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Discussion » Questions » Books and Literature » What makes a good story? Is it the character build up? The plot? The author's writing style? How the reader imagines the story?

What makes a good story? Is it the character build up? The plot? The author's writing style? How the reader imagines the story?

Posted - October 30, 2018


  • 22385
    when its interesting
      October 30, 2018 9:44 AM MDT

  • 7307
    Hi Pearl~  If I understand you correctly, it is how the characters and story unfolds in the reader's imagination.  That is good to know.  Thank you. :) :)
      October 30, 2018 8:54 PM MDT

  • 40557

    Timing is probably the only element you may have missed.  It has to reach an audience as a rule.  That has a lot to do with capturing attention and nowadays there are so many stories to consider, it is like winning the lottery just to be heard.

      October 30, 2018 11:00 AM MDT

  • 7307
    Hi Sharonna~ It's fantastic to see you again! 
    You bring a good point to the table.  You need to have a target audience for any sort of entertainment.  The trick is to get people to read something other than tabloids, the internet gossip, or required school reading.  I rarely see people reading the paper. They would rather watch it on TV.  And to top it off, I have found that many people would rather listen to a book than to sit down and read one.
    I'm not really sure how that works.  Is that like "getting published?"  If so, then it still might be in the author's favor. :) 

    All in all, it seems to be getting harder to entice people to buy a book, sit down and enjoy it and then talk about it. 
    Thank you very much for your input. I absolutely agree.  It's great to have you back. :) :)  See you soon on another question! :) :)
      October 30, 2018 9:41 PM MDT

  • 40557
    I just love you to death.  

    Don't die though.

      October 30, 2018 10:23 PM MDT

  • 7307
    You Crack Me Up!!!  
    Please tell me that is NOT a young Martha Stewart trying to look all suave and sultry (as sultry as she can get...), modeling 3 green skulls in a "Let's Make A Deal" stance?!  She really isn't trying to pull this off, is she?????

    Hugs and loves to you!!! 

    This post was edited by Merlin at November 1, 2018 1:07 AM MDT
      October 30, 2018 11:10 PM MDT

  • I wish I could "Like" this 100 times for Martha

      October 31, 2018 7:23 AM MDT

  • 24899
    Anything that doesn't put me to sleep.
      October 30, 2018 11:37 AM MDT

  • 7307
    Hi Element~  It's always a good sign when your reader isn't snoozing after the first chapter.  I love mysteries.  Those keep me up late.  I used to make tents in my bed with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. 
    Maybe I should look into writing one of those.  Or I could do picture books. I do like to draw.  Those might keep you awake.  Maybe you could make a tent yourself and say up and look at the pictures.  I hear there are books you can interact with.  Those would definitely keep you perked up. 
    Thanks Element.  You've started a ball rolling in a direction I've never entertained.  I like where this might be going! 
    See you on another question, soon! :) :) This post was edited by Merlin at November 21, 2018 5:09 AM MST
      October 30, 2018 9:55 PM MDT

  • 24899
    How very subtle you are. HAHAHA
      October 31, 2018 6:50 AM MDT

  • 7307
    It's that "thinking outside the pages" that catches the reader every time ;) ;)! This post was edited by Merlin at November 1, 2018 1:08 AM MDT
      October 31, 2018 1:49 PM MDT

  • 2638
    Hello and good evening 2U...

    IMO - to each his own - “one man's trash is another man's treasure,”
      October 30, 2018 2:30 PM MDT

  • 7307
    Hi Beans!!!  How grand it is to see you!!  It's been a little while.  I've missed seeing your friendly musical notes and reading your posts.  I'm glad you're here to answer my pending question.  Yeaa!
    Speaking of reading,  I have always wondered how this worked.  I like to write and wondered if I were to tackle such a goal, what I would need to tackle before actually writing anything worth reading.  

