I've been wondering lately what exactly it is that makes a story excellent. Is it the plot? The world? The characters? Finally, I settled on two elements:
Cookie-cutter characters are quite dull, and they show up all over the place. You know them when you see them. They have one or two relatable aspects to their characters, but they have no distinct qualities to make them memorable or interesting.
Instead of cookie-cutter characters, I look for people. I look for the type of characters who have multiple defining qualities, who are not purely good or bad, but are a mixture. Real. Authentic. I look for a character I haven't read before. A voice that is distinct, honest, and opinionated. A voice that is or is not like my own.
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas (review): Celaena grows and changes throughout this book – she’s fierce, but still girly. An assassin who is still vulnerable. Brave but sometimes afraid. She’s not either / or, she’s a complicated, multifaceted person.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab (review): I don’t think there’s a single 100% good character in this novel, and I adore it for that reason. The bad guys have a good side, the good guys have a bad side, and it’s easy to find yourself rooting for the supposed villain.
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson (review): Narrated by Tinker Bell, Tink makes this story feel like a 3rd person narrative due to her focus on Tiger Lily. Yet, both Tiger Lily and Tink end up being developed as fascinating girls with messy personalities.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson: I kind of hated Elisa in the first novel. She was always whining, a bit dull, and difficult to like. But in the second novel? I adored her. Third novel? Loved her even more. If you want to see a character develop and change, Elisa is a good example.
A UNIQUE HOOK
By hook, I merely mean something that makes this book stand out from all the others. If it’s contemporary, what makes it unique from all the other contemporary stories? If it’s fantasy, what makes the world different?
It does not necessarily have to be never-been-done-before. It does not have to be entirely unique, even a slightly different hook will suffice. It just needs to have an element of interest and intrigue to the story or character. I need something to grasp, something different, something to make me eager to read, and curious to know more. A story with a unique hook is a story that makes readers pay attention by taking the familiar and giving it a twist.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (review): A contemporary novel where the main characters’ love letters are accidentally mailed to the guys. It’s a simple, cute, awkward concept, and Han pulls it off wonderfully.
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard (review): Traveling to Central America, plus the author’s artwork is included. Both act as excellent hooks, and they are the reason I picked this book up (and so glad I did because the words, the art, and the descriptions are wonderful).
The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson (review): While the princess / chosen one concept is popular, Elisa has something different about her that I hadn’t read before – Godstone. Very strange and peculiar, but it was enough to intrigue me.
What do you think are the elements of a good story? What elements make you love your favorite stories? Let me know what you think in the comments!