Writing I Like – and Dislike

I recently read a great how-to book on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – No Plot, No Problem, by Chris Baty.

In addition to wise and hilarious writing advice, he incorporated some good exercises. One, in particular, got me thinking. What are traits of books I like – and, on the flip side, what are traits of books I do not like. Identifying these should help me focus my writing efforts and avoid bad habits.

Characteristics of Books I Like

  • Humorous writing style
  • Complex plotting
  • Romantic chemistry or understated romance
  • Feisty main character
  • Older protagonist
  • Ordinary people who grow to become heroes
  • Fast pacing
  • Poignant or bittersweet plot points
  • Twilight zone spookiness
  • Music as part of scene setting
  • Complex issues, no-win decisions
  • A sense of poetry and literature
  • Introductory quotes for chapters
  • Fictional news articles and letters
  • Mastery of intriguing background subject matter
  • Clever technical extrapolation
  • Mind-expanding perspectives

Characteristics of Books I Don’t Like

  • Formulaic romance
  • Bad sex scenes
  • Excessive military action and detail
  • Focus on concept and setting rather than characters
  • Unsmpathetic main characters
  • Unnecessarily cryptic writing; need to decode story terminology & settings
  • Car chases. Westerns. Monster books.
  • Depressing ending
  • Violence to children
  • Stupid horror heroines
  • Urban fantasy – i.e. elves & fairies in the big city
  • Political or religious agenda that doesn’t serve the story
  • Stock funny, homely sidekick
  • Villains who are uniformly bad, rather than complex
  • Bizarre character names
  • Never ending trilogies or series that don’t serve as a standalone story
  • Use of regional or fictional dialect in dialogue
  • Using qualifiers other than “said” in dialogue, i.e. “she shouted”, “she admitted”, “she whispered, anxiously”.
  • Shifting point of view among many characters & storylines

5 Responses to “Writing I Like – and Dislike”

  1. Holy Says:

    Excellent….so which angle are you taking in your November story?

    Or is that still a secret?

    Best of luck and godspeeed and all that.

  2. Jeri Says:

    Here you go – jacket blurb for an as yet unwritten book:

    Strange things happen under the midnight sun when teacher Holly McGee takes her troubled son Shane north with her as she takes on a new teaching job.

    Global warming is beginning to ravage rural Alaska. Her new home in the tiny, bush village of Kitnigak is threatened by rising sea levels, swamplands that once were permafrost, and bizarre, unseasonal storms. Travel and freight shipments become difficult as the air strip sinks into the mire.

    As the community starts to unravel under the struggle to adapt, the village angatkok takes an interest in Holly’s son. Could Shane’s odd ritualistic behavior and strange hallucinations help them find a path through the chaos around them? Or will he lose touch with reality and self-destruct without the medication they can no longer obtain from Outside?

  3. Shawn Powers Says:

    Unnecessarily cryptic writing; need to decode story terminology & settings

    Gawd that friggen ticks me off. I just picked up the latest, “Space Opera” anthology of short stories. The second or third story (I don’t remember the name) was so obtuse that I read 10 pages and still didn’t have the first clue whether the characters were people, computers, clones, in a virtual world, on crack, etc. Mind you, 10 pages is about halfway through… Sadly, I haven’t picked the book back up, and I realize it was only one story — but it sucked so hard that I couldn’t stand to see the book.

    In retrospect, I think the story was set in a universe that may have been clear to a reader that knew the author — but I’m not that reader. So for me, it just hurt.

    Good luck in November. My storyline isn’t quite as well thought out as yours. :)

  4. Jeri Says:

    The story I write may end up nothing like the description above. It’s a starting point, though! :)

  5. Mary Rotert Says:

    Something that I don’t like in novels: main characters have names that begin with the same letter–I get them confused too easily.