What Makes a Great Story?
Zoom is a wonderful thing. This last week I was able to sit down with my former student teacher and chat about story. We talked about what makes a great story and the conversation brought up some great thoughts about what authors need to consider when writing that next great novel, short story, or screenplay.
What follows is a gleaning of our conversation and the ideas we discussed. If you want to listen to the podcast episode, you can find it here.
It turns out, a good story...
Expresses Imagination - The storyteller should have a knack for expressing their imagination in a way that the average person doesn't have the ability to convey. Most people struggle with writing down their imagination in a way that is compelling and interesting. The storyteller can adequately engage the reader and inject that thing they imagined into the minds of those reading the story
Great Characters - You have to have some wonderful characters. The characters should be morally ambiguous. They should have human flaws, but the reader should know what kind of person they are at heart. Heroes are not born, but they are made. There must be a logical reason the character is motivated to do the things they do.
Has to Be Believable - The story, whether set in the real world or a fantasy world, has to be believable in the world in which you have set it. It has to make logical sense in the universe you have made. All great stories, whether set in Middle Earth or around the corner, make sense in those worlds in which they exist.
A Simple Plot - I'm not saying that the story has to be brainless, but the main plot has to be something simple enough for any one, no matter their intellect, to understand. What makes it great is when that simple plot is also layered enough so that it can also be seen on various levels. We all know that "Raising Arizona" is a story about a felon and a prison guard who can't have children so they decide to steal one. The deeper plot is that the "lone biker of the apocalypse" (Randall "Tex" Cobb) is a reflection of H.I. McDunnah's subconscious, literally born out of his own fears. This is what makes that film such a great story.
Are You A Planner or a Pantser? - Either you plan your stories out by writing outlines, designing entire solar systems of alien planets or every detail of a small town or you just go with the flow, designing things as you need them. You have to decide which of these you are and then play to your strengths.
Writing Group - You need to find a group of people or at least one person with whom you can share stories. You need someone to fire ideas toward who will be a harsh critic and give you relevant and constructive feedback. If you are not doing this, who else will tell you what you need to do to make a story better? Check social media for writing groups in your area.
Life Lessons - Great stories can come from living a real life. Those problems you go through, those funny situations you find yourself in, those joys, can be turned into great stories. The more you live, the more you develop great stories. I don't write anything like I used to write when I was 25. At 50, a father of four teen and adult kids, in the final third of my career, I have dealt with issues and problems and experienced different kinds of joys that have shaped me as a writer. Use them. It is what makes for great stories.
I hope that these ideas helped you focus your stories down to the thing that inspires others. If you have other ideas or things you think are the elements of writing great stories, then share them in the comments!