What qualities make for a favorite author?

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What qualities make for a favorite author?

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oct. 6, 2015, 3:21pm

I'm not conscious of having many favorites among either authors or books, at least not in the way that I think most readers mean. I don't do a lot of rereading, and I may or may not follow an author after reading one book I like, although I will follow a particular series if I find it engaging enough and lacking in major flaws.

But I have thought a lot about the qualities that I value most highly in an author, perhaps those that warrant "favorite" status among readers.

At the top of the list for me is trust. I can explain what I mean by that, but first I'd like to see what others would put on their list. Let's talk about what makes an author a favorite of yours. And of course we want to know who exemplifies those virtues.

oct. 6, 2015, 4:03pm

When you used the word trust, my author pointer spun directly to Tim Gautreaux. I've only read one book of short stories - Welding with Children. They begin with the same flavor as Flannery O'Connor's stories, but they veer off to a completely different kind of ending.

I've read materials that tell me what I should get out of O'Connor, but never been able to get past that issue of not trusting her. I don't know whether Gautreaux speaks at the same level as O'Connor, but him, I trust!

oct. 6, 2015, 4:10pm

A thoughtful question. I'm interested to learn how your trust in an author (or is it: an author's trust which you recognise?) helps put them on that short list.

For me, I've not thought about this too carefully before this group and this thread. For the moment, I'd say there needs to be at least one of these:
1 - Consistently interesting stories: could be plot, character, setting, premise. An example: Iain M. Banks, the writer of speculative fiction moreso than literary fiction
2 - A unique style of prose or verse: the story almost doesn't matter. An example: James Branch Cabell
3 - A philosophy which is revealed in the writing. An example: Gregory Bateson

If an author is a favourite of mine, usually that means reading a lot of that author's work. Only recently is it coming to mean I will re-read them.

oct. 6, 2015, 4:16pm

--Complexity: I don't like shallow writing or shallow thinking.
--Daring: I don't like complacency -- either or style or of substance. This is one reason I tend to get tired of books written in series.
--Sincerity: I want the story I'm reading to be the one the author was driven to tell.

If these elements are present then I am inclined to trust the author, even if the book they end up writing is not one that speaks to me.

oct. 6, 2015, 5:49pm

I don't think I've ever thought about trust regarding writers...In retrospect, maybe I didn't like one and it had to do with trust, but probably that would be just another way of saying I wasn't drawn in. I think there are two ways I love an author:
1. i feel extremely sympatico (this usually includes style as much as anything, but definitely also world-view
2. They impress me beyond expectations--the humor of Rabelais, the everything of Finnegan's Wake...

oct. 6, 2015, 7:18pm

When I speak about trusting an author, which is to say reading an author I can trust, I mean things like this:

The author (for ease of pronoun reference, let's say it's a man)

• is a competent writer (knows his craft),
• delivers what he promises (the book sets expectations and then fulfills them), and
• doesn't cheat (no rabbits out of hats, no weird left turns, no sentimental, manipulative goop, no major threads left hanging or questions whose answers are just wrong).

"No cheating" means more to me than internal consistency. Introducing an improbable coincidence, leaving the inexplicable unexplained (suddenly the guy is out of the barricaded mine shaft wired with explosives--how did that happen?), using far-fetched contrivances (as, for example, in a certain popular Scandinavian mystery in which not one but two rare, incurable hereditary diseases figure prominently), slapping on an ill-fitting ending and abandoning the book because he can't solve the problems he created--these are all authorial cheats as far as I'm concerned.

The trustworthy author is also reliable when it comes to grammar, usage, and style. His plots and characterization are sound. He presents ideas and themes without being didactic or moralistic or laying out naked messages. And he has an imaginative, even mythic, quality that makes me feel he's tapping into something a little bit deeper.

Another member (pgmcc) elsewhere added to my thoughts on this by saying that the author creates an environment in which he will be comfortable spending many hours. I agree with that.

As a reader, I'm investing a precious commodity--my time and attention--and I expect the author to respect that. One way that an author disrespects an audience is through sheer sloppiness--poor grammar, needless repetition, inconsistent detail, lost threads: exactly the kind of thing that's caught in a rigorous edit, which some people misguidedly regard as an optional step.

