1. Laverick
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    Laverick Member

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    What Makes a Story Worth Reading?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Laverick, Jun 29, 2009.

    I have a slight concern and I'm not sure if this goes here, but I can't think of anywhere else it would be entirely relevant to.

    I've been involved in several online writing groups, both as a reader and a writer. In my smaller groups I put in effort to read and comment on everything that's posted and it seems like most of the stories get 1-5 comments, usually around three. When I post my pieces they may get 1 comment, on larger groups when I post really short stories I get nothing.

    I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I try to be active, I post stories of all length, as short as 100 words and as long 3000 words. I've begun to worry my writing's difficult to comprehend or unpleasant somehow. I don't know, since I hardly ever get an opinion on my work and usually the comments are nice, but vague.

    I suppose people may not care? I only write as a hobby, so my posts aren't urgent. Is it worth giving up if I don't have any reason to keep it up?

    Could I ask what kind of stories you avoid or don't draw your attention? Is there a certain length or genre you avoid? What sort of things draw you into a story? Do you read because you want to or because you have to? Have a similar problem with getting your stories read, etc...?
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Well, in a forum context, I suppose being an active member will get your writing some guaranteed reads (ie from people who agree (or even disagree) with the opinions you express in other threads), but beyond that I guess it just comes down to people's individual preferences (I, for instance, only really read things in the General Fiction and Novel areas). Long stories tend to never get much love, but if they're still around 3000 words, they should be ok.
    I guess just make sure your writing is free from spelling and grammar errors, and is well formatted, and if worst comes to worst, just bug a few members with PMs and offer to trade reviews.
     
  3. PrettySiren
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    PrettySiren New Member

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    Well, here's the thing: a story is worth reading if it's worth telling. So, if your story has an interesting plot, makes sense, and has characters that actually mean something to the readers, there's definitely someone out there who will find value in it.

    In my experience, most people are more interested in writing stories than rating or commenting on others. That's what makes writing groups a little dodgy sometimes: the writers all want their stories to be reviewed; yet many don't take the time to repay the courtesy. Just because you care about what others write, doesn't mean a lot of writers do. It's a sad, but true fact.

    As for genres...don't write a specific genre because you think it'll actually be commented on. That's just silly. Write whatever speaks to you, because that's the only way your best writing will come forth and that's the only way you'll write a story that others actually want to read and comment on.

    Stick to small writing groups with people who actually care and want to help other writers. That's my best advice on that subject. If you can't find one, form one. Point is, sometimes in large settings, your story might get bumped down in the queue and not even read due to the sheer amount of other stories.

    All of that said, never give up on writing if it's what you love. After all, if it's only a hobby and you never intend to publish, you shouldn't care about what others think anyways. Write because you love it.
     
  4. Hsnodgrass
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    Hsnodgrass Senior Member

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    Pacing. You can have the most interesting plot and characters ever, but if it drags on and doesn't flow well most people will be indifferent to it. Just make sure your stories read like a professional entertainer is on stage telling them. I watch a lot of comedians/ spoken-word artists just to study good pacing.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Pacing and flow are not necessarily related. Some fiction covers only a minute or so of time on a page, other cover decades. And then it comes down to what genre you're writing, what you are trying to convey, the tone of the piece, so many other aesthetic factors...
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the question answers itself...

    badly written ones...

    no, in re length... as for genre, yes... romance and fantasy, in particular...

    nothing other than a compelling, well-written opening...

    both, sort of... i read for pleasure because i want to... but since i mentor and otherwise help writers, i more or less also 'have to' [though of course i do that voluntarily and for free, so i could stop, if i chose to]...

    nope...
     
  7. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    There are times when I go into a critique section of a writing group (I'm on a couple) and find nothing that I can read past the first few lines. The first five lines, or first paragraph of the opening scene is going to set the tone for the entire piece for me. If the first few sentences open up with "telling" type of writing I won't read any further. IF it opens up with immediate action and throws me into a story that I must read, then I will read the piece and give a critique.

    Sometime, I can find a story that kind of drags on, wasn't super exciting at the beginning, but because the story itself seems interesting I managed to read the whole piece. Those I know if it is fixed up would be great stories. I usually critique these too.

