1. ZionsRodeVos
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    ZionsRodeVos New Member

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    What makes a story good?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ZionsRodeVos, Aug 25, 2008.

    I've been reading a lot here and have seen there is a lot I don't know about writing.

    Before joining here I figured that with a good hook, and words well written so that the reader sees in their mind everything that is happening, and enough unique ideas that a story would be good.

    However I have read that most everything a person could possibly think of someone else has already thought of. All stories have a few basic plots (one article on another site said there were 7 main plot types that all stories follow).

    I see that perfect heroes are not the way to go. Thankfully I don't think any of my characters are shown to be perfect nor all powerful, but most don't seem to have any weaknesses shown in the story.

    So I am left thinking that it must be a good main character that has a nice balance of weaknesses and strengths that makes for a good story.

    Am I getting close to understanding? Or am I still just clueless?
     
  2. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    Just write the way you want.

    Every style, idea, every hook line and sinker, every no-no, and every bad idea along with everything else has already been done... and been published.

    There is in effect no wrong way to write.

    Some might like it, some might hate it. In the end, a long as some people honestly enjoy your work and are not just back patting, then you are on the right path.
     
  3. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Stop trying to figure out what makes a story good, and just write one.

    There really IS no one clear answer on what makes a story good. Everyone will tell you something different. It'll just be too much frustration if you try to find a secret formula or some such to follow, because even if you did, there will be somebody else who won't like your story and will tell you to do something else. You'll end up wasting a lot of time trying to figure out something that has no definitive answer.

    Instead, spend that time writing. The more time you spend actually writing, the better your stories will get, and even if you write something lousy the first time around, that's time better spent than chasing after something with no real answer.
     
  4. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope, you're not even close. The only thing you need for a good story is dragons. :D

    Seriously though, just trust your story. Those are good things to remember, but don't think of them as iron chains. They are like structural supports for a building, nessecary, but if you need a big open space you can figure out a different way to support the roof.
     
  5. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, you went for the big question. ;-) There is no simple formula, but that doesn't mean there's no answer.

    The main character does not necessarily need a good balance of strengths and weaknesses. But your story will be more interesting if your MC is interesting. For example, look at the fascination with violent psychopaths in Hollywood movies. They are depicted as irredeemable, but people still find them interesting because they are powerful and not bound by society's rules.
    And a story with a 100% good, lawful, near-omnipotent main character can still be interesting, although that's probably more thanks to the plot than the character. Many Superman stories from the 1970's are examples of this.

    A plot needs tension, something that keeps the reader in suspense. The tension can be a problem the MC has to overcome (like solving a murder), a mystery the reader is curious about (like what the people in the TV series Lost are doing on the island), a moral choice the MC has to make, an idea the reader finds fascinating (as often is the case in science fiction), or something else.

    Tension needs to be introduced early, so the reader doesn't have to plow through pages before it gets interesting. But the reader also needs to feel progress is being made, for example, that they come closer to understanding the mystery, or that the protagonists are doing something to come closer to their goal. If the reader isn't given progress, there's a risk he/she gives up.

    So the smaller parts of the story can be made more interesting by turning them into sub-plots. For example, if your protagonist needs a piece of evidence to put the bad guys in jail, you can make the story of how he/she obtains the evidence an exciting sub-plot in itself. Maybe the protagonist needs to break in somewhere to obtain the evidence. Or maybe he has to make a difficult choice about tricking someone who trusts him.

    A skilled writer can combine the different kinds of tension: interesting main characters that are exposed to danger, fight heroically and make difficult moral choices to overcome obstacles, thereby gradually revealing a mystery, while at the same time exploring ideas that are fascinating to the reader.

    Or why not an irredeemable but fascinating main character, that fights cowardly and makes all the wrong moral choices to come closer to his/her goal, gradually revealing a mystery to the reader and exploring interesting ideas.
     
  6. ZionsRodeVos
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    ZionsRodeVos New Member

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    Thanks for all your replies! They are very helpful and keep them coming.

    Funny you should mention dragons as many of my stories have them.

    I do realize that not everyone will like what I write and some people will hate it. But I also see that there is a difference between the dragon riders of pern series of books and some authors work I have never heard of before.

    I am not abandoning what I have been writing even though I have seen here that one of my thoughts is not as unique as I once thought. However, I do know I have a lot of room for improvement and so thought to ask this question.

    Tension is probably one of my weak points so I will focus more on learning that. I know that my characters even the main ones are somewhat shallow and will work on that too.

    I have learned that an info dump is one way to not write a book, not even a chapters worth of info dump. So I thought to ask what does make a good story.
     
  7. mooncloud
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    mooncloud Member

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    I have to argue that advising to "just write one" isn't very helpful. A good story, as Islander pointed out, has tension. Every scene or piece of dialogue should move the plot forward and have some aspect of conflict. That's not to say that life gets continually worse for the characters – one conflict can become resolved just as another one shows up. If all of the conflicts are resolved, there's little motivation for someone to continue reading.

    The readers need to be invested in the main character and actually care about what happen to him, whether or not they actually like him. I've read books where I've both loved and hated the main character, but the only ones I don't finish are the ones I'm not emotionally invested in.

    Correct grammar and spelling are a must – or, if you break the rules, do so with confidence and on purpose. A strong, active voice makes a stronger story. Show the plot progressing instead of simply telling it. Use fitting, interesting metaphors and vivid descriptions. And enjoy writing it.

    Hope that helps. I'd go on more, but... time to go to work :)
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Stories aren;t intrinsically bad ore good. Whether readers will read them or not depends on many factors.

    To start with, poor spelling, punctuation and grammar are nearly always a turn off. The same is true of a lack of clarity in the writing. Long rambling sentences may leave the reader unsure what he or she just read.

    Entire books have been written about your question, and about the only way to discover the answer is by writing, getting feedback, learning from the feedback, and writing some more.
     
  9. AmberDextrose
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    AmberDextrose Member

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    I really recommend the "Weekend Novellist" range of books by Robert J Ray. I've got "Redrafts the Novel" and "Writes a Mystery" and they are both excellent.

    They break down story writing in a way used by screen writers. By making the process logical you can see not necessarily something as clunky as a formula, but certainly a winning set of steps to help.

    It's made reading very different too, because you start to analyse the text, looking out for the tricks in other people's work, seeing what works and how.
     
  10. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    Personally, I don't think a story can be catergorized as "good" or "bad". Sure, I've read books that I thought were "bad" but that's only my opinion. Everyone likes different types of books just like everyone has different hobbies.

    For me, I just write something that I would read (and try not to be biased). I'm a picky reader and can't stand reading a book with a boring plot, "normal" ending, and etc. As a result, when I write, I try to think of different ways to write that would interest me if I were the one to read it. I think - Just be creative! That doesn't mean write whatever, though. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity are all very important if you want to attract any readers at all.

    I think if you make your story directed at a certain age group, that would help. Keeping the reader at the edge of his/her seat, wondering what's going to happen next.

    To answer your question: I think that - yes, the characters should have both strengths and weaknesses. It makes the story more realistic.
     

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