Of course I will make allowances for the odd dud, as long as those don't outnumber the bull's-eyes. I'm as forgiving of an author I like as I am severe with one who for some reason has incurred my displeasure. In choice and disposition of reading matter, as nowhere else in my life, I'm an autocratic dictator, exercising absolute authority to raise up and strike down as I see fit, with no apology owing. Ah, power.

I also like it when the author trusts his audience to be competent readers and doesn't talk down or spell things out too much. This is a gray area, but I don't mind working at it if there's a payoff. That's what rewards my investment.

oct. 6, 2015, 8:15pm

I don't like noticing the same plotlines, characterizations or cliches from book to book. Are they telling the same story or using the same themes over and over again? I'll start to get tired of an author if I notice this.

When I was in high school and college, I really liked Chuck Palahniuk until I noticed that his books are basically all the same. As an adult, I fell in love with Gayle Forman based on If I Stay but got tired of the fact that her books all have romantic happy endings. I get it, it's a genre, but her writing could transcend that genre if she would only let it.

oct. 6, 2015, 8:58pm

Thanks for this thread, >1 Meredy: and all the posters are giving me something to think about.

How much of an author’s work do you have to read and loved for them to be considered a favorite?

Like you Meredy, I’m not sure if I have true favourite authors. I can’t think of a book I’ve re-read. I feel I might not be well read enough to declare favorites. It’s true for everyone, we can only have favourites of the ones we’ve read so far, but to stake my sense of taste on only the small number of books I’ve read seems risky.

There’s authors I’d recommend if someone asked me, but if someone asked me who's your favourite author I don't know what I’d say. I’ve read books by sci-fi author Alistair Reynolds and my favorite has been his standalone that isn’t part of any series, which was disappointing to find out after finishing it. My top 3 or 4 books of the last few years have been standalone, either the author is known by that work, or they only wrote 1 or two books. Does that make them a favorite author?

>3 elenchus: if finding consistency in an author's oeurve is important than I'm still searching for a favorite author.

Trust seems to encapsulate a lot for you! It’s got me thinking and reading your post >6 Meredy: I think Anne Rice broke my trust in Blood canticle. The conceit that she constantly users of telling the story through the main character using first person narration as if they’re writing a dairy got stretched well past breaking point. That book felt self-indulgent.
My general criteria for liking any book would be:
-Does a book make me feel something
-Would I want to be friends with the characters, and by extension the author. Is that sympatico>5 RickHarsch:?

>4 southernbooklady: I want to agree with you about complexity but I don’t think I understand a lot the sci-fi I read, so maybe I like shallowness?

oct. 6, 2015, 9:12pm

>8 wifilibrarian: I want to agree with you about complexity but I don’t think I understand a lot the sci-fi I read, so maybe I like shallowness?

The kind of complexity I'm talking about doesn't mean "hard" and it doesn't mean math or physics. It means the author doesn't approach things one-dimensionally. Consider Agatha Christie -- there is a writer who epitomizes formulaic writing, characterization. But her stories are much more than simple whodunnits. She tends to expose all the ugly flaws of human nature. One of my favorite stories by her is the one that in my edition is called "The Mirror Crack'd" -- where the method, how the murder occurs, pales against the motive, the "why." It's about the terrible damage thoughtless people can do and the terrible lengths someone who has been hurt will go to for satisfaction. Christie, for all her reputation as a "cozy" mystery writer, is complex. There's much more going on than what you read on the surface.

Editat: oct. 6, 2015, 9:21pm

>8 wifilibrarian:
complexity. I read something by Ursula Leguin and it made me want to study physics, which I immediately found I hadn't the math for. But it must have been complex enough, yet not difficult for me to follow.

Regading the Sympatico, no, not necessarily liking the characters, its a near mystic connection with the author. I've had it with Blaise Cendrars and Alvaro Mutis to name two.

oct. 7, 2015, 7:53am

Lots of good thoughts here. I like trust as a qualifier, and the three from >4 southernbooklady: (complexity, daring, sincerity). It's difficult to review my favourite authors list and say what they have in common that got them there, but those might sum it up for me by being sufficiently generic and speaking to approach rather than content.

An example of trust: some character is spouting incredibly stupid dialogue. I trust this author is giving them those words on purpose and doesn't actually think this is great prose. I'm supposed to know, this character is that illiterate. I don't need to worry it's the author with the problem.

