I finally figured it out--"it" being the esoteric quality that makes me walk away from some books in disgust while I keep others open with the pages turning at a steady rate. Okay, I'll be honest--I figured out one of the esoteric qualities. I'm quite sure there are others.
In this case, though, the "it" is the type of conflict. Now, I think every aspiring writer recalls a class in writing in which the teacher explains, in a more or less interesting manner, that the "plot"--the term that refers to the essence of the story's path through events--revolves around conflict, and that there are five basic types of conflict known to man. These five types of conflict have formed the greater part of the written legacy of mankind for as long as we've been writing. Come on, I know you recall this lesson. Recite it with me.
Conflict Numero Uno: Man versus Self. A character, main or otherwise, interests us in the telling of his battles against something in himself, typically either his conscience or his internally-defined limitations. "Oh, but I can't do this. Oh, yes I can. Oh, no I can't," argue Harry Potter and all the other whining would-be heroes in this type of conflict. Number Two is Man versus Man: Harry Potter versus Voldemort, and Harry Potter versus Professor Snape, and Professor Snape versus Voldemort, and even Harry Potter versus Hermione versus RonRon versus Voldemort for a little bit of wicked foursome action. This one's probably the easiest conflict to write about, because it's just a matter of "Hey, you took my girl! No, I didn't! *bang* *pow* *biff*" Simple stuff, right?
Conflict Three: Man versus Society, or at least a Very Large Group who is calling a certain number of the shots. Conflict Four is Man versus Nature, and don't we all love a good nature story? Especially so, I add, when nature is wrapping itself like a huge animated vine around the protagonist's ankles to bring him down. That's not the only natural force involved in the fourth type of conflict, of course, but it's the most visual. Conflict Five is Man versus Fate: Harry Potter must die, and so must Perseus. Are they masters of their own destiny, or victims?
There you have it--the five conflicts. Everybody knows them, and pretty much everyone agrees with that categorization. Everyone, that is, who's never had a love affair go wrong. In that case, you have something that melds Man versus Self with Man versus Woman with Man versus Society, and don't you dare forget about Nature. That's four different conflicts, wrapped powerfully into one bloody emotional mess I'll just call Man versus The New Ex.
Here's the problem, though. I like reading most stories because doing so makes me forget about life's troubles. Reading is thus escapism of the grandest, most acceptable form. I enjoy titanic battles pitting man against man, or men against men, or even (perhaps especially so) women against women (woo hoo, mud wrestling! *ahem*). Man versus Self is great as well, as are the other types of conflict. But--BUT--but I've lived through too many Man versus The New Ex types of conflicts to ever, never, never in a million years, want to be reminded of that. That's the thing. I don't want that type of conflict in a book. It's not that I'm particularly squeamish; give me bloody battle scenes any day of the week. A woman scorned, though? Nope, too gory for me.
That's what ticked me off about The Magicians, which is in turn what brought this revelation to blindingly clear light for me. I'll try to dance delicately around it to keep from spoiling the plot for anyone who wishes to read the book who hasn't yet, but--well, hell, I can't. Quentin cheats on Alice. Uh, oh. And then she cheats on him. Were this an actual book instead of an audiobook, I'd be flipping the pages rapidly to find the point where (I hope) they fall back into each others' arms, or finally kill one another, one of the two. Don't care, really, just please, God (or at least, please, author) save me from the long, long narrative about the white-hot nugget of searing jealous rage that slithers down Quentin's throat and burns his esophagus and then his heart (no, it's certainly not an anatomy book) and then wraps itself through his stomach and his intestines, takes a jog around his balls then down one leg, burns his big toe pretty fiercely, and travels scorchingly back up the other leg into his spleen. I've personally lived the whole Man versus New Ex schtick (though I have to say I was never the one to cheat) and it sucks. I don't want to escape into a story about it. That's not my idea of an escape. Escape FROM it? Perhaps. Escape TO it? Nope. Nope. Triple nope.
So, all this being said, I have to believe that some conflicts are better than others. It's probably a personal thing and thus only important in the lens of the reader at the time, but--haven't all adults at one point faced the New Ex conflict? Yes, it exists, but I want to go there on a vacation from reality as much as I want to go to Greenland on a vacation from the winter.
Ah, well. At least, you can trust that I'll never have that kind of conflict in my books.
Well, probably not, anyway.
Have a great evening!