It’s been a while since I’ve fallen in love with a novel, so I’m really looking forward to you being my next love.
It’d be so perfect! I’d re-read you over and over again. I’d tell my friends about you. And I’d re-read you once more then, because you would be so worth it! I wouldn’t even care if you had beautiful and enchanting style. Your words could be simply entertaining, and I’d love you all the same.
Dear Book, I really want to love you, with that unconditional kind of love
Yet, my recent relationships with other books didn’t seem to work out too well. From me walking out halfway through our very first date, to me really trying to make it work somehow… These failed relationships left me somewhat scarred and bitter, but I’m still hoping the true love is just around the next page.
I know it’s not easy on you either. You want to be loved and celebrated and praised. You want me to talk about you and you want to make me happy. That’s I thought I’d give you some hints on how to make our relationship work.
There are many things I will love, and some that I’ll forgive, but there are also those which are a deal breaker for me. So please, please, please, dear Book, don’t do any of the following.
Don’t make your main character stupid
Reading science-fiction and fantasy requires certain amount of suspending one’s disbelief. We don’t travel to distant planets, and magic still hasn’t been scientifically proved, while unicorns don’t roam our forests waiting for the fair maidens and sugar cubes to be delivered by a sentient drone.
But to see the main character, the one I hope to not only love but maybe also relate to, do unreasonable things just to further the plot… It would be like you’re cheating on me, dear Book.
If you can’t make your plot work without the character constantly making bad decisions, maybe it’s time to admit the plot isn’t really that well thought out?
Instead, make the external circumstances the reason for failure. There’s even more tension in the main character trying so hard and still failing than when they get everyone killed because they can’t heed to the simple “don’t throw stones at the sleeping dragon.” Which, in fact, they might have been told over and over again.
Don’t try to tell me everything about your world
I love world building and won’t be discouraged by one or two info dumps that you deem necessary. But if you feel like you need to explain every single thing to make your story work or you’re compelled to explain to me all the world’s history, politics, economy, and geography… Let’s just not date, okay?
It’s fine if I don’t know everything. I will fill in the blanks or they’ll whet my appetite for more. As I’ll keep reading, enticed by small tidbits rather than bored by continuous info dumps, and I’ll learn a lot from context too.
Don’t make your main character naive just to teach us both
While we’re at it, your character doesn’t have to be young and sheltered to make the story work. They might already know a great deal about their world, and they don’t need a mentor figure to explain it all to them, while I sit at the school desk right beside them.
They could know it all and leave me in the dark for a while, using the trail of context to learn about the world, and figure it out while your main character learns how the world isn’t exactly how they thought it was. Because this is what the stories are often about, right? How the things are different to what the characters believe.
If you make the main character know the world already, they’ll come across more realistic and competent, and we both can still learn things when we’re confronted with “the truth” the main character wasn’t aware of. It also saves us some info dumps, don’t you think? We don’t need the “how the main character thinks it is” one. We can jump straight to the “how they’re wrong”, and that’s much more tension.
Don’t try to tell me what to think
Maybe, dear Book, eating apples is important to you. That’s fine. Many fantasy and science-fiction books address life-related issues, and I won’t hold it against them. But it isn’t really sexy when you try, dear Book, to preach your views.
Don’t tell me eating apples is better than pears. Don’t tell me that people who prefer pears are worse, are the enemy, or out right stupid.
Instead, let me draw my own conclusions. Instead of telling me that eating apples is good, show me happy people eating apples. Show me how by eating apples they solve their problems or even save the world. Show me that pear-eating people suffer. Or maybe they don’t? Maybe they share pears with apple eaters, and they all can coexist?
Show me, and I’ll draw my own conclusions.
Tell me that eating apples is what I should do and praise, and – well – we’re done.
Because it doesn’t matter what aspect of politics, religion, or social issue apple eating represents. Even when I actually agree with you on the matter, if you preach, dear Book, especially bashing the other side, we aren’t the right match.
Don’t treat me like a fool
As I said above, you don’t have to explain everything. I’ll put things together, even if I have to catch up with the more knowledgeable character. (Please do mind that waiting for them to catch up isn’t as much fun!) But also remember that I have some knowledge and experience. Don’t slack when it comes to research, or you’ll lose your credibility with me.
I can suspend my disbelief and ride along with the main character on the ocean-traversing unicorn that’s going to battle alien robots in Africa, but if you’ll have the same main character and their unicorn travel for weeks through the Sahara without any reliable source of water (and food!)… I’ll cringe through every single word of that scene.
Please, dear Book, don’t do that to me.
Don’t make the main character and their love interest fight all the time
Don’t get me wrong, dear Book. I love witty banter and some fun teasing, but when the relationship between the characters is nothing but arguments, it gets tiresome. There are so many other ways to create tension for their romance than to make them disagree with each other all the time.
I mean, would you, dear Book, want to be with a jerk or a person who takes offense for everything? I don’t, so if this is what you’re offering, we’ll part ways before our first date ends.
Dear Book, let’s be together!
I might sound like a picky and moody reader, but I really want to love you. If you don’t do any of the above, I’ll forgive you a lot.
I don’t mind if you slip here and there, and I can be really forgiving if you keep me entertained or enchanted. If your plot is lacking or slow, but you use beautiful words and immerse me in the scenes, I’ll still love you. If you can’t forge stunning sentences, thriving in simplicity, but your story is a roller coaster of fun and fast pace, I’ll still love you.
Because, dear Book, when I open you, I want us to have a great time together. I want us to have fun.
I really want to love you. Forever.
PS What makes you fall out of love with a book? What things are you willing to forgive, and which are an instant “DNF”?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.