An example of complexity: I can't take everything a character does at face value, because that person is complex. He may be lying, for a good reason or a bad reason. He may think he's telling the truth, but he's trying to convince himself. He may believe that now, but he may change his mind later.

A example of daring: every once in a while a character is going to do something entirely unpredictable, and yet in hindsight it makes perfect sense and was foreshadowed.

An example of sincerity: the author has something to say in this story that meant something to them personally. They weren't just writing to market. And it's obvious from the reading that this message is present, not just the author claiming it in an interview.

oct. 7, 2015, 8:05am

I think it could take me a month, or a year! to try and come up with an answer to this. Everyone has brought up good points/examples, things I would take bits & pieces from, but nothing I'd simply think "what they said!" to. Also, I think (for me, at least) there's not such a single defined list, as an author who writes in one area has a rather different set of criteria than one who writes in some other genre/subject. What I look for in an author writing about the history of (some aspect of) WWII is going to be entirely different from what I look for in someone writing about science, or writing historical fic, or horror, or mysteries, etc. I mean yes, they still have to be competent and deliver appropriately and such but, they way they do those things differs vastly, I'm not sure I'd really feel comfortable classifying them in the same way.

Honestly I think the only thing I could really say about all I read, is they need to produce well-written works that entertain me, make me think, and/or teach me.

oct. 7, 2015, 8:34am

>12 .Monkey.: make me think, and/or teach me.

This is one reason I have trouble having "Favorites." I've been reading Ursula LeGuin for over 30 years. She has very little new to say to me. Whereas Michael Chabon is still pretty new to me and I keep finding things in his writing that are new and surprising.

oct. 7, 2015, 5:31pm

Suddenly, I'm back in grad school.

I remember being asked this question by James W. Hall who taught a class in creative writing on the contemporary novel and I answered, "Intelligence."

He immediately jumped on me, "What do you mean?" And I had to think hard because, while I knew it when I saw it, I found it impossible to explain what I saw.

But intelligence is that quality of an author who can write a complex plot but who does not feel it necessary to tell me all about the characters or the plot points chronologically. I think it's a quality of "underwriting." They are able to drape a veil over events that neither hides them from sight nor acts as a deceit. It's a quality of ambivalence, I think.

Usually, the writers who best do this are short story writers who understand how every word must do three jobs in that form. Bobby Ann Mason, for example. Among novelists, Dorothy Dunnett, Richard Ford, Louise Erdrich, and Michael Ondaatje are all fine examples.

I wouldn't say that Eco and Rushdie are good examples of "intelligence" the way I mean it. They are prolix on purpose, obscure by design, and genius by nature.

As usual, I'm writing this in order to find out what it is I think, and I'm not doing too well. Better quit.

oct. 7, 2015, 5:47pm

Oh goodness, I read one Michael Ondaatje and pretty much wrote him off with a Never again!! Definitely did not feel his words did multiple jobs, they didn't even do one! XD

oct. 8, 2015, 7:37am

>14 Limelite:, I'd like the author to demonstrate some insightfulness, for sure. I'm almost more concerned though that she/he grants the assumption I have some intelligence myself, which maybe amounts to the same thing: you needn't spell out everything in the finest detail like you have to explain it all. I had a bit of trouble with Middlemarch that way, I felt like I was being needlessly spoon-fed sometimes. But there was no questioning George Eliot's intelligence.

I can appreciate the distinction between telling a story in a non-straightforward way that helps get it told, versus doing it for "obscurity by design" as you say. I'm not sure I always judge correctly which it is, though. If I say the first, I might have been taken in. If I say the second, I may not have the intelligence I want to be credited with, lol.

Editat: oct. 8, 2015, 10:10am

My thought at this point is that this thread lacks focus. The only way I can think of immediately to get at the subject of this thread is to take two authors, one generally highly regarded AND appreciated here, the other highly regard and thought here to be over-rated.

I might have suggested Middlemarch for the first if not for #16. So probably this idea of mine is not going to work.

ETA: maybe it would work if the one great was agreed on, and a series of greats brought to their knees--ask me about the fall of Salman Rushdie in my esteem someday...

