There are many, many parts to a good story; the characters, the setting, the plot, the side-stories, the genre, the dialect, and the list could go on for days at the very least. Each of these pieces contributes to the overall story, whether in a positive or negative way. Writing these parts is one thing, but reading them another.
It’s hard for an author to consistently lay out what is in their mind for a reader. Think about trying to describe something unfathomable to someone, as I’m sure you’ve had to do before. Something unbelievable, something that exists in its reality only to you until you tell another exactly what you can see and feel in the depths of your mind. And to do it in a way that they can actually see what you saw, or feel what you felt is unspeakably difficult. That’s what’s it’s like for a writer, especially one of fiction, to write an entire story in a way that engages, interests, and flows for you, the reader.
Because we all read, understand, and experience things differently—from menial everyday tasks, to situations unique to ourselves—I’m guessing that we all favor different parts of stories. Of course, you want the story to be well-written, but we each have our own perception of what exactly that is, so it isn’t as simple as black and white.
I tend to enjoy the characters and the setting best in stories. That’s most-likely why I prefer fiction. I want the characters and their actions to sing to me. If they smell something foul, I want to smell it too. If they feel the sting of a blade in battle, I want to feel it too. I want to feel as if I am there, and I want to feel as if whatever is happening in the story is happening to me as well.
My first real acknowledgement of this was a long time ago, probably when I was around 9 years-old. I was reading a book that I am quite unable to relocate called “Starr”. It was about a fox, and the cover was cloth bound and a bit ratty, but still solid and comforting. The fox, Starr, described his life as an animal, and when he would run through streams or feel snow crunch beneath his paws I reveled in the sensation. The deep, moist smell of bark and fallen leaves would fill my nostrils, even while sitting inside of a classroom in the middle of the winter.
Just because Starr was a fox, it did not mean that I couldn’t relate to his story. At that time, I probably wanted nothing more than to be a fox, because I am easily swayed by words and my imagination takes a firmer hold than it should. I was enveloped by the character and the setting, even though I’m not one for forests. I saw things from his perspective and it made me love them.
But that’s just me. There are many other facets to even a short story, and each aspect is unique to the reader. While I enjoy the things I mentioned above, many others might find them tedious.
I, on the other hand, am not a fan of artistic writing, and I don’t care much for lengthy bits of prose or song. I lose interest when things become too “modern” in a story, and I’m not a fan of drama. Although those are very specific, I find that things such as long monologues, lack of description, and limited vocabulary lead my mind to wander when reading.
The cherry on top of a good story, for me, is whatever makes me feel like I am there. That’s the best part, the part that adds to an already interesting piece, the part that makes me spend an entire day dragging a book along.
What about you? What’s the best part of the story when you are the one reading it?