Monday, September 14, 2015

3 Things I Love in a Good Story // Jenelle Schmidt

from Jenelle Schmidt

1. Heroic characters

This is the first thing I look for in a good book or movie. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters have to be adventuring-type heroes or gladiators. I just mean that the characters have to be worth rooting for. They may have flaws and faults, but I have to see them overcoming those flaws in some way, and not making the same mistakes again and again. It’s not so much that I have to be able to relate to the characters, but I need to care about them, they have to be likable to some degree. I’m not sure how to explain it, I guess it’s a little like an “X-Factor.” I just need to be able to root for someone in the story. I cannot stand books and movies where I walk away feeling as though I wouldn’t have cared if all the characters died.

2. A mystery

I like the intrigue of having to figure something out when I’m watching a movie or reading a book. That doesn’t mean the story has to be a mystery, or a “whodunit,” but I like that flavor. It’s what puts me on the edge of my seat, wondering what’s going to happen next and how everything is going to be resolved. I like the mental gymnastics of trying to figure out how the story will end before it does. It doesn’t bother me if I figure it out before the writer gets there; I enjoy that triumphant feeling of success. But I also enjoy it when a story completely surprises me with the end. This is probably why I enjoy crime shows so much.

3. Family friendly

The best stories are the ones you can enjoy with your entire family with no feelings of guilt or worry.

Note from Heidi: Thanks so much for sharing today, Jenelle! :)

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Would you like to share three of your favorite things in a guest post? You don’t have to be a writer to qualify! This series is by story lovers for story lovers.
For post specifics/guidelines you can see the initial post here, then send Heidi a quick email at ladyofanorien(at)gmail(dot)com. Don’t be shy. I’d love to have you!


  1. "Dreamer"! Yay!
    (I like that movie :) )

    And I know what you mean about having actual HEROES as "heroes"--if you aren't able to like/admire the characters at all, what's the point? I will never write a book with an anti-hero as the main character. No. I refuse, Jeeves. I WILL NOT DO IT. :-)

    1. Yes, Dreamer is an absolute favorite!

      Anti-heroes can be very obnoxious, but I think the key to them is to make them redeemable, and either a) redeem them by the story's end, or b) make sure the audience can easily envision their redemption after the last page has been turned or the credits roll. Rumplestiltskin from OUAT is a good example, seeing as how he really wants to be good, and as the audience, you want to see him be good, and every now and then he "gets it right" (or at least you might think he does for a while). What keeps me rooting for him is that the writers make me feel redemption is potentially within Rumple's grasp... though it escapes him over and over again.

  2. Great list, Jenelle!:D (And I have to say, I completely agree about OUAT Rumplestiltskin. While I can't claim to love him all that much, he's a fascinating character, no? And you do root for him, even though he can be so irksome at times:P

    1. Yes! It is one of the difficulties I have with the show, actually, that I'm consistently drawn to root for the bad guys... but everyone always seems to be teetering on the knife's edge. Prince Charming isn't quite so charming all the time, and watching a hero tumble is far less enjoyable than watching a villain find redemption. Of course, I'm just a sucker for a good redemption story anyway... :)

  3. What you're saying about Rumplestitlskin makes me think of my favorite character on Lost: Sawyer. Con man, murderer, thief, ex-convict, and prone to being really mean... but now and then, he does the right thing for the right reasons, and gradually he learned to be a better man. Not a perfect one, but a better one. Character growth is so essential, isn't it? And yet so tricky to master.

    I adore mysteries and many crime shows (Hi, Gibbs!), but I actually get kind of annoyed if I figure out the ending on my own -- I feel like the writer made it too easy, then. Happily, I don't try to figure endings out, so I'm not annoyed that often :-) What are some of your favorite crime shows or mystery books?

    1. I don't mind figuring out the ending, it makes me feel quite intelligent. (I don't want it to be easy to figure out... so I'm probably harder to please in this respect, LOL) This could be because, while growing up, we would have family movie nights and my dad would often pause the movie and say, "Okay... predictions?" and we'd all try to come up with what was going to happen next or how things would end up. I think that sort of helped "tune me in" to watching for certain story-lines and plot devices. I can generally figure out what is going to happen (especially in crime shows, because there are only so many ways to tell the "someone's been murdered, who did it?" story, and it's all the additional stuff that makes it compelling.

      Favorite crime shows: NCIS, Castle (because: writer! Well, and Nathan Fillion), Grimm (which is sort of a crime show... sort of), Person of Interest (new favorite!), NCIS: Los Angeles (not as much as NCIS, but still fun).

      Mystery books - honestly, I don't read a lot of mystery. I like an element of mystery in the stories I read/shows/movies I watch, but like I said, it doesn't have to be in the "mystery" genre. That said, I really loved The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn. At first glance it's a sci-fi novel, but it's really a mystery set in space. I also enjoyed his Night Train to Rigel (another mystery with a sci-fi setting), and I've recently become a fan of the Dresden Files (which I wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone under the age of 18, but I do enjoy the "whodunit" mixed with urban fantasy in a really well-written set of novels... and the fact that I almost never figure out what's going to happen in them).

    2. My dad used to try to guess what would happen next while watching movies with us, and it drove me nuts because it removed me from the world in front of me. So possibly that's why I don't do that much myself?

      I love NCIS and Castle too :-) And Bones, though I haven't watched either NCIS or Bones for a number of years, and I'm a couple seasons behind on Castle. Anymore, it's all I can do to keep up with Agents of SHIELD. And last year I did watch Forever, which I loved and miss. I keep hearing great things about Person of Interest, so I'm going to give it a try some day.

