In my opinion, good stories put the reader into the made-up world the author has created. Not literally. But as I read a good story, I feel like I am on the spot, observing, feeling what the point of view character feels. Listening to conversations. Hoping, dreaming, cheering the protagonist on.
All of which brings up other important elements of a good story, in no particular order.
Good dialogue. This is the kind of conversation that makes me feel as if I am a fly on the wall, hearing it all. Nothing pulls me away, sidetracks my thinking. Not unnecessary speaker attributions, overdone dialects, mundane comments stalling the story, language not fitting to the character who supposedly is speaking. It is crisp, provocative, indirect, necessary.
Well-defined setting. In a fantasy, this element is critical. And yet, it cannot be created with layer upon layer of information shoveled out at the beginning of every scene. Instead, the story world needs to unfold gradually, much as the characters need to come alive bit by bit. This is accomplished not so much by painting the scene in its entirety but by inserting particular details that evoke the scene in the reader’s mind.
Establishing an engaging protagonist. Again, I’ll have more to say about this when I take a closer look at characters, but I want to mention it here because I see some Christian authors losing this key element in the process of exploring multiple points of view. In my opinion, only a most extreme circumstance should cause a change of point of view character. The story should be about the main character and more often than not, in contemporary writing, this is the main point of view. This allows readers to be as nearly in the skin of the protagonist as possible. So why change?
The latest fad that really weakens character identification, in my opinion, is writing sections from the antagonist’s point of view, especially giving the antagonist motives or redeeming qualities that make him sympathetic. Sorry, but this is the guy readers want to root against. Why make him sympathetic?
Properly motivated, sure. His actions should make sense and should be the logical step he would take, given his worldview. But his worldview should not be painted as one brought on by hard times or his suffering as a child or fate. Such explanations inevitably make his actions less heinous, and consequently reduce the intensity of a reader’s desire to see him fall into the hands of Justice.
Orignially posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction October 12, 2006.