What Makes a Good Story?

Amazing freehand art by Gao Guangyan

Amazing freehand art by Gao Guangyan

Drifting through the ether of the interwebs, I’ve come across numerous accounts of what makes a good story. Here. Here. And here, for example. Commentors weave common answers related to plot, characterization, diction and so forth into the ongoing discussion. Along with techniques, style and the story itself, the reader’s predilections also determine what makes a good story. Those who devour mysteries have different criteria than consumers of inspirational writing whose criteria differ from fans of pulp fiction. And that’s okay. In fact, it is better than okay. I think that’s the part I love about reading. I have a pretty good handle on what I like – characters that surprise, world building with depth of time and geography, action, to name a few – but I also find that my willingness to try new works in different genres is exciting in its own right.

I commented earlier in Writing Standards, my post about my perception that it can be difficult to feel like your writing, your story, is different from others when you start using the conventional wisdoms of writing as your guide more than the story itself. I’ve read thrillers by many different authors and, after a while, they do start to run together. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop reading those, it just means I just don’t hunger for those kinds of books like I do for books such as Blade of Tyshalle, or Game of Thrones, or The Darkness that Comes Before. And there it is: I like fantasy of the epic sort. So not only do I need a good story, but also I need a certain elements that resonate long after I’ve finished the book. What makes a good story for you, the reader?

Though I’ve run off on a bit of a tangent here, my takeaway as a writer is to keep the audience in mind (in this case, it’s me). If I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, then my ideal reader probably won’t either.

Comments ( 7 )

  1. ReplyMerrilee
    What makes a story good for me is characters that draw me in, but the writing also has to be spare and tight before I'll really love it. I think writers do need to enjoy what they write, but they also need to temper that with focus on weaving a story. Otherwise you just get another retelling of 'Legolas goes to Hogwarts". Writers who only concentrate on the love do have a tendency to produce eye-gouging fanfiction or unreadable mary-sues. ;)
    • ReplyJonathan Danz
      That's a good point. We can't live on love alone. Plus, I don't have enough eyes to endure the fan fic or mary sues to which your refer.
  2. Replyjenniferneri
    Yes, that was my first thought as well. Characters. Secondly is story line, but I have gone through some stories that do not resonate so well with because of characters, whereas not the other way. Third in line is plausibility. Fourth is writing. I have suffered through some terrible writing because some other aspect would not let me stop reading. For I long while I read nothing but fantasy. I have veered out of this and am reading everything and anything (including fantasy). Yet, Gay Gavriel Kay still remains one of my favorite authors.
    • ReplyJonathan Danz
      I've had Tigana on my Amazon wishlist for over a year. Maybe this Christmas. Any recommendations?
  3. ReplyTeresa
    I have to agree with Merrilee and Jennifer - it's the characters. I postively must find something about either the protagonist or the antagonist that makes me want to delve deeper into their psyche. I used to read tons of fantasy, but I've slipped back into horror mode here lately. In terms of mysteries: Ken Bruen writes the kind of gut punching mystery I like to read with Dennis Lehane gives me a completely different type of mystery, but just as satisfying. I'll read Bruen and Lehan's grocery lists and exclaim with wonder. ;-) My favorite fiction is something that takes me so far from reality I feel like I'm coming up for air between chapters. I want to write with that same power, so I don't just read books anymore, I've started studying good fiction to see what makes it work. Great post, Jonathan! Teresa
    • ReplyJonathan Danz
      I guess that's two more authors I'll have to check out. I'm with you as far as becoming emotionally invested in a book is concerned. I love that total immersion.
  4. Replyjenniferneri
    Oh, Tigana is certainly one of my all time favorites! Anything by him, other than his last, ysabel. His sarantine series is great. Let me know if you ever read him.

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