What Makes a Good Story for Meadmin
A few weeks ago, I did an author interview and two questions intrigued me. What would I say to a new author, and what makes a good story.
I honestly don’t think that you can be a good writer without first being a reader. If you are a reader, you know which books you have liked, and if you work at it, you can figure out why. Was it a character, a villain? Was it the way the author described a scene? Was it a riveting plot? Or a sub-plot? Was it the pace? Was it a genre that you’ve always liked? Did it have certain elements that you always enjoy. If you take the time to dissect about 50 different books that you have liked, you will come up with some fundamentals of what YOU like. And if you can write something that YOU like, others will too.
In my lifetime I have probably read 3000 books, from age 3 up, over a span of 55 years. Some years in my life, I read 100-200 books, other years, I only read 20. There were books that I was forced to read in school, there were books that I loved as a child, there were books that I discovered in my older years. As I have gotten older, I have gotten more and more fussy. I think that’s why I read so little. I’m very hard to please. Right now, I mainly read historical mysteries set in the UK, science-fiction with alien encounters, fantasy with vampires and werewolves. Ever since I was a child, I have loved books with magic. A few years ago, NPR came out with their list of the 100 best sci-fi of all time. I had read at least 20 of them, but I figured if they were that good, I might enjoy some new ones. About 10 of them grabbed me, but many did not. Very fussy. Ironically, I don’t write about any of the things I love to read. I read to escape. Completely. A different country, a different world, a different species. Unrelatable. That’s how I like it. So, it is the height of irony that what I write is intensely personal. I guess that’s just what has come out of me. But at the same time, I think my stories have certain elements that reflect the things that I love about reading.
For me personally, the first page is everything. It has to introduce the story, at least one major character, an element of the plot, a meaningful scene. It must have action. Or you have lost me. For some people, the very first line has to get their attention. If there is action in the first line, instead of description, then there is a reason to move forward. The book must always be moving forward. And each piece of the description has to have meaning, has to advance the story. I usually give a book 3 pages. If the action has not begun in 3 pages, it won’t get read. Unless… the book comes highly recommended. Then I might give it one or two chapters. And if it’s by an author I love, it might get more. But once you’ve lost me, it’s over. There are so many other books. I’m not going to waste time on something I don’t like. I also skim over the setting, and jump to the action. The more I have to skim, the more frustrated I get. So, a good story is a mix. When the characters tell what they see, what has meaning to them, then the description is part of the action.
Now, with this said, a good book that is long has several sub-plots. Each character is doing something, each character is developed, in addition to how they advance the plot, there is something else going on in their life to give them depth. Something unresolved that will be resolved later in the book. And last, if an author wants to make sure that I will read their future stories, don’t kill off my favorite character.