    Your answer made me smile, big time. :) :)  So True!  Big winks and smiles!
    Thanks for your fun insight and stopping by to answer my question.  See you on another, soon! Love, Merlin :) :)
      October 30, 2018 10:13 PM MDT

  • 2638
    with a BIG smile...
      October 30, 2018 11:31 PM MDT

  • 7307
    I feel that hug!  Thank you!  

    Have a safe and Happy Halloween!  
      October 31, 2018 1:51 PM MDT

  • 2638
    BOO backatcha!  You're 'one in a million' - Song Title... 
      October 31, 2018 2:03 PM MDT

  • 13065
    I agree with all four of the answers posted thus far.

    And I'll post the non-answer that first popped into my head.

    Shirley Jackson's "The Sundial." Granted, I already knew I liked her work when I first read this book. But I've gone back to this book and have read it a total of three times in its entirety. Something about it just pulls me in and keeps me there, even when I get uncomfortable.

    And this opening is incredible to me.

         After the funeral they came back to the house, now indisputably Mrs. Halloran's. They stood uneasily, without any certainty, in the large lovely entrance hall, and watched Mrs. Halloran go into the right wing of the house to let Mr. Halloran know that Lionel's last rites had gone off without melodrama. Young Mrs. Halloran, looking after her mother-in-law, said without hope, "Maybe she will drop dead on the doorstep. Fancy dear, would you like to see Granny drop dead on the doorstep?"
        "Yes, mother."

    This post was edited by WelbyQuentin at November 1, 2018 1:08 AM MDT
      October 30, 2018 3:36 PM MDT

  • 7307
    I have not read "The Sundial," by Shirley Jackson; however, if you like the book well enough to re-read it three times through, than I most certainly and going to put it on my "Must Read" list.  I'm tellin' ya' Welby, you have expanded my "Must See Movie and Must Read Lists" beyond any length I ever thought possible!  Thank you for that and for sharing a form of writing that catches you. 
    I always appreciate you input and style.  Chances are, if you like, so might I.
    Thank you Welby and see you on another, soon, I hope!:) :)
      October 30, 2018 11:03 PM MDT

  • 13065
    It's an uncomfortable, chilling read to me. But I find all of the characters fully human. I guess I can't really explain the book's enticement for me.

    It's good to see you, too - - and thanks so much to you for your kindness to me!
      October 31, 2018 9:10 AM MDT

  • 7307
    He Welby~ :)  I remember you sharing the opening statement of that book and how it moved you.  I'm curious as to what happens next?  Do they kill her?  .... :)

    One of my favorite books that I haven't read in about 35 years is "The Magus," By John Fowles.  It's opening isn't quite as grasping as yours. But here it is:

    "I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria. I was sent to a public school, I wasted two years doing my national service, I went to Oxford; and there I began to discover I was not the person I wanted to be.

    "I had long before made the discovery that I lacked the parents and ancestors I needed. My father was, through being the right age at the right time rather than through any great professional talent, a brigadier; and my mother was the very model of a would-be major-general’s wife. That is, she never argued with him and always behaved as if he were listening in the next room, even when he was thousands of miles away. I saw very little of my father during the war, and in his long absences I used to build up a more or less immaculate conception of him, which he generally – a bad but appropriate pun – shattered within the first forty-eight hours of his leave."


    The opening lines from The Magus by John Fowles, published in 1966 but begun in the 1950s. It’s a fascinating story of physiological illusions that can and do become increasingly dark and serious.

    I read it so long ago, it must be time to pick it up again.  I will probably have an entirely different reading experience at this stage in my life than I did when I was 15.
    Funny how life changes your perception of things... ;) :)

    It's always very easy to be kind to you Welby.  You are kind to every one as well.  Hugs and loves! :) :)

    This post was edited by Merlin at November 1, 2018 8:17 AM MDT
      October 31, 2018 9:46 PM MDT

  • 13065
    Thanks, Merlin.

