What I Love and Hate About Fiction

Dec 4, 2013Find joy today, Write!


Have you ever picked up a book and put it down? Why? Have you ever read a novel passage over and over again, relishing the language to such an extent that you cry of the sheer beauty of it? I’ve done both.

Why I put books down:

  • The book is boring or over done. (Why is it that I seem to pick up the same book, only it has a different title, different author? While formula might be blessedly predictable, I am weary of it. Give me a Life of Pi or Secret Life of Bees or The Kite Runner any day.)
  • The writing is infantile (simple N-V constructions, over-detailed, unrealistic premise)
  • The characters are flat or stereotypical.
  • The plot drags.
  • The author has written so many books that they all begin to sound the same. At that point, I move on.

Why some books steal my heart:

  • Characters are outlandish, but believable. They’ve got gumption and wit and uniqueness.
  • The prose sings. I’m read Brandilyn Collins’ book Coral Moon. My goodness, that girl can write. Her paragraphs are lovely, folks.
  • The book leaves images in my mind I can’t forget, though the author was not didactically imparting a message. I am far more moved by story than discourse.
  • Poetry of language. I suppose this is like singing prose, but when I read Peace Like a River with all those amazing, campy cowboy poems, I was hooked.
  • Situations are real-life and real characters grapple with life’s difficulties in non-pat ways. (I don’t enjoy books that end in Blissville or use the formula “if you do A, B will follow.”)
  • The author dares to buck convention, and is skilled enough to pull it off in such a way that doesn’t clunk the story.
  • I want to turn the page.
  • I don’t feel manipulated by the storyteller to believe a certain way or hold a certain theology.

What about you? What makes you relish a novel? (Click to tweet)

On a wonderful note, I once received this from my friend Deborah. She writes:

Well, I brought down a copy of Watching the Tree Limbs to give to my Christian daughter in law who has read many Christian novels in her lifetime. She said–don’t have her exact words, but something to this effect:

“I had no idea this was a Christian novel. I thought it was a good novel. (Like something by John Irving or some other quality writer) In Christian novels, the story doesn’t get that deep. They’re so focused on preaching Bible verses the story stays superficial.”

She’s 150 pages into Watching already, and we only got here in the afternoon yesterday. She said she is impressed with the character development and all that stuff she seldom has found in Christian fiction.


While I’m not at all ashamed to be called a Christian novelist, I am heartened by these words. I want to write great books that appeal to those beyond the Christian community. I want to pen beautiful, awful, lyrical, difficult stories that touch folks way down deep. These words from Deb doubly blessed me.

Click to tweet!

Thanks @MaryDeMuth for the great description of good fiction! (Click to tweet)

No more boring fiction! @MaryDeMuth shed some light on bad fiction.  (Click to tweet)

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Novels by Mary DeMuth