Good stories can come in the guise of literary fiction or genre fiction. Good stories, regardless of the genre, can be commercially successful. Good stories need a character with whom readers can connect.
I feel like I’m finally scratching the surface of this subject. After all, if I understand what makes for a good story, then I have something to aim for. Not that writing a good story fits into a formula. That, in fact, is a sure way to kill a good story: turn it into a formula.
Rather than studying structure and making sure I have all the parts in all the right places, I’d rather understand what about a story makes readers want more and remember long after closing the book.
In thinking about a couple of my favorites, I see a few story elements that made me not only want to keep reading but willing to reread.
One such element is surprise. Not that I was surprised the second or third time. But in the rereading, knowing the surprise was coming, I could enjoy an anticipation of it. I’d conclude, good stories are not predictable. (See comment about following a formula).
Another element: a protagonist’s internal conflict without angst. I’ll elaborate on this more in a closer look at characters, but I think this is critical. The conflict in a good story is not just something external—save the family estate or bring together the sister and the man she loved. Instead, the character deals with some private issue also, some doubt or longing or disappointment.
It is at this point of internal conflict that the reader can identify with the protagonist. Such identification makes a story hard to forget.
Orignially posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction October 11, 2006.