    I tend to avoid Third Person POV stories, though sometimes one will catch my eye that I must read.

    The title also influences if I will even open the thread. If it says "untitled" it gets a fifty/fifty shot of me opening it, if it has a catch title that seems like something I might be interested in, I will open it. But if the title either doesn't tell a little bit about the story, or appear interesting, then I won't even open the thread. I'm the same way with books too.

    Sometimes I think I have ADD, when I read. If my attention isn't held throughout the piece, and about half way through I get bored, I won't comment on it, or finish it.

    Now, I'm not a hypocrite. When I'm writing if I get bored with a story I stop writing it. If I can't come up with something interesting, then there isn't any point to putting the fingers to the keys. Sometimes it takes just walking away from the story for a few days, or abandoning it all together.

    What does that mean to another writer in any of the groups I am in...not much. Because, I'll read what I am going to read, as will other people. Sometimes I look for stories with no or only one critique, and will see if I can read it. Other times I look at what is popular and see if there is anything there I can add.

    Writing groups are a good experience to have if you ever want to attempt being published. IF you write genre then you should aim to join groups for that genre. IF you write general fiction, then finding active groups are probably your best bet. Finding the right audience for your critiquers is how you get read. IF no one on the board you are posting too is interested in your work, then you are posting to the wrong people, or your work needs a lot of improvement and no one wants to be the one to tell you that (or wants to take the time to mentor you.)

    I worked on a website as a mentor for non-fiction writers. It is a tedious job done for free and usually little to no gratitude. Writer get easily offended when mistakes are pointed out, and many people just don't want to be seen as the bad guy, or when offering a critique being told that they don't know their head from a turkey's butt. That's one of the worst things that writers do to each other, ask for advice then bite the hand that types it to them.

    Many neophyte writers get their feathers in a ruffle when people offer criticism. But then there are some who genuinely want to learn from others. They graciously take the criticism and politely disagree with what they don't like.

    How people conduct themselves on the message boards also dictate who's work I will read. IF I see someone who is well spoken and polite in other parts of the board, I am more likely to read their work. But if I see that they have poor writing skills in the boards, are unable to express themselves without getting offended or hostile, then I won't read anything fiction they write.

    SO I am a picky itch with a capital B. But that is just me.
     
  8. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    The ones I don't like to read are long ones and those that are not too good and not too bad. The reason for the long ones is pretty obvious - frankly, and unfortunately, I don't want to spend hours on a critique.

    As for the second reason, I prefer to critique things that aren't "average". When I find a good piece, I can say why it is good. When I find a bad piece, when I can say why it is bad. But if a piece isn't really good or really bad, then it gets harder for me to critique, because what can I say? I can't exactly say "you should reconsider doing this", and I can't exactly say "you should continue to do this good thing". All I can really say is "Yeah, this wasn't really that bad, but it was okay", which isn't really much anyways.
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I think if readers take the time to read a story, they should at least comment on it, even if just to say, I read it. Why read a whole story and say nothing at all?

    Do you start your stories in the middle of a scene?
     
  10. Laverick
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    Laverick Member

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    It's true that it has to do with people's preferences and that most writers don't even care to read other's works. I do think popular genre has something to do with it. The only story I received comments on, quickly after posting, was a vampire story I had hardly worked on.

    I write what I want to, what I think has value, but I also realize I can have a sort of ... insensitive approach or maybe one that's hard to relate too. I'm currently in smaller groups, but it seems to be the same issue. I probably won't stop writing, I simply won't show it to people. I've recently begun to post work online again; for a while I was writing and just writing. I wanted to get into groups again and I wondered if what I was writing was even sensible. I start to worry that I spent too much time in a sort of hermit state that I lose touch with reality. Not that I haven't been around people, but the inner and outter lives are very different.

    Pacing and flow are important points. I try to pay attention to that and hack off anything that seems to redundant, but then I'm not sure I've cut off too much. Sometimes reading aloud helps to hear the pacing. I'll try to pay attention to that.