Editat: oct. 8, 2015, 11:34am

>17 RickHarsch:, it would take someone brave to successfully identify anyone that everyone who reads this topic will agree is a "great", but as the same fellow who has cited Finnegan's Wake as your favourite novel, it's in your blood. Will we need to resort to Shakespeare? I'm still okay with nominating George Eliot for your experiment, if I'm the only exception.

I've only read Midnight's Children and just shook my head over it, so Rushdie rates similarly low with me at the moment (but I'll try him again eventually). I'm learning that what we call a "great" today has not always been considered so, that these things rise and fall with taste and rediscovery. Herman Melville was thought nothing of until the 1930s, I believe, long after Moby Dick was published. Hemingway's reputation has seen some waves. I don't know if Ulysses will forever top various publications' charts as the best novel ever.

oct. 8, 2015, 11:46am

I haven't attempted to read any George Eliot myself, but my husband had to read Middlemarch for a uni class a few years ago and listened to some parts as audio, and I was both bored to tears and irritated. One day, I will attempt it, due to its status and my desire to investigate (almost) all titles held in such esteem, but it will be long in the future, because from what I heard, I want absolutely nothing to do with it!

oct. 8, 2015, 11:48am

There are too many reasons not to read Ulysses for it to be used. I have just found Middlemarch to be almost universally regarded with highest esteem.

As for Rushdie, I discovered him by the cover of Midnight's Children and loved the book, was very very excited by it, read it a second time immediately after finishing it the first time and the same went for his next, Shame. I even had an unusual correspondence with him: writing a novel in the early 80s I concocted the neologism sepulchritude and was quite pleased with myself. Later I found he had already published it in his first novel, a sci fi written in the seventies, his first book, Grimus. It was both a thrill and a let-down.

Editat: oct. 19, 2015, 6:45pm

I wouldn't feel qualified to address the topic of 'greatest authors', but will have a stab at 'favourite'.

One quality that really endears an author to me is audaciousness. I like it when an author has a vision for his book and dares me, as a reader, to stick with him. Even though that may mean that the book is boring, dissatisfying, confusing, or despicable, or forces me to inhabit the mind of someone repulsive.

Here's a comparison to try to explain what I mean (with the caveat that it's years since I read either book, and probably missed the point of both even at the time).

I read Iain Bank's Complicity a while back. To the best of my recollection, I thought it was a fine book. There was appropriate tension and resolution, a mystery to be unravelled, a nice sense of place and character, a certain tautness of plotting. Everything that you'd expect from a good read. I liked it, but it didn't set me on fire. I enjoyed it a lot, next please.

A few years before that, I read Heller's Something Happened. Catch-22 this ain't. You get to spend hundreds of pages exploring the desolate inner landscape of a thoroughly obnoxious character. It's sexist, racist, misanthropic, misogynistic. It's by no means entertaining. I was kind of outraged by it: how did Heller expect to entertain me by writing this repetitive dross? Granted, it had one of the best passages on the nature of consciousness I'd ever read, but that only lasted a couple of pages).

And yet I couldn't get it out of my head. The truthfulness of its vision was mesmerising Something Happened is boring and and desolate and grindingly unrelenting because what some lives are like. Heller had created a purgatory set in white-collar America, and refused to spice it up in order to entertain.

One man's artistic integrity is another's ghastly self-indulgence, but I often fall in love with authors that make me think, "Really? What on Earth made you think you could get away with that?"

oct. 29, 2015, 8:39am

This is an interesting thread, I think trust (hence loyalty) to an author depends on the type of genre of the book.

If it is Historical Fiction:

1. The story if depicted in a specific period should accurately reflect the events of the time (unless it is an alternate history on purpose)

Good: Bernard Cornwell Sharpe and Starbuck series of novels on the Napoleonic wars and American Civil War are good examples. Especially the Sharpe series where the actual battle is summarized in an afterward. His hero, Dick Sharpe, is inserted in a critical point in the real story.

Bad: I have mixed feelings with respect to Wilbur Smith in this regard.... I absolutely loved his first books... in fact all books prior to 1995. These books were well researched and I feel I have an appreciation on the development of South Africa to the 1950's reading the Courtney series. After 1995 he seems to have become less interested in research and more interested in titillation... I won't touch these later books.

