What Makes A Good Story?

I first came across this question when I began my first classroom teaching job. The FullSizeRenderteacher I replaced left several copies of  a short manual for kids: What Makes A Good Story? (Unfortunately out of print). Inside are 13 short stories and a discussion of what truly make good stories. It motivates students to write better with the techniques explored.

Fast forward more than a few years and here I am writing my own stories and preparing to be a round 2 CYBILS judge in the middle grade fiction category. Last time I checked there were 108 nominees to be read by round 1 judges. My part doesn’t come in until January after they have whittled the list down to the top 5-7 best.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question posed above and started to look through my notes. These are my own scribbles going back to my college writing classes, conferences attended, tons of books on how to write, and the numerous blogs providing helpful hints. My notes were scattered far and wide so I started a file to compile the list in one location. So… what does make a good story?

  • Conflict. There are seven kinds as noted in this linked article. You don’t have to use them all, but a story without conflict turns into a real yawner.
  • Characters you love or hate. There’s nothing better than feeling a part of the character’s emotions, decision making, along with their successes, failures and changes. This comes about by writing through the MC’s actions, words, thoughts, and opinions.
  • A theme or themes surfaces. The story should have meaning or make you think in a different way.
  • Using an effective point of view for your story.
  • Setting becomes vivid in a reader’s mind through the use of  the five senses.
  • A story that causes emotions from its readers. That could be tears, laughter, or sometimes both at the same time. Reactions are what hook readers.
  • A satisfying ending whether it be happy or sad.

All of this depends on the words a writer skillfully puts together to create the overall effect.

Now, what makes a great story? For me it’s the book or movie you’ve already read or watched and look forward to repeating the experience. I hope the CYBILS winner for 2015 will be that kind of story.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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7 Responses to What Makes A Good Story?

  1. Really interesting post and a reminder for all writers. Glad to know you will be judging. Hope my nomination reaches your hands. The first-round judges really have a difficult job, as do the 2nd round. I hope you write about your experience when you’re done. I applied to judge several years ago, but wasn’t accepted. Now I see how big of a commitment it is.

  2. There are a lot of great stories out there. I am always amazed by that. Good reminder tips here. Good luck with your judging duties. I don’t know how the first-round judges get through all those books and manage to keep them straight in their heads.

    • I’d never make it as a round one judge. I’ve only read about 20% of the nominated titles which means I’d have to read a book a day for the rest of 2015. I guess you’d have to have nothing else going on, and I doubt I’ll ever reach that point.

  3. salarsen says:

    I love how much thought and effort you’re placing on what makes as great story with you being a judge and all. How wonderful! Love that you’re a judge, btw. It’s truly an honor.

  4. Good point about what makes a GREAT story. There are some books where I almost rush to be done with it and then there are others, maybe one in ten, where I want to start from the beginning and read it through again, because it’s that good.

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