      And the Dresden Files are also on my radar, though I haven't sampled them yet. Do they need to be read in order?

    3. Sorry I missed your reply! Agents of SHIELD is growing on me a bit.

      The Dresden Files are designed so you don't need to read them in order, I think... but if you don't read them in order I think you'd miss out on a lot of the unfolding and building of the world and character. Dresden gets progressively more powerful throughout the series, and certain elements build on each other from previous books (though he also references things that happen "between" books that you don't get to read about at times) ... Jim Butcher does a good job "catching you up" on anything you might have missed if you don't read them in order... but personally, I'd recommend reading them in order. I'm weird that way, though. I think series ought to be read in order ;)

    4. With regards to your comment about being pulled out of the world in front of you... I totally get that. However, I'm really odd, in that I don't watch tv or movies to "escape" or be immersed in some alternate story line. I watch them because I enjoy them, but I am absolutely incapable of turning my brain off during them. For me, it's an event. Often a social event, because I prefer not to watch movies alone... I like having someone there with me so we can dialogue about lines we liked, moments we enjoyed, or back up those "pump your fist in the air, YAY" moments. I'm just constantly analyzing the story, the characters, thinking, reacting, determining whether or not I like or agree with what is being presented. I have come to realize that this is a very peculiar way to watch movies or television, but there you have it. [shrug]

    5. I tend to prefer to read series in order, but occasionally if I need a new book and the library doesn't have the first one in a series, I will just start with the one that interests me the most, and if I like it, I go back and begin at the beginning. I did that with Jan Burke's "Irene Kelly" mysteries.

      I don't watch movies to escape so much as to experience, if that makes sense. The same with books. I want to learn about different people and different places, and vicariously experience new things that I otherwise never would get to. I don't turn my brain off -- I focus it narrowly and intently. One of my favorite ways to watch a movie is with my best friend who lives on the complete opposite end of the country from me, so we watch them simultaneously and instant-message each other all through them, commenting on the movie as we go. It's a totally different form of immersion, but such an enriching way to watch something. On the other hand, I love to go to movie theaters alone because I don't want someone to break my focus constantly -- there are only certain people I truly enjoy going to a movie in the theater with because I can trust them not to talk too much. And I love watching movies at home because I can pause it to discuss something and not have to have my focus disrupted while I'm watching. But there's a difference, to me, between pausing the movie to say, "Hey, did you realize that there are a bunch of people who are really mad that Black Widow got captured and everyone else goes to rescue her because they think that turned her into a helpless female? I think that's utter rot. What do you think?" and pausing the movie to say, "What do you think happens next?" I don't want to guess what will happen next! I want to experience it as it happens. (Also, as a writer, I'm perfectly capable of coming up with 14 different scenarios for what comes next -- do we really want to spend 45 minutes talking about them?)

      A college professor of mine once told someone that I watch movies the way other people read books. A coworker later told me I read books the way other people watch movies. For me, it's the same process -- focus, experience, learn. Which involves thinking and analyzing as I go, and then doing more of that once I've finished the story too. But not guessing. Guessing is pointless, to me. (EXCEPT when it came to Lost, which I spent hours theorizing about, but only in my head -- I didn't want to share my theories or read anyone else's.)

    6. For sure. :) I'm so not used to coming across people who watch movies/tv the way I do! Didn't mean to imply that that was the way YOU watched movies or tv, just that it tends to be the norm.

      And yes, there is a difference between those two scenarios, and like you, most of mine tend to be more along the lines of your first scenario - though my husband and I watch enough crime dramas that we really do enjoy making the occasional prediction out loud (and sometimes we're right, and sometimes we're wrong - both are fun, because being right brings a sense of "Yay, I'm smart!" and being wrong you get to go, "Whoa! Did not see that coming! Good job, writers!")

      That's neat that you can watch movies on opposite sides of the country with your friend. My family all lives on the opposite end of the country and it's hard for us to even find time to video chat when everyone is awake... so I'm impressed and a little jealous :)

      Okay, what did you think of how LOST ended?

    7. It helps that she doesn't have kids, and the time difference works out perfectly that she's just finishing work when I'm just getting my kids to bed, so she can grab something to eat and we watch/chat while she's having supper and before I go to bed myself. Works out marvelously well.

      Okay, and yes, once in a while when watching a crime TV show, I will say something like, "Oh, please, it's totally so-and-so." But those are the instances where I'm all annoyed because the writers aren't fooling me well enough -- if I happen to be wrong in those instances, I'm all happy because they were doing a better job writing than I thought. I'm weird about mysteries, though -- they're my favorite genre, but I don't like trying to guess the answers. Maybe I read one too many Encyclopedia Brown mysteries as a kid? Dunno.

      Anyway... I loved how Lost ended. I spent the entire series convinced/terrified that Sawyer was going to get killed off At Any Moment. He was absolutely the reason I got addicted to that show, and while I enjoyed it as a whole, I loved it for Sawyer. I have 5 characters whom I am so attached to that they transcend the word "favorite," so to have him not only live to the end but also end up happy with Juliet? I was so pleased and relieved. Having the flash-sideways world turn out to be a sort of purgatory was okay with me, having the island not 100% explained was okay with me, having so many mysteries not cleared up was okay with me -- Sawyer was not only whole but happy, and that's all I cared about.

      What did you think?

    8. (Hey, look, I'm working on another Hamlet read-along post, and it's making me super wordy! This keeps happening...)

    9. Just read back over my comment, and I meant I have 5 characters "in all of fiction" that are beyond my favorites, and Sawyer's one of them. Not 5 characters all from Lost.


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