Bookish Musings: Broad vs. Narrow Scope in Books


I am having a very genre-specific problem at the moment.

It’s getting harder and harder to find sci-fi or fantasy books anymore that aren’t about saving the world.

Whatever happened to just saving a loved one? Or pulling off a heist? Or escaping a kidnapper? Or completing a journey? Or finding something/someone? I mean, seriously, there are a million different goals a book can have, as proven by the many successful books in other genres, so why are they all about saving the world?

At this point, I won’t even pick up a book anymore if it’s the first in a series and it’s already about saving the world. But that got me thinking, why is that I won’t read those types of series anymore? And I realized the answer is, the scope is too broad, and I’m more of a narrow scope kinda girl. But since each has its own pros and cons, I figured I’d discuss what I like and dislike about them and then take it to you guys and see what you all have to say!

I bet you thought I was gonna do a pros and cons list after that intro, right? Well I tried, but it all seemed too subjective. Things I consider cons, you might consider pros, and vice versa, so I’m just gonna talk it out instead.

As I said, I no longer bother with books when they’re the first in a series and already about saving the world because when the scope is already that big, where does the series even go from there? Saving the world really ought to be a last book kinda thing, in my opinion. So, if it’s already in the first book, that means every book is probably going to be about saving the world because it wouldn’t make sense to go backward and make the scope smaller. And then doesn’t that get kind of repetitive if all the books are just about saving the world?

Not only that, I find it believable enough when a character gets thrown into something but then learns and grows and eventually builds up to something like that. But when a character is thrown into that and immediately gives up her whole life and sacrifices herself and has epic fighting skills all within the course of one book, that’s just not believable to me. I feel that characters need time to get ready for that kind of thing, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

The real problem I have with broad-scope books though is that I find them lacking in the type of character depth and development that I like. I like books that stay tightly focused on the main characters. I wanna be so creepily far inside their minds that I don’t even know who I am anymore. I want to feel their likes, their dislikes, their passions, their loves, the things that are super important to them personally. And that’s what I want the book to be about, what I want them to fight for, because then it means more. Saving the world or the country or some population of people is great and all, and obviously the world is, in fact, important to the character, but it’s still not personal. The world is important to everyone, and that makes the story a lot less meaningful and emotional to me.

But books with narrow scopes? Those do more often have that deeply emotional, personal aspect I like, at least when they’re written that way. And even if a book does have a broad scope, I like it more if there’s also something smaller and more personal that the character is fighting for that ties into the bigger thing.

Of course these things don’t apply to EVERY small scope or EVERY big scope book. There are plenty of books with narrow focus that aren’t super emotional or even character-driven. And I’m sure there are some with broad focus that are. And with broader scopes often comes more action, maybe even more characters or world-building, etc.

Anyway, I know what I like based on the experiences I’ve had with the books I’ve read, but now I want to hear about your reading experiences and what you like!


Talk to me!

Do you prefer books that have a broad scope or a narrow scope?
Do you think either of them tends to be more character-focused? Or more plot-focused?
What other differences have you noticed?


Your Thoughts


36 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: Broad vs. Narrow Scope in Books

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  1. Greg

    I have a similar problem with fantasy- I’ve read the Lord of the Rings and a bunch of other save the world type epic fantasies, and what I’m more in the mood for now is grittier, smaller focus fantasies- where it’s a protagonist trying to survive and being out for oneself or trying to save a loved one- personal goals. So yeah. šŸ™‚

    And while I do like a plot focused book I appreciate the character driven stories, getting to know the chars and getting in their heads. And what I really like is a book that can thread the needle between broad or narrow focus- instead of saving the galaxy maybe the story starts small, character driven, and then as a series expands to have larger stakes. It doesn’t need to be galactic level, but maybe there are broader consequences to a story that initially is very personal.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I like those grittier personal stories rather than stories about martyrs and saviors. I’m also fine if the series starts personal and builds up to saving the world in some natural way, but I usually don’t want to read about someone saving the world in the first book.

  2. Mareli Thalwitzer

    Have you noticed that I don’t read a lot of fantasy? Every now and then I love good fantasy novel! Just finished A Darker Shade of Magic (is that fantasy – not very familiar with the genre…) and loved it.
    But I do like your point of view in this post immensely And agree with you. We can’t all save the world – but we do stand a change to save a loved one or a dog or a wand or a lost fairy. Not interested in saving a vampire.
    I also prefer books where you can “feel” with the characters and get into their heads and. Ooops – my favorite genre is murder/mystery/thriller. Not the best reflection here.
    Strong characters and good writing – that is what I like in a book!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Ah, see, I read mostly fantasy, so I run into this problem a lot. And I haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic but I’m fairly certain it is in fact fantasy lol.

      But what?! *I* want to save the vampires!

