One of my favorite things about stories is that each individual person has aspects of storytelling that they love to see–and aspects they don’t love to see. Whether you’re talking about genres, tropes, themes, or more complicated concepts, our personal preferences can be really revealing. They also can guide us in finding new stories to explore and other people we can geek out with! So today, drawing from a few posts I wrote on my old blog over the years, I’m going to share some of my personal preferences: what I do and don’t like in stories.
Stuff I Like
- Speculative fiction, especially in the YA category. My favorite genres, unsurprisingly, are the ones that I write: fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, mostly in the YA age category. Speculative horror especially is something I’m interested in exploring at the moment!
- Good marginalized representation, especially of disabilities. Everyone deserves to have stories that reflect their lives, but many groups of people, due to their general marginalization in society, have also been marginalized in storytelling. I especially jump at the chance to read about disabilities, whether mental, physical, or even fantastical, because that’s a huge part of my life that I never used to see in stories. (Like many people, I prefer #ownvoices work because it’s a little more likely to avoid stereotypes, but there are exceptions!) Finding something that connects with the parts of you that feel most isolated and unrealized is always such a beautiful moment.
- Religious themes without preachiness. Religion/spirituality is another important aspect of my own life that I’d like to see more in stories. I’m not looking for anything too preachy, but I love it when commercial fiction includes religious themes and/or religious representation. Fantasy religions can be especially fun to explore. I love me a scary eldritch god!
- Complex family dynamics. Once again, family is something that really matters to me, but I also know how difficult and emotional family life can be. Fictional explorations of the horrific and beautiful realities of family relationships speak to me a lot.
- Strong psychological or time-related twists. Good twists that shift the reader’s entire perspective on the story because of point-of-view wonkiness always get me. It doesn’t matter if I predicted them or not; I just want to explore how different realities can be created by where you’re standing.
- Story retellings. Likewise, I really enjoy seeing the different ways different people can rewrite the same basic story, and knowing that something is part of a long cultural tradition gives it greater weight for me. So I’m a fan of stories that retell fairytales, folktales, mythology, classic literature, and the like!
- Nontraditional formats. Art in general is something I’m enthusiastic about, so when authors play around with different formats to tell a story, my interest is piqued! I struggle with novels in verse and with audio-only formats, but otherwise, I love to see that creativity in action.
- Magical women, especially with psychic-ish powers. Look, women are awesome, and I love seeing them wield a ton of power in a magical, non-physical way. (It’s kind of a metaphor for femininity being a valuable force instead of just masculinity, and there are also disability parallels.) I especially like telepathy and empathy because I’m very much about interiority and emotional connection.
- Characters who love stories. I tend to shy away from stories that feature writers as characters, but I do love seeing book lovers or other people who are enthusiastic about stories. Like, hell yeah! Stories are awesome! Libraries are awesome! Art is awesome! I understand you, character.
- Cats or other fun nonhuman sidekicks. Sometimes these are AIs, in science fiction, or talking objects, in fantasy, but generally, these sidekicks are nonsentient beings who hang out with the main characters and show off their quirky personalities. Cats especially I decided I love after seeing Captain Marvel. (I mean, I love cats anyway, but I need more of them in stories now.)
- Robots with souls. In retrospect, my long-standing love for this trope may have to do with the fact that robot characters are often autistic-coded. Regardless, I am super into stories where a robot (or clone or other humanish nonhuman) proves themself to be a person with a soul of their own, basically, with emotions and dreams and especially romance. Not all those things are required for personhood, obviously, but I love to see them!
- Slow burn and friends-to-lovers romances. Many common story tropes are romantic in nature, and these are two favorites of mine that fit well together. I’m a fan of a slow burn that ratchets up the tension and allows the emotional bond to grow, and watching two friends fall into romantic love makes my heart melt. I am, after all, demisexual. Mutual pining is also fun to see!
- Romantic partners sleeping together non-sexually. Adding to that, I really love the soft, safe intimacy of (potential) romantic partners sleeping in the same room or even bed without it turning sexual. Like… it’s so nice. (Versions of this trope that are more about the growing tension are good too, LOL.) But basically, any romantic stuff where the characters are vulnerable with each other and that vulnerability is treated with respect and love and protectiveness from the other person–I want it.
