What makes an amazing story? Rounded, believable characters, certainly. An intriguing plot with sufficient conflict - which can be outer or inner, or ideally both. Descriptions which engage the senses, drawing readers in to the characters' world and bringing the tale to life.
Another ingredient I look for is transformation. Do the characters grow as the story progresses? How do they find redemption, or become kinder people, concerned about others and not only themselves? Perhaps they experience a spiritual awakening and end up more aware than they had been at the start of the story, which reflects in their outward choices and behaviours.
Visionary fiction is beginning to be recognised as a genre in its own right. It covers stories where growth in consciousness is a central theme, driving the protagonist or other important characters. It brings forth gems of wisdom in story form. Examples range from Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, through James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy to books where the spiritual component is more subtle, a gentle but integral undercurrent flowing through the story. Recently I enjoyed the Course in Miracles-inspired Dreams of Dying by Shaman Elizabeth Herrera and The Guardian Angel's Journal (Carolyn Jess-Cooke).
Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love - an amazing read - and The Shack (William P Young) are also transformative books. They are written from a Christian perspective however, whereas Visionary Fiction as a genre is universal in its scope and not aligned to any one religion.
At its best, visionary fiction inspires its readers. It prompts them to reflect on life's bigger questions and may spur them on to make positive changes in their own lives. But (as with good Christian Fiction) it needs to do this in a way that doesn't come across as preaching, or make the story appear forced.
The Visionary Fiction Alliance aims to raise the profile of the genre. You can find out more by visiting its website.
Peter Parr: Quaker, writer, A Course in Miracles student and former member of the British minigolf team. (Actually those are all just roles I play. Words can't describe who any of us really are.)