      I’m not really into the mystery/thriller genre, but hey, you can still feel with the characters in that genre! Just because they’re solving a mystery or something, that doesn’t mean it’s not personal to them or that they don’t have personal things going on, inner demons, etc. šŸ™‚

      1. Mareli Thalwitzer

        You should really read A Darker Shade of Magic! It’s just magical. I guess I need to write a review… But there are soooo many out there on that series. Nah – don’t like vampire books. I’ve read The Twilight series and was Marked Vampires or what again? I do however watch The Originals…. But not Vampire Diaries.

        1. Kristen Burns

          I’d like to try V.E. Schwab, but I can’t find the ebooks at my library or on Hoopla :-/ Though I’d probably start with Vicious, it seems more my kinda thing.

          I love vampire books! Maybe you just need to try some different ones since Twilight is not the best example? And I don’t know what Marked is. And I’ve never watched Vampire Diaries or The Originals. But I have read 21 vampire books so far this year and 44 last year lol. If I knew your taste better I could give recs, but maybe you just don’t like vampires regardless of the book. I mean, I don’t care for shifters or djinn even though I’ve given those numerous tries.

          1. Mareli Thalwitzer

            I’ll make you a deal – let me know what your ultimate favorite Vampire book is and I’ll read it and let you know. Maybe I just need to meet the right “one” you know.

            1. Kristen Burns

              But we might have completely different taste! I’ll wait until I get to know your taste better and then maybe I can figure out a good one for you to check out šŸ™‚

  3. Greta Cribbs

    I definitely feel your pain! I’m a huge Supernatural fan (yeah, I know, that’s a TV show, not a book, and it’s more fantasy than sci-fi) and I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I adored the first two seasons but find that later seasons do not quite live up to the same standard. I think you’ve helped me understand why. The first two seasons were personal. It was all about Sam and Dean and their personal quest. After season two everything was on a larger scale and it just didn’t have the same emotional impact. Thank you for this insight.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha, it’s all good, TV shows totally apply too! I never got super into Supernatural to be honest, but I did watch 9 seasons (kind of contradicts my previous statement, but I really wanted to give it a fair chance, haha), and I totally get what you’re saying. The scope just got out of control big. No problem, I’m glad my post could give you some insight šŸ˜€

  4. Lola

    Oh great topic! I do still like some saving the world books, but I also like it when there are enough narrower problems as well. So it’s not just saving the world or making peace in the galaxy, but also smaller/ more personal things. And sometimes those big saving the world plot lines can be great if I am in the mood for that, but often I prefer the more narrower scope I think as I like those personal problems.

    And yes I definitely think there should be build-up in a character to such saving the world thing. And not all characters are the type to save the world and it can be a bit unrealistic at time show those heroes give up everything to save the world. I want to know why they acre or what personality they have that would actually make them do that, but even then i do think it takes time to actually accept you’re going to save the world.
    Also something only half related, sometimes it surprises me how unselfish all those book characters are, sure I give up my whole live to save the world not a problem. Most people just aren’t that unselfish and sometimes I would like to see characters be more selfish and go for what they really want.

    Good point about how the world is important for everyone, which makes it feel less personal. Just like you I prefer to get to know the characters personally and I think personal problems are easier to relate to. Although you can have a broad and narrow scope in one. For example Siobhan Davis her Saven series there are big problems like saving the world big, but there are also a lot of personal problems and troubles mixed in between. So it has a nice mix of more global scale things and more personal scale things.

    And indeed there are also books with a narrow scope that aren’t as personal or emotional, so it does till depends on the exact book. But I do think that overall narrow scopes are more likely to feel more personal. It’s harder to make a big scope personal, not impossible, but it seems to happen less often. I do think I rather read about personal problems and narrow scope in general than broader scopes. Although I will pick up broader scopes books as well. Now I am wondering if the last book I read I enjoyed less because of this and maybe if narrow or broad scope is also something I have to be in the mood for. Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! And yes, exactly, *I* am not that selfless that I’d just suddenly give up my entire life to save the world, and I feel like most people aren’t either. But if it started small and personal and built up to that while still staying personal in some way and preparing the person for the big thing, that’s a lot more realistic and believable.

      There can be broad and narrow scope in one book if the character has a personal motivation but it relates to saving the world, but I don’t know, I’m still just kind of tired of that too. Those books just never seem to have the emotion that I want. It’s still too big for Book 1. But like I said, if the series builds up to that, that’s a different story.

