Adult readers at my book signings, or students in classrooms, often ask me what I like to read. I’m not sure what other fiction writers read, but I know that I read considerably more non-fiction than fiction. And I think that might even be a good habit for fiction writers.
After all, if you are reading well-crafted non-fiction – history, biography, autobiography – you are reading about reality, as each author discovers it, analyzes it, or experiences it. And, as a fiction writer, you’re going to need to be able to give your readers a powerful sense of reality – of plausibility – even though your readers will know you are creating a story for their benefit. Your stories are going to feature characters who are not real people, but who are going to seem like real people to readers.
Or so you hope.
For me to read very far in a novel, I need these things:
I have to be led by the author to care about at least one major character, and, by the time I’ve finished 20 pages or so, I have to find myself hoping that she or he will experience something good and lasting at the story’s conclusion;
I want to encounter “plot tension” fairly early on, something that gets me worried, probably about that same major character that I have already started to care about;
I want the language to be “clean,” so that the story is told without needing to resort to terrible or vulgar language; and
I’d like some real action from time to time, and I’d like it to be well done, leading me to be able to imagine the action and picture it easily in my mind.
In addition, I appreciate authors who allow at least some of their characters to be believers, characters who pray to God and rely on His help. This adds a depth to the story that otherwise cannot be there. Without that component, stories always feel a little shallow to me, missing The Main Point.
And, finally, I appreciate at least a touch of romance. The romance does not need to be part of the central theme, but if two people are attracted to each other, and if the author can weave their developing relationship into the story skillfully, I’m appreciative of that. This also adds a depth to the story that otherwise cannot be present.
Obviously, my own adult and young-adult novels are going to contain all these ingredients. Like most fiction writers, I write the same kind of thing I like to read. Here is a short list of other novels that have most, or all, of my favorite ingredients: Jan Karon’s “Father Tim” series; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River; C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.
What’s your list?