    The genre right now is pretty much short stories, usually fiction- some with a hint of sci-fi or hint of something unrealistic. When I write fantasy I tend to write it entirely apart from fiction, but I like to mix fiction with futuristic "Easter eggs".

    Perhaps I need to work more on openings. Usually the strong point in my writing is nearer to the mid-end. I use to write for myself and my own writing would actually entertain me to go back and read it and edit it. I have many huge documents filled only with fragments of stories that I find amusing (or embarrassing). But maybe this writing is too out of touch with other people and reality. It's disappointing, but if that's true I either write something more relevant or stop posting.

    I posted two stories at different group. One of the stories is very short in chapter length. The material in these short chapters is unbelievable (it's almost parody) and the writing is in telling (it's suppose to be bard/epic like) form to avoid taking up more than the allotted word count. I can understand that one going unread, but it's so short and to the point. The other was long and a great deal of it was moved along with dialog. I was trying to cut that one down and it started with dialog.

    It is nice to get comments, even if it's just people saying "I read it", actually that would be more helpful than vague critique. In some of the "nice" groups I'm the harshest member, so it's possible people don't like me.

    I tend to start in or near the middle of scene. Unless I randomly start writing.

    Thanks everyone for the replies. It's given me a lot to think about. I often comment on qualities like flow and titles, but then don't always apply that to my own writing. I think I've kind of decided. There are times I certainly would like to write the greatest story ever. I think there are times the dismal reality catches up with me and makes me a little irrational about writing. I think I'm too bothered by it, when the bottom line should be "I like to write."
     
  11. Russell
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    Russell New Member

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    Well, I'm new to this whole writing thing, so this is a very Layman's view. I discovered something browsing the forums here that I hadn't considered before.

    I'm an avid reader of almost anything - fiction and non-fiction. I found the short stories contest forum and decided to read the voting thread for the last set of submissions. There was about a dozen shor stories to read through.

    I started reading and soon discovered that I was losing interest in some of them very quickly. If the first paragraph didn't grab me, I had to force myself to keep going. If the grammar and sentence structure was "off", it made me want to stop reading, and finally, when inconsistencies in story elements occurred, my interest in finishing the story was greatly diminished.

    I realised after reading through all the stories, that writing is more than just putting a good story down on paper. All those published authors I've read have had a lot of work put into them to read smoothly and easily, and be interesting and consistent. If any of those elements are off, it can ruin the immersion in the tale that is being told.

    Russell.
     
  12. J_F
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    Print it out and read it out loud to yourself. It could have a bad introduction. Most likely, if the introduction doesn't flow properly or isn't catchy, you'll scratch your head and wonder "why did I write this in such a way?" as you read it. I think printing it out helps because it makes the writing seem less personal, as if someone else wrote it, and you can critique it better that way.

    It could also simply be a matter of readers' subjective interests. I posted a story in general fiction on this site about two weeks ago and it got a lot of views but only two short replies. I don't think the story was particularly bad (I mean, it certainly wasn't outstanding, or else I wouldn't have posted it for critique in the first place) but it had some science fiction overtones in it which may have turned people off. When I posted a full-fledged SF story in the actual SF board, however, people gave me good criticism and feedback, and I suppose that's because my writing just fit into that forum more.
     
  13. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    What makes a story worth reading? I feel that is in the eye of the beholder. I've read many articles about what they say people want to read, and I really can't disagree more. What makes a story worth reading is different for each of us. If there is something beneficial in a story that we can take away from it, then I say it is worth reading. (Providing bad stuff doesn't overshadow it.) Some works considered literary masterpieces did absolutely nothing for me but give me a headache. So for me, they were worthless.
     
  14. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You ask some good questions and you've gotten some very good answers. Reader impressions ARE subjective. In terms of what "takes" and what doesn't (on a readership scale, or publishabiity, e.g.), it's the consensus of the entire readership that matters more than any individual read. Of course, what matters to the writer of the story is information that resonates as useful, and sometimes that can come from one person.

    I think there are two really good reasons why this happens; and it's up to you to figure out which is which. One is that your readers are not equipped to provide you with insightful feedback (not every writer is a good reviewer--and, importantly, vice versa). The other is that your reader may not have the time to do a good or thorough job on your piece; and, after all, no one here is being paid for feedback, so it's an entirely voluntary proposition.

