Characters and feelings
I'm a greedy reader. When I commit to a story, I want to know how the characters think and feel. I'm usually disappointed if they leave me scraping on the surface.
This is not to say that there's no space for purely plot-driven stories. They can compensate for a lack of character depth with well-planned intrigue and mystery (they kind of have to), but the reader will notice the difference, especially if they can't 'enter' the hearts and minds of the characters.
It recently happened to me with one of the series I watch on Netflix. I was surprised about my reluctance to continue watching, despite the desire to see this mystery solved. The trouble was, I didn't really care about any of the characters. What is more, I came to dislike most of them. No amount of murder or mystery was enough to keep me hooked.
This reminded me that pulling off both deep, fully rounded and relatable characters AND a great and intriguing plot is one hell of a job for any writer. There are many who do this well, too many to fit in one blog post, so I will make an unfair selection and single out a few of my recent favourites.
Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca - an absolutely amazing and gripping classic, where every word pulls you deeper into the sombre, tragic story. Daphne du Maurier is a master in creating relatable characters the reader can feel with/for, as well as a plot that takes you to unexpected, yet completely logical places. 'Rebecca' doesn't only haunt the main characters, it haunts the reader too.
Sarah Hilary: No Other Darkness - a real emotional page-turner, built on great characters you can't but root for. Sometimes, love takes people to dark places and digs out painful secrets that make the reader sympathise with the main character, no matter how deeply flawed they are, or perhaps because of it. Though the story takes on difficult topics, it does so with great skill and insight, which gives the characters a life of their own.
Gillian Flynn: Dark Places - a haunting story about a terrible murder that was supposed to have been solved, except now it looks like it hadn't been. This is definitely one of the best plots I've read in a while. All the characters travel to dark places and then try to escape them. Unputdownable. It's a complex plot, but one I will never forget.
Fiona Barton: The Child - In this story, the characters practically peel themselves off the page and jump out. The topic of the book was far away from my interests, yet I was pulled into this story with such force, the pages practically turned themselves. The ending was somewhat predictable, yet strangely enough not any less satisfying because of it.
How about you? What stories pull you in and why?