2. The language of the book should at least avoid modern slang.

Good: CS Forester in his Hornblower series is great. He reflects the times and attitudes of the British naval war of the Napoleonic period. the language is suitable for the times. Patrick O'Brian goes to extremes in this regard using terms that requires a dictionary to understand...but this does not take away from the quality of his books.

Bad: Simon Scarrow His knowledge of Roman Britain is not in question... but the use of modern British slang puts me off. I doubt the F-bomb existed prior to the birth of Christ. The stories have promise but it is like listening to a piano concert but hearing clinkers to ruin it.

If it is a crime/thriller series

1. the story line should be plausible.

I like David Baldachi for this. I find his books to be interesting and logical without unnecessary jargon and detail. I like Frederick Forsyth for the same reason.

I dislike Tom Clancy books... too much detail.. I feel Iam studying for a CIA exam when reading his books.

2. In a series I like to see development of the character of main character.

I like David Baldachi for this especially in the Camel Club Series

I stopped reading the popular "Reacher" series by Lee Child. It was the same book over and over again just different locations. He is strong and unbeatable at the beginning and remains so throughout. I read a short story where Reacher was 16 in New York. NO DIFFERENCE in the character... still tough as nails and beating up Mafia as well as scoring with the women... no character development...boring after a while.

I will stop here as this is getting long... Mystery and Sci Fi books are yet to come. :)

Editat: oct. 29, 2015, 11:38am

To historical fiction I might add, grace in compromise between what characters of the period know and what modern readers know. To these authors I would say, your dialogue is addressed to your characters who are learning, your narrative to readers who already know; please distinguish!

Looking forward to your Sci-Fi bit!

oct. 29, 2015, 2:53pm

>23 Cecrow: "To these authors I would say, your dialogue is addressed to your characters who are learning, your narrative to readers who already know; please distinguish!"

I am not certain what you mean here. As far as what the average person knows about a time period, I would venture that most of us do not have intimate knowledge of a time period other than basic history lessons. I believe an author can play with the absolute truth of a situation as long as the reader is reasonably transported into the time and place.

I have several authors that have taken me to time periods in history that are fascinating:

Sacajawea by Anna L. Waldo is a superior book on the Lewis & Clarke expedition. She quotes portions of diary and then builds a story around the quote.

The Physician and The Shaman by Noah Gordon is another great series. It follows no single event but gives the reader an excellent feel for life and times of a doctor of the times and the perils of introducing new techniques especially in The Physician.

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson is another amazing book describing two major scientists of the times - Darwin and how he developed his evolution theory and Captain Robert Fitzroy who was the captain of the survey ship , The Beagle, who was the father of modern weather forecasting. A true story researched through diaries of their friendship and breakup as well as the negative influence of established Science knowledge and religious belief. My only problem with Thompson's writing is that this is a one book wonder.. he died before he could write another {sigh}

If your statement is in regards to the knowledge of the situation versus the reality... that is not what I mean by growth. I mean growth of the character's character and abilities. Jack Reacher in Lee Child's books has none of this growth... he is the same tough guy at 16 or 30 years old... the action is great (though gratuitous at times) but after reading several books one gets bored with it.

oct. 30, 2015, 7:44am

I meant, loosely citing a recent example that annoyed me, an author does not need to explain to me in narration what a stretcher is useful for. I know the concept, it's your characters who just figured it out.

I'd like to read Sacajawea. I gave The Physician to my mom as a Christmas gift, didn't know there was a sequel.

oct. 31, 2015, 2:38pm

I've been pondering who my favorite favorites are since the thread began. Out of at least 50 that I love I think 5 stand out, each for different reasons.

Paul Gallico because he tells a story that is on so many levels, but always the story is touching, the characters are full and rich. A young person can enjoy the plot, while an adult sees the depths (and sometimes the other way around.

Arthur Upfield because again, he brings a fantastic character, in a setting and a time so different from here and now, to life and the plots are always interesting.

Anne Perry because her characters face moral challenges that make them who they are. The historical setting is truthful, the plots complex enough to be interesting.

Catherine Webb/Kate Griffin because she is perhaps the most accomplished wordsmith on the planet.

and Craig Johnson who has not failed to bring into being characters and a setting that takes a part of you and claims it as his own.