      Of course, it definitely depends on the book, but I agree that in general narrow scope books are more emotional and character-focused while broad scope are less emotional and more plot-focused. But that’s interesting that for you it just depends on your mood! Thanks šŸ™‚

  5. verushka

    This is an interesting POV — I haven’t really thought of it like this before or rather, hadn’t really noticed if the books I read fall into that sort of category of too broad plots. I think that because it’s fantasy, I’d let the whole broader “saving the world” plot point go. But what would definitely bother me is if the character development sucked — it’s the little details like that which would drive me nuts. It’s the love triangles and romances that overshadow a plot that make or break a book for me. Weird, I know šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      Well that’s the thing, most of the broad-focused books I’ve read have been lacking in character development. Sure, not every broad-focus book is lacking, but so many are that I just tend to avoid them now. And while I’m not into typical type romance, I don’t even mind if books don’t have much plot if they have super duper amazing character and relationship depth and complexity to make up for it šŸ™‚ But it’s not weird that you don’t want other things to overtake the plot, we all like what we like!

  6. Geraldine @ Corralling Books

    I don’t read many fantasy/sci-fi books, but the ones that I do read are more broad-scope ones I guess?
    I can’t really think of any narrow-scope ones – but I can definitely see how one might prefer one type over another.
    Based on the description of both scopes – I’d probably enjoy reading narrow-scope books – I just have to find one! Do you have any recommendations?
    Interesting topic – I’ve never heard of broad and narrow scope books before šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      I feel like most of the popular ones are broad-scope, which is why I never have interest in reading them and never end up reading the same books as other people and am thus always out of the loop -_-

      I probably have lots of recommendations but they’d all be indie/self pub and fantasy/sci-fi and I have no idea what your taste is? Lol. The Heartless City by Andrea Berthot is super amazing and emotional and works as a standalone. And Chase the Dark by Annette Marie builds up to big stuff by the end of the series, but it starts off with a small scope. So you can check those out if you want and see if they seem like your type of books šŸ™‚

  7. Keionda @Keionda Hearts Books

    This is a reallyyyyy interesting topic girl! Hmm, to me, i like a more of a smaller scope so that it will lead up to the bigger and better stuff in the next books to come. I find sometimes if a book has too much going on or if they are all of a sudden IN LOVE, or SUPER GOOD AT FIGHTING, all in one book, it’ makes it… less believable? Def more fun when it’s brought out and given a chance to expand in other books! šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you! Exactly, I’m completely fine with it if the series builds up to a bigger scope since it’s more believable that way, though I do like if the “saving the world” still has some sort of personal motivation for the characters. But yes, it’s definitely less believable when the characters are normal one day and then super skilled and calm in the face of danger and willing to sacrifice everything -_- So I agree!

  8. Paula Berinstein

    Yeah, Kristen. I always wondered how in every season of “Supernatural” they could have an apocalypse. No, that wasn’t the real apocalypse, *this* is it. No, wait a minute, this one is worse. Yeesh. šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha yes! I stopped after 9 seasons, but I completely get what you’re saying, and your comment cracked me up. It was like some new apocalypse every season. Not to mention every time they died they just came back, so what even were the stakes for them??

  9. Literary Feline

    I like them all, really. It depends on how it is done–the book, the world building and the characters. A save the world type book has to make sense and be believable (within the context of the book and characters). I don’t mind a series where the overreaching goal might be to save the world, each book with a smaller goal, building toward the finale–the final book where the world saving actually takes place. When it comes to fantasy, that’s really what makes the most sense if it’s going to have that type of broad theme. A novel that can take such a broad theme and yet also contain smaller themes would be ideal if you were to read a save the world type book. Like you, I like fully developed characters, strong world building and seeing how a person overcomes every day obstacles. It’s the little details that can really make a book. Or the lack of them that can hurt it.

    Something you wrote made me think of a series I gave up on. Not a fantasy series but a crime fiction series. Each book could easily stand alone, except for maybe seeing the character grow over time. Anyway, each book was pretty dark and gruesome and it felt like the author was trying to make each subsequent book even more so. The stakes were higher. The violence was worse. The bad guy more despicable. Did she think she would sell more books that way? Was she afraid she’d lose readers if she didn’t up the stakes each time? Maybe it was just what she wanted to write. I don’t know. I just know she lost me. (She’s a bestselling author–so it hasn’t hurt her at all). I would like to have seen more character development and less a sense of one upping the previous books.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Of course, it definitely depends on the book. And I don’t mind when a series builds up to big things like saving world. I just don’t find it believable or enjoyable to read about when a character is suddenly saving the world in the first book. And I also agree that if the big things have smaller, more personal motivations, that makes it more believable and emotional too.

      Hmm, I feel like if a series has an overarching goal with an ending, then it makes sense for books to kind of build up, but what you describes sounds forced and extreme. And the upped stakes or investment on the part of the reader really ought to come from the character development and depth. So yeah, I wouldn’t want to read about books just one upping each other but not feel any more deeper into the characters.

