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But What Do YOU Want?

Today I’d like to try something different and collect some market research… Of sorts. After all, if I were a businesswoman wanting to sell any other product I’d find out what my desired market expects and wants to see in a product like mine!

So, to all you readers of fantasy, fiction and sci-fi novels out there-

What do you expect from a book? Is there anything that immediately puts you off reading another word, or anything that convinces you to buy it and give it a shot?

Please share your wisdom in the comments below – you’re welcome to comment anonymously of course (no WordPress account required!) or you’re welcome to send me a private message instead – whatever works for you πŸ™‚


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Published inA Writer's MusingsUncategorized


  1. I like characters with extensive back stories, but even if they don’t as long as I find them interesting it doesn’t matter. I like when characters are flawed. I also love maps but you have one already so hooray! I also like twists and surprises that I can’t predict.
    One thing that always puts me off is when the bad guy explains his entire scheme to the good guy, thus giving them a chance to escape or kill the badie.

    • Thank you, it looks like we think a lot alike πŸ™‚ I hate when bad guys explain their plot to the protagonist, they deserve everything that’s coming to them.
      I do like plot twists I can’t predict but since I’ve started writing I’ve gotten quite good at predicting most of them, which takes the surprise away a little. It’s no fault on the author’s part, I just over-think things πŸ™‚

  2. For me, it all comes down to character. If they create sympathetic, interesting characters I think an author can get away with pretty much anything (including being less than stylistically perfect, see Twilight!). For example, The Martian – which I read this year – is so gripping because within about a page you already like Mark Watney and care whether he lives or dies. If you didn’t, the book would be a total dud. I keep telling people who “don’t read sci-fi” to read it, because the fact he’s stuck on Mars is incidental. This is a story of one man’s struggle of survive against overwhelming odds.

    The same goes for fantasy. Ultimately, whatever world you build or magic system you create, it isn’t the most important part of the book. A story is about characters and all the other bits and pieces are just brilliant extras that enhance the characters’ story. The Lunar Chronicles are a good example of this: they feature telepathic powers, cyborgs, robots, space travel, genetic mutation, etc. (which are all very cool), but ultimately you read the books to find out what happens to Cinder and her friends because the author has made you care.

    And I don’t have to necessarily like a character to be gripped by them if they have other redeeming/interesting features. A good anti-hero can work just as well.

    One final thing: when I say the world building/magic system etc. is incidental to character, it is, but it has to run off a consistent internal logic. Nothing worse than wanting to be absorbed into a character’s story only to be distracted by thinking, “But that doesn’t work!” or “But I thought you said only high wizards could do x,y,z!”.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents! Other opinions are available πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks for all this info! I shall put it to good use πŸ˜‰ It sounds like the main thing is a strong character – I agree, a good anti-hero can be amazing!
      I do hate inconsistencies and will weed my drafts carefully to make sure none have found their way into the story. I’d hate for a reader to find something that doesn’t match!
      I still haven’t read the Martian but I loved the film and would love to read the book, too. I’ll add The Lunar Cronicles to my to-be-read pile as well πŸ˜‰

  3. I agree that it’s characters that make the difference. Something I have written on my Bio page is this:

    “My favorite movie of all time changes, depending on what day you ask what my favorite movie is. Just depends on which character’s lines I’m reciting in my head. I guess memorable characters make films memorable for me, which is why I can’t pick just one. A few memorable characters, for me, are: Joker from The Dark Knight, Dark Helmet from Spaceballs, Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, Skeletor from Masters of the Universe, Shredder from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.”

    That concept has really solidified with me, the idea that I don’t have favorite movies, but rather favorite characters. And if you take a count in that above list, you’ll notice that the majority of those characters are villains. If you can create a villain who I can attach to in some way, then you’ve got me for the whole film or book or whatevs, no matter how bad it is (see: Master of the Universe). Heroes are cool, but the villains are the ones who challenge the status quo while the heroes attempt to protect the status quo. So if your villain can say things that ring true (for example: Joker, in The Dark Knight, talking about how no one really cares if an average person is threatened) and challenge the ideas we’ve come to accept even though those ideas may not be entirely right, then you’re going to have the foundation for an interesting villain.

    One thing I focus on when I’m writing my novels (I’m just about finished with the second one. Yay!), are the motivations of each character, what they want within the big picture of what’s going on around them. Do they see the big picture? Do they even care about the big picture? And if they don’t care, then what’s driving them to do what they’re doing as they try to change things. What comes from this can create friction and conflict between characters, move some characters further to one side or give them reason to switch sides.

    The thing to remember is that what a person wants and whether they’re willing to do what they have to do to get it, is what creates their world around them, and also affects the people around them, in larger and larger circles when more and more power is required to fulfill that desire.

    Wow, I hope I didn’t get off-track there. Sometimes, I don’t know. But yeah, characters, yo. It’s all about the characters. What would Star Wars be without Darth Vader or Luke or Leia or Han or Chewie? πŸ™‚

    • Nothing wrong with getting off-track (not that you did) I agree, the characters are most important. Star Wars wouldn’t be the same without its main characters, no movie or book would. You’ve put their importance into perspective really well – there are so many things to consider when writing a book and everything just sort of melts together to become one product. Without the characters it wouldn’t be the same.
      I like what you said about having favourite characters, not favourite movies; I’ve never thought about it that way!