    I think it's smart to (FIRST) learn from your own reviewing of others. That way, you don't face disappointment when those folks don't necessarily reciprocate, because you've already gained from your efforts. THAT's really the important thing about an opportunity to participate in a forum like this. I know there's a push here to (at least try to) "teach" writers something by providing them with feedback in this forum; and I appreciate the teachers and mentors who actually do this.

    But I'm not a teacher (and I see that most of us aren't), and I don't perceive my feedback as being primarily a teaching thing, but merely as accurate a take as I can write on my read of their piece. I do know in some cases what accounts for my read, and I try to provide details about that. But I don't have either the expertise or the drive to mentor a writer or teach him or her anything they're not perfectly capable of learning in some other way. If they can gain something from my reader's take, all the better; meantime I've probably learned more from my review of their piece than they'll ever learn from me. I believe writers, more than anything else, simply must learn to make their own judgements about feedback—wherever it comes from (including teachers and mentors and well-meaning fellow novices and experienced writers).


    My guess would be that if you, yourself, think of your stories as lacking “urgency,” that could be part of your problem. A story that's compelling enough for your reader will be equally compelling for you to write well, in the first place. If it's not, that will probably show in the story you write, so maybe some readers detect that quality and lose interest.

    Truthfully, I would guess you're overstating your lack of motivation as a way of excusing what you imagine might be not very good. But, yes, in a way, I believe if YOU have no reason to keep it up, then it's certainly not worth it to me as a reader to spend time on it. I don't mean that as an insult; I hope you can see what I'm driving at. I need to detect THE WRITER'S vision and the essence of THE WRITER'S passion to tell a very particular story, to begin with. Otherwise, what can I say that will matter to anyone--least of all you or me?


    Personally, I “choose” certain stories rather than “avoiding” anything, especially in a forum of beginning writers. I usually choose "general fiction" or over genre fiction, but only because that's the kind of fiction that interests me. I also don't understand why so many young novices are writing novels, rather than short stories (where I believe there are much better opportunities to learn about the craft of writing). So, I don't always look at those, either; although sometimes I do, depending.

    I've only posted one story here, and I’ve gained quite a bit from that experience. But that’s because I know what I want that story to be, in the final outcome, and I expect only from my readers that their feedback reflects their genuine read (I consider that HUGE and HUGELY helpful!). One thing that's kind of nice about this forum is that, if I'm not mistaken (correct me if I'm wrong), someone could read and review at a much later date (the story remains available to read for … ever? I don’t know). Anyway, it may be that someone who has an interest in reading a story by a forum participant--because of something they said or posted in a discussion--would have a chance to do that, whenever they get around to it.

    Essentiallly, any writers' forum is only what the writer himself makes of it. For serious beginners, it's really a place to begin to shape your own attitude about the art of writing and storytelling and the craftsmanship to do a good job, and what degree of "excellence" will satisfy your own writing objectives. Maybe more importantly, it's a place to learn that, ultimately, it's your own attitude that will matter more than anyone else's in writing your very own stories--however much you learn by seeing your work through the critical eye of your reader.
     
  15. Ragnar
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    Ragnar Contributing Member

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    Hermit style life eh? You sound like me. I wouldn't worry overly much that few people comment on your work, if you find that your writing is rewarding to yourself you should post it online and one day some like-minded people will read your story and shower you in compliments, or maybe you just will get a few comments that are usually aimed at how you can improve your short story. Still rewarding.

    Oh yeah, back to the original question. What makes a story worth reading? Well, to me it can be any number of things, the fact that it is well written, or perhaps that the suspense is excellent, or even that I just like the general idea of course if it is a novel then I might not bother if it's only well written or only the suspense is worth bothering with, it depends on the length of the story, at least to me. If you can read what you write and still be encompassed by the story itself, then I would say there's a decent chance that other people will find it worth reading as well.

    What it really comes down to is who you're writing for, yourself, or others? If you write for yourself, does it really matter what other humans think? Not really, unless they bother supplying constructive criticism so you can improve at will what they found to be bad.
     

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