Life · Writing

What Makes a Good Story?

I should really name this post ‘What Do You Write When You Don’t Want to Write?’  The past few months of my life have been full of challenges.  Real life got in the way and stalled my desire to write, but for us highly sensitive folks simple frustration can get overwhelming.  So I haven’t felt like writing.  Scratch that, I always feel like writing, but my internal dialogue is constantly at war with how much of my personal life I actually want to share on my site.

As a very private person, it’s quite strange that I have a blog using my real name and a photo of myself.  I guess it’s too late to be anonymous now.  I think that some things are better left said to my journal and God.  Maybe I’ll write more about my personal life when I’m a lady of a certain age, and couldn’t care less.  I see a memoir in my future.  I digress.

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As an aspiring author, I’ve been thinking about what draws me into a story whether it’s a book, movie or tv series.  Novels and Netflix have been welcomed distractions from car trouble and minor physical ailments (writing would have been a more productive use of my time).  I have a Pinterest board with a bunch of motivational quotes about writing, tips, how-to’s, you name it.  I’ve only read a fraction of the articles.  You would think I’d be more proactive given what I want to do.  Then I got this crazy idea to write what I want in a good story, not what other writers think.  The right reader will enjoy what I enjoy.  Makes sense, right?

Here are the ingredients of a compelling story according to me.

Truth
Universal truths based on facts.  Good vs evil.  Things happen beyond our control.  Bad things happen to good people.  Good things happen to bad people.  Life is hard.  Some problems are not resolved.  Not every scenario ends in happily ever after.  Even when there are happy endings, there’s a responsibility that comes with it.

Any story that captivates me has to be grounded in reality on some level.  It needs to seem believable even in an imaginary world.  Fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, and even outlandish comedies poking fun at the truth need to have universal themes carefully woven in for me to think, I could totally see that happening.  I crave depth and cannot stand fluff (unless I’m in a really sappy mood and want to watch Disney movies).

Honesty
Human thoughts, behaviors and motives.  How authentic is the character?  Can I relate to them or do they remind me of someone I know?  If not familiar, are they interesting enough for me to be engaged in the story?  People can be flawed in their perception of the truth and facts, but are their actions plausible according to their personality, belief system and experiences?

I want to understand why a character does what they do as the story unfolds.  Mix in some unexpected quirks because, let’s face it, even the most predictable person is capable of acting differently given the right circumstances.  Character growth and change is vital.  They should not be the same person they were when the story began.  Then I will I have a vested interest in the narrative and care about the character and their outcome.

Mystery
Present me with a puzzle to be figured about.  I adore clever writing.  Surprise me.  Push my limits.  There has to be some turning point where I think whoa, didn’t see that coming.  If I can figure out the ending before everything plays out or if the storyline seems to be predictable and cliche, then I become bored.  Reveal enough to challenge me without giving away all the secrets at once.  I want a story arc that I can look forward to, but don’t keep me hanging on so long that I lose interest because it took too many episodes or pages to give me something fascinating to cling to.

Originality
This one is a bit hard, but can be done.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Almost every fictional story is a variation of something that has been told before.  However, I believe there is always a point if view or a new twist that can be applied to6 any narrative. We are the sum total of everything we’ve seen, experienced, and read.  Things get embedded in our subconscious.  If you think you have an original idea, all you have to do is google it and you’ll see someone else has probably thought of it before you.  What makes a story different is how it’s told.  This can be almost, if not more important, than the story itself.

Escape
A good story should be a source of escape.  I want to climb inside and live vicariously through a character.  I want to be transported to another place and time to ignore my present reality for a while.  Great storytelling can do that.  Forgetting about the daily humdrum of my own life and problems to live through the adventures of another can be a great stress reliever.

Stories can be fun and exciting.  They can also be a source of comfort, inspiration, and can teach us important lessons about life and ourselves.  The best stories force us to be uncomfortable and disturb our preconceived notions of people and ideas that we don’t readily relate to.  They stretch us and make us question what we believe and what we are capable of.  Words are powerful.  Great authors always to find a way to entertain while also informing us of things we may not know.  I hope to be one of them.

There you have it.  My must-haves for great storytelling.  This little list is in no way comprehensive.  These are just some foundational principles that I came up with off the top of my head.  I know there’s so much more I’ll learn during the process after I actually complete my first novel…oh, and maybe read some of the stuff I saved on Pinterest. 😉

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