What Makes a Good Story?
Stories are strange things. They are difficult to define, yet always contain the same elements: characters, a plot, and a journey. In a good story those three parts need to all be written well.
Without characters, there is no way for a reader to access the story. We need to empathise with the characters—understand them—even if we do not sympathise or agree with their choices. These characters do not need to be human, nor do they need to speak. A story can be about a single character, or many, but without any it is not a story.
Well-written characters are more than just basic archetypes. They have flaws and contradictions and seem real. They need to live beyond the page. A good story should connect with the reader through its characters. We must feel what they feel; their arc should elicit a reaction within us.
A story needs to go somewhere, it needs a reason to be a story. Plots can be simple or complex, wide-reaching or a brief snippet; as long as there is a plot. Whether following three or five acts, or none at all, a plot must be set in motion and continue until resolution. Characters just existing, without purpose, is not a plot. There has to be motivation.
Stories require tension, and that is brought about by having a plot. The level of tension can vary dramatically, but it must be there. We, as readers, need to care about what is happening, otherwise we will just stop reading.
Combine characters and a plot, and you have a journey. The characters progress through the plot, making decisions, and their choices affect what happens next. The story moves forward.
As characters choose their paths, and deal with the consequences of their actions, they change. They can end up the same, but they have to undertake a journey—whether emotionally, spiritually, or physically—and we, as readers, must as well.
There are millions of stories already, and millions more will come. As soon as we were able to communicate, humans have told stories. The good ones stick around, so make sure that, if you write anything, it is worth remembering.
© 2017 J A DuMairier
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Originally from Thanet, J A DuMairier enjoys writing and long walks in the country.