This was one of my favorite concepts from the book No Plot? No Problem!
The idea is to make two lists, one of the things you love to find in your novel reading, the other things you absolutely hate.
As I recall, he pointed out that we tend to think in terms of the yuck stuff being good for us, and when we feel that what we’re doing is not ________ enough we reach into the yuck pile and act as though that can fill in the blank for us.
How true any of that is can be saved for some indeterminate point in the future. What I want to do is share the lists I started before I began writing my Lindorm story
Magna Carta I (The stuff I like)
- Physical (especially trans-species) transformation
- Music as part of story
- Well behaved animals (impeccably trained or sentient)
- “Convenient” sleeping and awake times from the babies/kids
- Mysteries that go deep into folklore
- Making necessary elements of folk/fairy tales natural
- Genuine peril
- Threatening villain
- Uncertainty of friends (sometimes)
- Genuine friends (other times)
- A thinking character watching the process of his or her thought.
- Mixing folk elements from various cultures and seeing it “work”
- Complexity (lack of obvious predictability)
- Surprising twists and secrets that the reader discovers with the protagonist
- Characters out-thinking one another
- Courtesy among enemies
- Truth-telling as a form of riddling and testing
- Witty banter
- Good conversations
- The protective defender
- Dramatic rescues
- Endurance through fear
- “Acts of evil are shocking offenses to the way things should be.”
- Misunderstood identity/”fish out of water”
- Build on characteristics the protagonist(s) have to begin with, but doesn’t imagine any of them are already complete
- Overcoming an old enemy through what they’ve learned on their journey
- More than one character changes
- Acknowledge (and explore to some extent) the power of relationship
- Thought-provoking observations
Magna Carta II (the stuff I don’t like)
- Not-talking being the reason something bad happens
- Smart characters acting clueless
- Sex without significance (i.e., without the benefits or the consequences)
- Defiant/disobedient/“mischievous” children being portrayed as cute and entertaining (I find them irritating)
- Daily details that don’t advance the story (setting is fine, day-in-the-life-of, not interested).
- Dragging the There’s-something-important-you-don’t-know wait too long
- *everything* stacked against the protagonist
- Too much time is spent on the meaningless, to no end
- I can tell where this is going, it will end badly (and frequently was utterly avoidable)
- Cruelty (a villain chooses a particular evil *because* it strikes so hard and deeply into his/her victim’s psyche) — honestly I go back and forth on this one; I see its usefulness, too.
- The fate/destiny/end of the characters is utterly outside of their own control–can’t be changed or improved by wise choices or good counsel
- Conflict simply to wrack up the tension
How do your likes/dislikes line up? If you make a set of your own lists, leave a comment with a link– I’d love to read it.