- Trying to “hack” emotions, especially romantic love, with logic and science. On the one hand, I like trying to make things make way more logical sense than they actually do. I am a categorizer and organizer. But on the other hand, I appreciate the utter chaos and randomness of love, how it can come from unexpected places and at any moment. I appreciate the utter chaos of humans. We are so weird, and I love it.
Stuff I Don’t Like
- Historical fiction on well-trodden ground. Historical fiction is probably my weakest point when it comes to general genres. The stories in this genre that I do enjoy usually include speculative aspects and/or explore events or identities that are less represented in the genre and in history education as a whole. I’m just tired of World Wars, y’all.
- Westerns. I don’t know what it is about these, but they don’t work for me. I guess it’s the often-historical vibe combined with the rough-and-tumble edge. The Mandalorian is the closest to an exception here I can think of, and it’s science fiction/fantasy with a cute baby, so.
- Really gritty or grimdark vibes. As indicated above, gritty, rough-and-tumble stories aren’t my style, and I don’t need depressing grimdark stuff in my life either. I’m okay with a fair bit of violence, and emotionally dark stuff can be fine, but I usually want some ultimate ray of hope–or at least clearer lines about what’s right and wrong.
- Bad marginalized representation. When there’s a lack of representation, that’s plenty bad enough. Adding harmful representation that leans on stereotypes and treats marginalized groups with disrespect, dehumanization, or general disregard is not okay. Now, it’s important to note that different people in marginalized groups have different experiences, and a story not reflecting your own personal experience does not mean it’s harmful. But I want to read honest portrayals that aren’t distorted by prejudice so I can learn from them. I don’t want unconscious biases to be reinforced.
- Too much “masculinity”. As a woman who’s always been pretty feminine and as a fourth wave feminist both, I don’t want stories that only value traits currently seen as “masculine” in our culture. I don’t want female characters who only matter because they’re physically tough and unemotional. I don’t want male characters who have to always be either violent or uncaring in order to be taken seriously. There’s too much of that out there right now. I want women who are strong and feminine, and I want men who are soft and sweet.
- Heavy sexual content. I can handle sexual content, but I’m pretty vanilla and get grossed out at times when there’s too much detail. So if I start feeling like a book is sacrificing the plot for the sex scenes, I’m not into it. I’m not into much visual nudity for the same reason. Obviously, this one is very much an individual preference!
- Strong focus on sports/cooking. Look. I can’t do sports, and I hate cooking, so for me, it’s hard to get into stories that have a strong focus on those topics. It’s really a me thing.
- Novels in verse/anthologies. As I said earlier, novels in verse, where the story is told entirely in poetry, don’t work for me most the time. The same is true with anthologies, which collect essays or short stories. I suppose the shorter pieces of writing just leave wanting more. It’s frustrating!
- Audio-only formats. With audio-only stories like podcasts, my brain just struggles to process it properly. I think that’s an autism thing. I often get impatient, too, because I’m a fast reader–much faster than talking.
- Characters who are writers. This is another one I mentioned earlier, but for me, when characters are writers, it feels too… self-inserty, I guess? It rings false to me somehow. Part of this might be because the first writer-character I ever read was Jo March in Little Women, and I was mad that she was so nonfeminine compared to me. It made little Kira feel like she wasn’t cool or tough enough to be a writer. So. 🤷♀️
- Real-life animals as main characters. Again, this for me feels too false. The only exceptions are stories with cats as main characters, because I’ve lived my whole life with cats and I suppose they feel more like people to me than other animals do. Otherwise, my disbelief resists this suspension.
- Teenage girls thinking they’re not good enough for a guy. Okay, so this has just been my life most of the time? And I don’t want it. I don’t want to suffer through it anymore. I want girls in stories to be confident or at least not self-hating when it comes to romance. Because I want to see them deserving that love without question. Teenage girls especially get enough crap already.
- Animal deaths, especially violence towards cats. I can handle some of this, but I’m very sensitive about deaths of and violence towards animals, especially when it’s cats. Have I mentioned that I love cats yet? Because I do.
Thank you for reading! What stuff do you like in stories? These are individual likes and dislikes, so there’s no expectation of agreement and we don’t need to be starting any arguments, LOL. Related recommendations for books/movies/shows are also appreciated!