It may be a sad reflection on society that I am only listing five things I love in a story, where last week I had ten things I hate. It may just be that I'm tired and the number 10 seems so very much bigger than 5. Or maybe it's that love is harder to describe than hate - or easier.
Whatever the mysterious reason, here are five things that make a story shine for me.
1. Strong characters. Now, by 'strong', I absolutely don't mean 'omg this character kicks a** so hard!' Please, spare me the amazingly competent paragons of perfection who are uber-tough and Chuck Norris-like in their abilities to overcome any adversary. Give me characters who are neither unicorn pure nor cardboard-villain evil. Let them have both flaws and redeeming qualities, and make me believe they do things outside the pages I'm reading, and I will love them.
2. Shocking turns of events. Got a plot twist? Keep it from me until the last possible moment - but don't let it come out of left field. Fold in some hints that I can see if I go back and re-read, but that don't stand out until I come to the Big Reveal, so I can think to myself, 'of COURSE it was!' Surprise me, and I will love it.
3. Movement. Like Captain Jack Sparrow, I want movement! Keep the story going - it's not necessary to have someone die or something explode on every other page, but don't stop to reflect on some irrelevant event or description for pages and pages. Make things happen, and I will love it.
4. Plausible motivations. In any given plot, the characters are driven to act by external events - but the machinations of the world alone do not a great story make. Your characters should have reasons for reacting the way they do to external stimuli ... and if they don't, they are as two-dimensional as the page or screen I'm reading them from. Tie your characters intrinsically to the story line, and I will love them.
5. Shades of gray. The world is not black and white - so don't let your story be so. I love to see characters with questionable morals who are nevertheless sympathetic. People are complex, with the capacity to make decisions (the right ones, or the wrong ones). Don't let them always take the predictable path. Show me the layers of your characters and your world, and I will love it.
What do you love in a story? And, if you have a book you think I'll love, let me know about it so I can check it out!