watch, devour as often as I can. I have Combat! on the list. I just have to get to a stopping point with Criminal Minds. It’s taken over my life. Have you read any of the Sharpe’s books? They’re so good.
      I also tend to rate books a 4 or a 5 for the same reason. I’m so glad I’m not alone. HA! I just read things I like and don’t read things I don’t like. Lol.
      Thanks for reading and thanks for your always great comments! 🙂

      Like

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