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, or themes, 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, science fiction, 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 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 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 engage me deeply.
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. Whether I predict them or not, I just want to explore how different realities can be created by where you’re standing.
Likewise, I 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!
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 mental powers
Look, I just love seeing them wield astonishing power in a magical, non-physical way. It speaks to my non-physical nature as a disabled woman, and I especially like telepathy and empathy because I’m very much about emotional interiority. Hence, me writing a 111,000-word fanfiction starring Wanda Maximoff when I was having my chronic illness crisis and couldn’t write anything original.
Robots with souls
…did I mention that my fanfiction also starred Vision? My long-standing love for this trope may have to do with the fact that robot characters are often autistic-coded. I adore 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 want them. 🙂
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.)
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. 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 science
I like trying to make things more logical than they actually are. I am a categorizer and organizer. But I also appreciate the utter chaos and randomness of love, how it can come from unexpected places at any moment. I appreciate the utter chaos of humans.
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.
I don’t know why, but these don’t work for me. Maybe it’s the historical fiction combined with the rough-and-tumble edge. The Mandalorian is the closest to an exception I can think of, and it’s science fiction/fantasy with a cute baby, so.
Really gritty or grimdark vibes
As indicated above, 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.
Harmful 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 less distorted by prejudice so I can learn from them. I don’t want unconscious biases to be reinforced.
On a related note, I am not a fan of stories where women have no lives outside of men, where teenage girls have to prove they’re “worthy” of a boy, or where magical women suddenly become crazy evil villains who have to be killed because women can’t handle power or something. Also see the next entry:
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 kind.
Heavy sexual content
I can handle some 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 lose interest. Obviously, this one is very much an individual preference!
Strong focus on sports/cooking
I can’t do sports, and I hate cooking, so for me, it’s difficult to get into stories that have a strong focus on those topics. This is really a me thing.
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 me wanting more. It’s frustrating!
With audio-only stories like podcasts, my brain just struggles to process it properly. I often get impatient, too, because I’m a fast reader. I support audiobooks very much, though, because it allows access for people with other disabilities!
Main characters who are writers
When main characters are writers, it feels too… self-inserty, I guess? It rings false to me somehow. I think I also have some kind of complex where l become intimidated by the feeling that I, as a writer, am supposed to be more like that character. Usually, the character in question is tough or academic in a way I’m not. 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.
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. 🙂
What stuff do you like in stories? These are individual likes and dislikes, so arguing is not necessary, but I’d love to see what you think. Related recommendations for books/movies/shows are also appreciated!
Images via liberry on openclipart.org, clintbartonandfishcustard on Tumblr, and liberry on openclipart.org.