The kind of book I love to read and want to write

Fantasy portal

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.

High fantasy with magic.
Say yes to magic.

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.

Vibe: optimistic

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.

Give me a warm glow with a hint of mystery.

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.

I want a book that leaves me with a warm, lingering glow.

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.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

12 thoughts on “The kind of book I love to read and want to write”

  1. “And then they all died meaninglessly doesnโ€™t cut it.” Totally agree with a lot of this, but especially that. Don’t get me to love a character and then kill them just to create an unexpected ending. Bah.

  2. I found myself nodding along as I read this. All books should have dragons (even if it’s a weird cat dragon hybrid :D)
    Cliffhangers, and ‘they all die at the end’ are two of my pet peeves. I get super emotionally involved in characters and hate it if authors kill my new favourites. (Hurt them, sure, I adore a character who has to struggle through pain to win, but death? Makes me throw books across the room!)

    1. I love weird cat dragon hybrids! My WIP has some tiny dragons that are very much like cats. Not fluffy, though, and they smell a bit like rotten eggs.

      Character death just to get a rise out the reader is up there with cannibalism on my list of crimes.

  3. I want to read that book too! I haven’t read high fantasy for a long time, spoiled as I was by the likes of LeGuin, Tolkien, and Peter S. Beagle. But I miss it. I miss dragons. And unicorns. And especially magic. I have to go find a book like that right now.

  4. Great post. I tend to go a little darker than it seems you do, but for the most part we’re on the same page. Are you looking for a beta for your book? Depending on timing, I might be able to give you a hand. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you! I don’t mind a bit of darkness on the way through, but the sun should be back out by the end.

      Thank you so much for your offer. I’m not ready for betas yet, but I’ll bear you in mind when I am. I really admire your writing and would value your feedback, if you have the time when I get to that stage. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I enjoy books with romance too, though for me it’s more of an optional extra. I can see from your preferences why you write in the fantasy romance genre. ๐Ÿ™‚ (If I read an actual romance it had better have an HEA.)

  5. I want to write a post like this now. I love analyzing things! This could help me find the kind of books Iโ€™m always looking for but struggle to find. Cliffhanger endings instantly downgrade a story for me. Itโ€™s so rude. I define high fantasy the same way you do. I donโ€™t read a lot of it, but I tend to really like what I do read.

    1. You should write a post like this! I’d love to hear what other people are dying to read.

      Cliffhangers do seem to be universally hated. We should start a social movement: Readers against cliffhangers. ๐Ÿ™‚

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