Classic: So, What Makes a Good Story

>> Sunday, May 30, 2010

In an old blog (now gone) I wrote a number of posts addressing writing, how and what I write. It seemed fitting to repost them here over time rather than at Rocket Scientist. Enjoy.

I know writer wannabes (and writers) ask that question all the time. Or, at least, those of us addicted to fiction do. What makes a good story?

People frequently ask me what kind of stories I write, what kind of stories I read. I have quite a bit of science fiction and fantasy on my shelves, but I have historical and romance and even murder mystery and horror. No western though. But it’s more about the authors than the genres because the authors on my shelves are all people who know how to tell a good story or , at least, know how to tell a story well.

Naturally, that’s my own goal. In fact, I can’t remember when I didn’t want to tell stories. Prose and essays assignments were as likely to turn into stories as anything else when I’d slip out of my own skin and put myself in someone else’s. Oh, they were a little like me, perhaps a facet of me that I took out and warmed in my hand, then planted to see what might have grown if the garden were different. The tendency toward science fiction and fantasy was as much laziness on my part as anything - you can make more than a character to suit your fancy, you can make a whole world. And why not?

But I don’t tell the story to give a reader a world. I tell a story so I can give the reader what I get from the very best stories: a chance to wear a new skin for a while, to understand myself better by pretending, if for only a bit, to be someone I’m not. That’s why my heart thunders when Val Con senses that Miri is in danger. That’s why I sobbed when Moreta disappeared in the colds of between. That’s why I laughed with Beautiful made that newbie thank Captain Redhead for nearly spitting him on his own knife.

And I want to give that to others. I want you to thrill when Venetia rides the wind to her lover’s bower. I want you to wipe away a tear as Charley waits for eternity for the little girl that will never return. I want you to feel the lightning dancing from your fingertips with Stormna as she calls the storm to replenish a land stricken with drought. I want you to stumble with Tander trying to follow his stealthy wife as they infiltrate a mountain fortress. I want you to ache for Laren and the mother he lost - and the mother he spurned.

I’d like to think I’m doing you all a favor by writing all this, but I love doing it. Painting the pictures with words when my hands are too clumsy to do them in reality, setting the sky or the world, hitting the right phrases so that, when you read it, you can hear the voices talking. Perhaps these skills are all in my head and I miss with words just as I do with paint. But, if I can give one person, just one, what I want them to see, to hear, to feel. If I can make one person cry or laugh or gasp, well, that would be worth it all.

So, what makes a good story for you?


  • The Mother

    I want to write to change the world--to make people look at it from a different perspective, thereby changing opinions.

  • Jeff King

    I am very similar to you… to me I must connect to the characters; their dialog must be real and honest. The story must take me somewhere and move along, the trails must be hard and growth of character must take place.

    I guess the number one thing would be seeing the characters like real people and connect to them as such.

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