Consistency seems to be the underlying factor among them. Paul Gallico said, "I'm a rotten novelist. I'm not even literary. I just like to tell a story." I can count on these writers to always tell me a good story.

Editat: nov. 2, 2015, 12:28pm

touchstones, so I can skip to their pages

Paul Gallico
Arthur Upfield
Anne Perry
Craig Johnson

and I agree with you on Kate Griffin. I've read two of her books, and I'm pacing myself for a couple of reasons. First, her prose is so rich that it's an intense emotional ride. Second, I don't want to get to the end of her output.

Editat: nov. 2, 2015, 1:14pm

>26 mysterymax: George Guidall's readings of Craig Johnson's books are great, have you listened? I started Junkyard Dogs on the subway and the opening scene had me laughing out loud. My county library doesn't carry them any more so I have to use my dad's account at the Williamsburg system. Even with that gawdawful OneClick platform it's worth the trouble.

Yeah, at this stage in my reading I'm only looking for information or entertainment. Fiction writers with more than one book who never let me down- Flannery O'Connor, Michael Chabon, Goethe, Thorne Smith, and Donald Westlake, and Tom Sharpe. Must be dozens more.

Editat: nov. 3, 2015, 6:54am

>27 2wonderY: Thanks for the touchstones, what was I thinking?

The first books I read of Griffin's were under her real name Catherine Webb - the series starting with The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle which was in our library's YA section. I am usually frustrated beyond belief with 'description' narrative. It's like 'get on with the story already'. I found myself being awed by the way her description first: moved the plot, moved with the plot, and secondly: was so real that you could imagine yourself there. See it, feel it, smell it. But never was the momentum lost. I was hooked.

Then I found she wrote 'adult' stories under the name Kate Griffin. - hopefully there is no end to her output. I have finished The Glass God and am eagerly awaiting another read from her! I remember being so confused in the beginning of A Madness of Angels, but her writing was so fantastic that I stuck with it. Then, of course, realized that the reason I was confused was because Matthew Swift was also very confused! From that moment I just gave myself over to her and she can tell me any story at all and I will be along for the tale.

nov. 3, 2015, 7:48am

I've never heard of this Catherine Webb/Kate Griffin person, but this is exactly the kind of hyperbole that sucks me into giving somebody a shot.

Editat: nov. 3, 2015, 8:22am

>30 Cecrow: You won't be sorry!

Ah! Perhaps I can lite-dine on her Catherine Webb output. A Madness of Angels is genius level writing and blew me away. Rather than follow quickly with another Matthew Swift, I read Stray Souls, which is perhaps even more appealing, as she took the time to create a full cadre of wonderful characters. I consider her to be both experimental and highly creative, and all successful.

nov. 3, 2015, 8:28am

>28 SomeGuyInVirginia: Junkyard Dogs was also my introduction toCraig Johnson and I had exactly the same reaction. I feel terribly sad for those folks whose only knowledge of Johnson comes from the Longmire tv show. It's a good show but lacks the tremendous depth and humor of the books.

nov. 3, 2015, 8:30am

>31 2wonderY: Stray Souls was fun. And more so because of Matthew! The characters are wonderful, as you said, a much lighter vein than the Swift saga...

nov. 4, 2015, 11:23am

>26 mysterymax:

Thanks for "remembering me" Paul Gallico. When a kid, I read his gentle Christmas allegory, Snowflake, which I fear is no longer in print. When a bit older, I tried Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, charming in an unmemorable way. I suppose he's most famous for The Snow Goose, an unrepentant work of sentimentality and The Poseidon Adventure, an overlooked story that was made into an "Ark Movie" that was a popular hit.

nov. 6, 2015, 11:07am

I have always loved the ones with animals... a boxing champion kangaroo, the apes on Gilbralter, the boy who turns into a cat, but doesn't know anything about being a cat... The Mrs 'Arris books are probably the least memorable of the bunch. The human cindition in The Man Who Was Magic and The Boy Who Invinted the Bubble Gun are also favorites.

nov. 10, 2015, 11:57am

Belivability I think is my key component. An author who crafts a world however strange and distant from this one, but that still have that key internal consistency. Characters and situations that have naturally arisen -of course she'd meet a wolf there, that's where they've always lived - and that you can imagine continuing in their lives after the hero has passed through. Sufficient little details to spark an image, without being overwhelming.