  4. I like my villains to have much trouble as the heroes. If I find a hundred pages into the book the villain is sailing along effortlessly slaying the hero’s associates, capturing the hero while talking and grinning while they do it the book goes out the window, in the bin or back to the library(excluding the Joker of course, it’s his thing and he has style anyhow)

    • I do, too, the villains need to be compelling and they can’t do that if they never face any issues with their plans. They need to be just as well thought through as the heroes.
      Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  5. What a great question.
    The cover art is the first thing that draws me to a book but not the most essential. Seeing cover art from a writer like Brandon Sanderson attracts me, or just a plain cover with writer would intrigue me. A poorly designed one may not draw my interest.
    I like a good sized book. The thicker the novel the more I like the idea of a long story. Nothing wrong with short ones as some stories can really be drawn out.
    I can easily switch off and turn the book away if 100 pages in it hasn’t developed a story or the characters are plain. I like a story that catches you and a cliffhanger at the end of some or most of the chapters.
    In fantasy I love the history of the world it’s based. A map to show the author has thought about it, small insights here and there to give you that backstory.
    The detail in stories being just enough to be told but allowing the imagination to flow.
    Thank you for an interesting piece and would love to hear more about your loves and loathes of a good or bad book.

    • I’m glad I’ve made you think! πŸ™‚
      It usually works the same way for me – I see the cover first and if I love the cover I’ll read the blurb. If I like the blurb I’ll read the first page. If I like the first page I buy it. Of course the cover and blurb aren’t everything but they are the first thing readers will see most of the time, so it’s important to put the work into them and not just into the novel itself. When I pick up a book and there’s no blurb I’m usually put off, it feels like writer couldn’t be bothered to tell me what it’s about.
      The size of a book has never interested me as much, but I agree that books can easily be too long and drawn out. I prefer a short story if it’s to the point to a long one which keeps going off track.
      I do love a good history!! When a book’s back story is as rich as the events happening now it’s a huge plus, it feels so much more thought through and tells me that the writer really thought about it.
      Thank you, maybe next year I’ll write a post about my preferences πŸ™‚
      Thanks for the insights!

  6. kay kay

    -Well-rounded compelling characters with personality, quirks, flaws, and motivations of their own
    -Friction and conflict between characters. It’s no fun if all the good guys like each other and always get along. (Look at Harry and Ron’s relationship in the Harry Potter books)
    -Characters must have backstories, even if they are not told to the reader. Backstories, family, old friends, places they’ve lived all shape their experiences and views of the world.
    -Memories. I love when bits and pieces of characters’ pasts with each other are shared through memories and flashbacks.

    Complete World/Details
    -To make the world feel real and complete, there needs to be details — and I am not talking paragraphs and paragraphs of descriptions of what everything looks like. I am talking about small details that tell a lot about the world and paint a picture without info dumping. (Actually, an example from your own writing is in the scene with Commander Videl when you wrote “screaming loud enough for every other prisoner to hear their own inescapable fate echoing off the walls”. The echoing walls create the space and the screams build the desolate environment. With one line, I already have a feel for the place.)
    -Names for everyday things, particularly in fantasy novels. Some examples would be magelights, candlemark (time measurement), stele (for drawing runes).

    Villains with Backup Plans
    -The villain has to have a plan AND a backup plan.
    -I prefer the villains to have minions and spies. They need to be able to keep track of the hero, and when they can’t, then they must encounter problems.
    -I like villains that are flexible. When their plans go awry, they’re quick to recover with a new idea. So they can’t rule the empire yet, but they can kidnap the emperor’s guard and hold him for ransom.
    -Villains with MULTIPLE goals. They want to rule the empire, win the heart of the MC’s best friend, and rid the world of roaches. (They can be silly goals too if it fits their character!)

    Things I dislike:
    – (as someone mentioned already) Villains that reveal their entire plan in time for the hero to thwart them.
    -Villains that experience no setbacks.
    -When characters read a book in class that perfectly parallels the story, even to the point of characters names being based off the book. (I read one once where everyone had a name from Shakespeare and they read Shakespeare’s plays in class)
    -When the main character is the only girl/commoner/witch/whatever at a school/training program/whatever.
    -When every single bad thing that happens is directly connected to the bad guy. Conflict needs to come from multiple sources, including internal (and friends).
    -When all the adults in the story are completely useless.
    -When side characters follow the MC without question, even though logically there should be friction between them.
    -When only the main character has problems. Side characters and villains need problems too!
    -When every single dream predicts the future and the character is not a Seer
    -When characters miss a really easy way to solve a problem because they didn’t stop to consider their options (This can be justifiable if they are really shaken or bothered by something, however.)

    There’s plenty more, but that’s all I can come up with at the moment. Hope this helps with your research!

    • Goodness, thank you for all this information! I must say, I didn’t expect this kind of response when I wrote this post.
      It seems we agree on a lot of things πŸ™‚ I love villains with backup plans. It’s far too easy to beat them if they only have one plan and no backup. They are more fun when they are clever and resourceful.
      I agree with everything but especially with the back story part. Whether it’s the characters or the world itself the whole story profits from there being a background. It puts me off when it feels like the world only revolves around the main character, and only started to exist because his or her story started. There should be more to a world than that. (incidentally the back story to my world is coming together really nicely and I’m tempted to write a prequel)
      Thank you for all this detailed info, I’ll put it to good use πŸ˜‰

  7. Suspense! I love fiction novels that always have a twist. I always want to keep going, going and going.

    • Thanks for your input, and thank you for stopping by! I do love a good plot twist, so I’m always thinking of new ones to add to my draft πŸ™‚

  8. […] The responses were fantastic and encouraging (and far more detailed than expected), and since I’m now at the very beginning of plotting my first sci-fi novel – a genre I haven’t read anywhere near as much as I’ve read fantasy – I thought I’d ask again! […]

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