Olivia Newport antique writing deskWhere do stories start? For me, stories begin with characters. As a writer, a character is likely to pop up in my brain first, then a setting. After that I need the elements of plot—an objective, obstacles, stakes that keep rising. As a reader, also, I tend to attach to a character before I start to care about the plot. If I don’t like the character, why should I care what happens to her?

As a writer, looking at reader reviews is nervewracking, and I try to fret about them less than I used to. I used to want every reader to love my story, even as I told myself that was an impossibility. I don’t love every story I read. Why should I expect every reader to love mine? Pining for that dream just makes me feel like the most rotten writer in the world. (Historical novelist Jody Hedlund wrote an awesome post about that.)

Sometimes I get slammed on plot in reader reviews, and sometimes it’s character development. Sometimes it’s writing style. The setting is fascinating or the setting is boring. Sometimes the theme is “too Christian” and sometimes it’s not Christian enough. Every reader brings his or her own grid to the experience of a story. I just try to let it roll off and concentrate on making each book I write the best one yet.

Still. It’s nice when people do love the story. In recent days, I’ve had some lovely messages direct from readers about the recent release of Accidentally Amish. One came just a few days ago at the end of a long, frustrating, not-getting-anything-done sort of day, and it cheered me up immensely. This reader really got the heart of my story and was articulate about it.

With Accidentally Amish the interesting reaction to watch is how people feel about the intertwining contemporary and historical story lines. Some readers attach to one and feel like the other gets in the way. On the other hand, some readers have been quite enthusiastic about the dual story lines, especially as they see the themes come together deep into the book.

What about you? How do you rate these elements in determining whether you like a book?

__ Character

__ Plot

__ Setting

__ Writing style

__ Theme