    I enjoyed reading this excerpt from "The Magus," too.
    Yes, sometimes we can get different things from rereading books.

    Ha! No plot spoilers will you get from me as far as Mrs. Halloran and her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, ha!
    But I will say this . . .

    " . . . 12 people in a lonely house awaiting the end of the world . . ."

    Image result for the sundial shirley jackson

    This post was edited by WelbyQuentin at November 1, 2018 8:24 AM MDT
      November 1, 2018 8:21 AM MDT

  • 2474
    All of the above, and more.
    A great story hooks the reader with the first few words. 

    The opening sentence of George Orwell’s "Animal Farm":
    Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.
    A protagonist's character and an impending plot development is implied with the first sentence. We want to know what happens next.

    A good story has a least one major theme which is not overtly stated - but the unfolding events allow the reader to perceive it by inference. It uses words to evoke and to show, but it does not report or tell; it is a water-color or an oil painting, not a photograph.

    It uses language that sounds natural and is easy to read and yet is uniquely poetic:
    "He had slept through it all, grasping his little wooden sword with perhaps a tighter clutch in unconscious sympathy with his martial environment, but as heedless of the grandeur of the struggle as the dead who had died to make the glory." (from Chickamauga by Thomas Wolfe) It's prose, but it unfolds in a series of phrases that could be put into lines. It has a natural cadence if one reads it aloud. It uses imagery and simile. And it leads where one least expects - in this instance, from the small, intimate, simple and safe... to the vast, ominous, tragic and ironic.

    Good stories may be either character-driven or plot-driven, or both, but the key is change; at least the protagonist is changed by what occurs in the plot - preferably all the main characters.

    Timing counts, though it varies with taste, epoch and culture. It should never drag, except perhaps briefly to express boredom (perhaps as a motivation for action) or as the prelude to surprise or sudden change. It should hold the reader's interest so well that it's hard to put down.

    That said, great literature is often really hard to read and can take four or five chapters to adapt to the author's style. The reward comes from sticking with it to the end. It is as if just seeing the brush strokes up close is somewhat frustrating, but in stepping back to see the entire picture, everything falls into place with the most wonderful sense of ah-ha! ah yes! now I get it - and now I understand something about humanity that I never knew before. For me, it's that something that makes it stand out from all the rest.


    "He had slept through it all, grasping his little wooden sword with perhaps a tighter clutch in unconscious sympathy with his martial environment, but as heedless of the grandeur of the struggle as the dead who had died to make the glory."

    This post was edited by bookworm at November 21, 2018 5:11 AM MST
      October 31, 2018 2:48 AM MDT

  • 13065
    " . . . and can take four or five chapters to adapt to the author's style. The reward comes from sticking with it to the end."

    My mind immediately went to Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw." I admit, I read the book after watching and being absolutely terrified of the 1961 movie "The Innocents," based on that book. James' writing style was challenging for me but I already knew the basic plot and characters and that helped me enjoy the book. I find "The Innocents" an excellent movie adaptation of the book.

    This post was edited by WelbyQuentin at October 31, 2018 11:00 PM MDT
      October 31, 2018 9:16 AM MDT

  • 2474
    I've read all of Henry James. At first, it seemed to me that he dealt with gossipy, rather than substantive themes, but then I realised that, as a writer on the cusp of modernism, James was mainly dealing with psychological issues. Once I got that, I became more intrigued by his characters and plots. The governess, for instance - one never knows whether she is prone to suggestibility out of superstitious beliefs and paranoia, or is schizoid. James constructs the social dynamics to create ambiguity and confusion; the reader never knows the truth. And this can reflect a psychological reality - there are times when we never can know just how "real" or subjective certain stories and experiences of others might be. At least, that was my take on it. Horror doesn't attract me, and I have zero belief in supernatural notions - so I tend to look for alternative and more plausible explanations - and James gives the reader plenty of room for personal interpretation.
      October 31, 2018 11:18 PM MDT