Lantern Leaf Press

Voyages Into The Fantastic

A Sliding Scale for Greatness

As I sat next to a stack of library books (and frantically wondered what possessed me to bring so many home at once) I remembered a question that a group of fellow writers brought up. As a reader, what do you look for in stories?

The question made me stop and think for a bit. I knew I had a loosely defined mental set of criteria, but I was surprised at how quickly the list came together. (Have you had the opportunity to write down your own list? I have a hunch it’s wildly different from reader to reader.) Here’s mine –

  • A relatively seamless and easy entry into the first few pages of the story.
  • Hints of interesting things to come. They can be an event, the character’s “voice” (I have a soft spot for snarky first-persons), or even general circumstances. The caveat to this is that any first-page hints have to be paid off or elaborated upon within the first three chapters. Any longer than that and I no longer trust that the story will give me the answers I want.
  • A main character who is assertive and takes action. If they have a bit of flair, so much the better.
  • High moral codes. Or even just a mentality that answers to something higher than the main character’s desires. For instance, there’s a narrow line between petty revenge and “legit” revenge. I like legit much better than petty.
  • Shiny parts! I have to have my shiny bits of story where magic is let loose, characters have dash and style, and my imagination goes “oooooooohhh.”
  • Light and lyrical narrative ranks very high with me. It’s like reading a flickering flame or a happy little brook, as opposed to the dry intellectual tone, or the sort that sits down and gives you deliberate sentence after deliberate sentence. I like springboards in narrative.
  • And, me being me, I need a happy ending. Or at least an ending where the vast majority of wrongs are righted and the evil system has been crushed.

Reading back over this list, my pile of favorite books makes way more sense than before. What are some of your criteria? Are you a happy ending person, or do you find “sad” to be satisfying in some ways?


  1. Oh boy. I don’t do happy endings in writing very often. I think it’s because I’m naturally pretty happy, so I like things that sober me down and make me THINK. 🙂

    I also like real, true-to-life characters (men being men, women being women) and real heart-wrenching self-discovery and character growth.

    I like real life. 🙂

  2. I can usually tell if I’m going to like any book (fiction or non-fiction) in the first 40-50 pages. I think your 2nd point is very important. There must be hints about things to come, but there’s a delicate balance because the author can’t give away too much. Being a retired military guy (Air Force), I like main characters who have honorable intent. In other words, they are trying to do good (I’ve seen enough real evil in the world to know I like the good guys/ladies!!). The writing style of the author must be very smooth and flowing. For example, that’s what I liked about “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. On the surface it’s just another coming-of-age story, but his writing style made it a pleasure to read. As far as the ending is concerned, I do like a happy ending but I also like it to be realistic. It doesn’t have to be all rainbows and puppies. A sad or harsh ending makes me wonder I just spent hours/days/weeks on a journey that ends up depressing me.

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