I describe my ideal book–a high fantasy novel that takes me on an emotional journey–and offer to beta read for you if you wrote it. Or if you’re nice.
When friends in real life ask me what kind of books I write, I tell them “fantasy with dragons”. This has the benefit of being a) true and b) uninformative.
What? Not all books have dragons?
The short answer is that I write the kinds of books I most like to read. (Doesn’t everyone?)
Here’s the long answer about what I love to read and try to write.
Genre: high fantasy
My favourite genre is high fantasy.
Not everyone agrees what that means. I mean a book set solely in a world that isn’t earth, where magic is real.
Magic doesn’t have to be prominent, and it doesn’t matter if everyone knows about it or not. Hard magic, where we understand the rules and how and why it works, is good. Soft magic, the mystical, hand-wavey sort, is good too.
No space travel, thank you, unless it’s on a dragon.
No guns, cannons, or advanced technology.
I enjoy epic fantasy, but sometimes its massive save-the-world scope takes up so much room there’s little space for the characters to be people. And all characters should have the chance to express themselves.
Grimdark fantasy and books where the protagonist is an anti-hero can be excellent. So can books where the theme is that life is terrible, people are self-serving, and hope is lost.
But they’re not my thing.
I believe people are essentially good and there’s always hope. I prefer books in which the characters are basically noble, even if they make mistakes and bad choices, people get what they deserve (eventually), and good triumphs in the end.
I want to live a thousand pages with characters I would want as friends, in a world that’s cosy, mystical, wondrous, and frightening by turns.
Characters and plot
I like characters with character, wounds and ambitions, who are flawed and spectacular, who overcome their pasts and grow into better versions of themselves.
Give me a really satisfying character arc and I’ll put up with a lot.
The characters should also be involved in a plot. If you know me well, you might know I miss subtleties. A plot of the stableboy wandering from place to place, talking to minstrels, fishermen, and centaurs, and in the process learning about his place in the universe isn’t going to do it for me. I’ll get to the end, look back, and think nothing happened.
There don’t have to be battles, though there can be battles. There probably is at least one battle.
Politics might feature, but I’d rather the plot wasn’t primarily politics.
There might be a romantic subplot. I’m not averse to explicit sex scenes, but they should serve the story. As a writer, I’m more the “fade to black” type.
There definitely will be a protagonist who wants something badly and goes after it. She will face obstacles that seem insurmountable. Someone will try to stop her and for a while they will succeed.
But through trying and failing the protagonist will gain the skills and the knowledge she needs to win, and in the end she will, though her triumph might involve great sacrifice.
Not everyone will die.
The most important thing
Above everything else, I’m looking for a book that gives me an emotional experience. I want to fear with the protagonist, hope with her, and triumph with her.
(She can also be a he or a they.)
At the end, I want to close the book with a sigh of satisfaction and be left with a glow in my heart that lingers for days. I want to miss the friends I met and plan to visit them soon.
What else do I look for?
Third person limited point of view, past tense. I’ll read other things, but this is what I write and prefer to read.
Swearing? Fine but unnecessary.
Beautiful, poetic writing? Sure, as long as I can see the story through the poetry. Utilitarian writing? Make me feel and I won’t notice. I can’t write poetically, so I go for unobtrusive.
The ending might be happily ever after, happily for now, or bittersweet happily for now. And then they all died meaninglessly doesn’t cut it.
If I’m enjoying the book, longer is better. I’m firmly of the opinion that if a story is good, more of it is better. But I know long books are riskier for publishers to take on, so I’m trying to get my current WIP down to 120k words. So far it’s not working.
Cliffhanger ending? The sequel had better be out. I don’t write cliffhangers myself. I hope if a reader enjoys my first book they will pick up my next regardless. I’d rather they left satisfied.
Humour makes any book better, but not mean humour. Laughing at the misfortune of others makes me uncomfortable, even if the others aren’t real.
One thing that is important to me is re-readability. (Is that a word?) Once I’ve found a world I love and made friends with the characters, I’ll go back over and over. I adore a book with hidden depth so every time I read it I get more from the experience.
It’s not about the ending, it’s about the journey.
If you’re looking for a beta reader and your book sounds a bit like what I’ve described, check out my post on beta reading. (Even if your book sounds nothing like this, but you’re nice.) If that captures what you’re looking for, feel free to email me. I’m always looking to help make a good book even better.
Can you recommend any books that sound like this? What do you look for in an ideal book?
Hear more from me, including if I ever find the perfect book.