I’m just starting up on a new fandom. (Teen Wolf, if you’re curious)
It’s got very close to all the things I look for in entertainment material, nearly all the things that I like to have in a story. It got me thinking about what exactly it is that I look for when I try and find something entertaining because I’ll be honest: I write my stories to be entertaining to me first and foremost. That other people enjoy them is a delight but that’s not why I started writing.
So what do I want out of a story/movie/TV show/book/whatever?
First, I want intelligent, snarky characters.
I love characters that are highly articulate, very intelligent, who do smart things. I want them to express themselves well. If they can come up with all those snappy comebacks that I’m never ever able to think of at the moment I need them, I’ll love them. A piece of entertainment that has characters who are intelligent and snarky will always have a place in my heart.
Second, I want heroes.
They don’t have to be Superman or Batman, perfect and intimidating. In fact, I rather like the heroes who don’t really want to be heroes. The girl who stands up to the bullies even though she’s frightened. The boy who does what’s right when everyone else says to back down and let it go. I want people who stand by their convictions, who go that extra mile to do what they believe is necessary. They can be wrong about it, can learn that they’re wasting their effort but I want them to try. I want them to believe.
My husband loved the new Battlestar Galactica. It was gritty and real, with people who had complicated dark motivations. I couldn’t watch it. There were no heroes, not ones that I could get behind anyway. The characters were too dark, too conficted for me to read them as heroes.
Third, I want people of all ages in the story.
So many of the stories we consume are aimed at a very young audience, people who are teenagers to young adults. Naturally, those stories (and shows and movies) tend to show just that age group. There aren’t many people who are little kids or old people. There aren’t many adults who have homes and families, except as a side thing that no one pays attention to.
I don’t like that. I want to see the kids running around, the teenagers being annoyed with their parents. I want high school and college age people trying to figure out how to be adults. I want the adults there too, young ones starting their careers and older ones who are questioning if they took the right path in life. I want the old people who know so much and realize that the questions in life have changed so much that their knowledge might not be very useful after all. The full diversity of ages is important to me.
Fourth, I really, really, really like it when the story/movie/whatever isn’t universally white.
People of Color (POC) exist and I want them in my entertainment media. Not just as sidekicks or bad guys, mind you. I want POC heroes and leaders and doctors and lawyers and police and everything. I want Asians and Africans and Hispanic and people of all colors and ethnicities, languages and cultures.
It’s something I want but very rarely get out of my entertainment so most of my own stories tend to heavily feature POC. I can’t claim that I always get it right. I’m sure I don’t. But I try because it matters to me.
Fifth, I want at least two females and they need to pass the Bechdel Test.
If those females can also be heroes and kick ass I’m in heaven but at bare minimum they have to exist and talk about something other than romance/the male characters. It’s a surprisingly hard criteria to meet given everything that’s out there. Or maybe its not too surprising. Either way I do look for it and I always rejoice when I find a story that meets that test.
And when I’m writing I always try for it as well. Heck, the Matriarcies of Murin began explicitly because I wanted a whole world where the question was if there are ever two men who talk about something other than the women in their lives. Having a world where women ruled was a wonderful way to play with it.
Sixth, I really love stories that are fantastic, not in the sense of very high quality but in the sense of ‘could not happen in the real world’.
Whether the story is science fiction or fantasy or whatever, I want some element of it, however small, to be impossible in the real world. I love things that pull me out of my daily life and take me somewhere else. The more fantastic the story (as long as it’s put together logically and consistently), the happier I tend to be. I want to be swept away into the story and fantastic elements do that for me. I’ve never been one for real world stories of any sort.
There are many other things I like (consistent character development, twisty plots, good description/visuals) but they’re not vital, not things that I must have before I’ll really like a story/movie/TV show. And honestly, I can enjoy shows that are missing one or two of those elements, especially the POC and Bechdel Test ones. Sadly, I’m more or less resigned to not getting those out of media I consume. If a story is missing three or more of those elements then I just won’t be able to get into it. They’re too important to me.
For the stories I create, I always include those elements. Always. They’re important to me and thus I always make the effort to include them in my work. I doubt I’ll ever be perfect at any one of those aspects of storytelling but I try. I’ll keep on trying and keep on asking those questions of the media I consume.
After all, in my opinion it’s only by demanding more that we get better.