Stories have been passed down for millions of years, be they written, spoken, or painted on cave walls. We all know about the boy who cried “wolf!”, the girl who lost a slipper, the girl who ate a poisoned apple, the golden-haired girl who stumbled upon the home of a family of bears, and the three pigs who incorrectly built houses. Perhaps some of you have spent a great deal of your lives flipping through books. Perhaps you’ve read about the guilty man who continues to hear the steady heartbeat of the body he’s hidden beneath his floor. Maybe you’ve read about the girl who’s fallen down a rabbit hole and discovered a world of nonsense.
Every one of these stories is entertaining and captivating, but what truly makes a story good? Well, I am here to answer that question!
All stories contain characters, plots, a balance of good and bad, and resolutions, but there is so much more to an outstanding story!
Let’s begin with interesting characters. Characters are the backbone to any story. Without characters, there really is no story to be told. You can create an entire world of your own, but nobody will care to read about it unless something memorable happens to somebody in that world. And with a memorable journey comes a memorable character. Nobody is going to remember someone who is plain and who lacks any sort of originality.
Think about Harry Potter. What is the first thing you think of when you hear that famous name? I can imagine you see a black-haired boy with round gasses and a lightning bolt scar. Let’s be a bit more vague now. Who comes to mind when you read the name “Dorothy”? I’m almost certain that you see a red-haired girl in a blue-and-white dress and a pair of red shoes. Was I right? Even a plain name can spark a memory so vivid because her character is so specific and full of unique, specific detail.
Therefore, when you are creating your characters, create them with something your readers cannot forget! When your readers hear your character’s first name, you want them to immediately place a face with it.
Aside from great characters, a good story must contain a message of some sort. What are you trying to tell the world? What is one thing that you see wrong with the world around you that you feel the absolute need to speak about? When a story tells us a message, it tends to stick with us.
Maybe you’re angered about racial differences that have taken over the internet? Write equality into your story. The entire story does not have to revolve around this issue if that’s not your desire. You can simply write this in as a subplot. Write about two different types of characters who come to a peaceful conclusion despite their difference in appearance or belief. Maybe you have a race of elves versus a race of fairies. Perhaps they’ve been at war for years, but you, the writer, want these two groups to realize that harmony is indeed an option, and that unity makes their world a better place. Write it!
Maybe you’re upset about the feminine inferiority idea? Write a story about a woman who proves to the world that she can do that specific thing nobody thought she could do. Write about a woman who became successful with her own willpower and courage.
Readers feel more inspired when an important message is delivered to them, and your story will be more appreciated by those who are too afraid to take that step you took to spread that message. Afterall, writing is all about expressing your own feelings, so why not use this to your advantage?
Moving on, every good story needs a memorable villain. When someone mentions an “evil queen”, you probably think about Snow White’s corrupt, envious stepmother. It’s easy to remember that she was so vain, that she was willing to murder her own stepdaughter because she was more beautiful. This may be a silly purpose, but this is something we will never forget.
No, I’m not advising that you give your villain a senseless motive. I’m saying just the opposite. When creating a villain, you want him or her to be driven by their strong passion or desire for something. Readers will not appreciate a story about a person who decided to be evil “just because”. Give that villain a drive for something deep and meaningful.
Let’s take the Other Mother from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. This woman was beyond wicked, and whether you know her from the novel or the movie, you can’t forget that she was the spider-like woman who had button eyes, and moreover, that she wanted to trap Coraline inside her realm to feed on her life. She didn’t decide to just trap random kids for no reason. She had a specific, necessary desire for children, and this is what made her so terrifying, and this is why we remember her so easily.
What else is essential for good storytelling? The answer is your voice. And yes, I know very well that words printed on paper do not make sound. But the way a story is told; the rhythm; the style; these are all part of your own unique voice. Maybe you could sound a bit witty and nicely rounded and sharp like Neil Gaiman, or more firm and damn-well blunt and ever so precise and overly descriptive like Stephen King. (That was a bit of a stretch, but you get the point.)
Readers tend to enjoy a story when they can clearly hear a narrator in their head. When you combine your rhythm, choice of wording, tone, and style together in your story, then that unique voice the readers hear is indeed your own. When someone is reading your story, you want that person to know it’s yours. If you sound general and vague, then that story you’ve put so much of your time into can easily be mistaken for another writer’s.
Finding your voice definitely takes time. I’ve found myself trying to mock Stephen King and Neil Gaiman since these two are my all-time favorites, but I’ve discovered that I am in fact NOT them. (Crazy right?) When you begin writing, it’s easy to try to follow in your favorite writers’ footsteps, and you tend to try to copy their voice, which is normal. However, as you go, you begin to develop your own style, and you tend to stray away from those other writers’ voices, which is exactly what you want to do! You are not J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer or James Patterson—you are you, so own it! Are you sarcastic? Soft? Witty? Poetic? Romantic? Only you can find that out!
In conclusion, that number one, MAJOR thing a good story requires is originality, originality, and MORE ORIGINALITY!
There are HUNDREDS of stories about princesses, fairies, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and so on. How do these stories not run together and get mixed up? Well, they each have their own unique settings, events, and plots. When we hear about a sacred ring protected by a group called a fellowship, we immediately recall J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series. If we hear about glass shoes, we instantly think of Cinderella. Any time we see a clown, we think about Stephen King’s IT. What do all of these have in common? NOTHING! That’s the point!
When you’re writing a story, it’s your mission to make it as original and different as possible. If you’re inspired to write about a vampire, steer clear of Twilight! Do NOT write about a vampire who falls in love with a mortal girl and has a werewolf as rival! Instead, maybe you could write about a vampire who is cursed by a fairy, or a vampire who kills clowns? (Okay, not that one, but you get the point.)
Remember to avoid clichés and other ideas that have already been written. And yes, I know that it’s hard to come up with something that hasn’t been thought or written before. Stephen King once used a metaphor specifically for this. In my own words, he basically said that ideas are like eggs: they’re still eggs, but they can be cooked in several different ways.
Wizards have been included in hundreds of books, but they’re all written differently. Is Hermione Granger anything like Gandalf? Not really. Hermione is a know-it-all child who nags her friends and tries to keep them out of trouble. Gandalf is an old, wise wizard who firmly steers a whole group of other fictional beings to destroy a ring. The only thing these two really have in common is that they can both perform magic, and that they’re smart.
When you’re writing, sit and think of your own unique series of events that can take place in your story. Maybe someone stumbles upon a cursed chair? Maybe someone has discovered a streetlight that shows the future? Maybe someone works as a detective who specializes in werewolves? Think about the impossible, and write it down as if it is indeed possible.
This concludes my list of things that make a good story. There are so many ways to tell a story, and there are even more ways to tell an amazing one!
Was this helpful? Can you think of anything else that can make stories unique and memorable? Let me know in the comments!
I hope you all have a great night, and as always, Keep Reading!