  10. S. J. Pajonas

    I’m a narrow-scope kind of person too, both as a writer and a reader. I like to concentrate on one theme and one person and branch out from there. Heck, the world is already toast in my Nogiku Series and they pick up and leave it. Lol. No saving that one! This also makes me a character over plot person because even if that character is tasked with saving the world, as long as I can get into his/her own journey, I’m cool with it. I tried reading The Atlantis Gene and stopped at the 30% mark. That book/series is very plot based. There wasn’t one character I liked and could latch onto. The stakes were too high all of the time (saving the world type stuff) and I was bored because the stakes weren’t personal enough. Yeah, narrow-scope all the way.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha your comment about them just leaving their world cracked me up. But I too am a character over plot person. I mean, I can enjoy a book that has hardly any plot even as long as it has super amazing character development and depth. And yeah, stakes don’t have to be giant things in order for the reader to get hooked. I mean, the stakes in many romances, for example, are simply whether the relationship will work out or not. So that’s proof right there that the stakes don’t even have to be life or death, let alone life or death of the entire world!

  11. Got My Book

    One of the things I love about my current favorite series (The Pillars of Reality by Jack Campbell) is that, although we know from the beginning that it’s all about saving the world in the end, the first three books really do explore the main characters and their world. It isn’t until the very end of Book 3 that we get an actual battle; and it’s just a small one that sets the stage for the second half of the series, which is a big build up to the big conflicts that will be in Book 6. [Oops, was that a commercial?]

    The point is that characters and relationships (not just romantic ones either) are what I like best and that needs space, so I agree with you. Although I will still give a book a chance.

    My Most Recent Discussion: Love & Friendship: Ten Swoon-worthy Moments

    1. Kristen Burns

      I don’t mind if you wanna talk about a relevant book, that’s why we all blog, to talk about books! But that kind of thing sounds more believable at least since it does start with smaller stuff.

      Exactly, characters and relationship are the most important to me too, so that’s what I really want to see.

  12. Emily Mead

    This is such an interesting discussion! I found myself kind of thinking about the book I’m currently working on, which is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. And I mean, she’s supposed to be saving Wanderland but she doesn’t even think about that – she just thinks about getting to the next “land” (they progress in the colours of the rainbow, kind of thing). But yeah, I think there are definitely more goals that can be achieved. Since I love contemporary, I’m more of a character-driven reader anyway šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! It definitely makes more sense when the characters have smaller goals and are focused on those smaller things rather than just jumping straight into a big “save the world” goal. And I’m a character-driven reader too even though I like sci-fi/fantasy šŸ™‚

  13. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    This is an awesome topic! I admit, I haven’t really thought about it, but now that you have mentioned it, it’s such a good point! Because seriously, how many times can the world need saving? Plus, not every set of characters or world or plot or WHATEVER really needs such a thing! It’s like in an attempt to be “epic”, it loses the essence of the story. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good “save the world” book now and then… but I do find that I am a little picker with them- and that a few that I HAVE read lately have been a bit of letdowns, now that I think about it! Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! Yeah, every book doesn’t need to be epic, like you said. But it seems to have become a “thing.” Books can absolutely be just as riveting and amazing and un-put-down-able without saving the world. And yeah, sometimes it might be what you’re in the mood for or it might work and be perfect with the story, but when the first book in a series is already about saving the world, it almost always lets me down. Thank you!

  14. Michelle @ FaerieFits

    I actually find that I start to get kinda bummed when books have TOO narrow a scope. But in general, I like to keep a healthy mix. I DO agree that for series-reads, you can’t really START by saving the world, because where else is there to go? I’ve actually been working on writing a “series” that is kind of suffering a similar problem. The starting point I have is so high-stakes that everything I want to explore after that is just … meh.

    And in general, no matter how broad or narrow the scope, you DEFINITELY have to engage the *feels* at least somewhat or I’m done. I really need the character to be internally motivated, not externally motivated, or I find it all rather unrealistic, you know?

    1. Kristen Burns

      Huh, I’m not sure there is such thing as too narrow a scope for me, at least not that I’ve come across. But that makes sense that you like to keep it mixed up. And yeah, I don’t mind if a series ends by saving the world, but there’s no where to go when that’s where it starts.

      And yes! I’m a feels person. So if a book could be broad scope and still make me super emotional and have great character development, I wouldn’t complain. I agree, it’s not realistic to me when a character isn’t internally motivated.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I too prefer more personal, in-depth character development books, but I have noticed a correlation in the books I’ve read. But of course it still depends on the book!

  15. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    If you enjoy narrow scope sci-fi, you should check out The League series!! Aliens and amazing characters šŸ™‚ I love, love, love them all!
    Sometimes, a broad scope works well for me, but since one of my favorite things in stories is the character development, I enjoy the narrow scope much more šŸ™‚
    Great post, Kristen!