Ever since I was a little child, I’ve been in love with stories. I have fond memories of my mother yelling at me to come to dinner, but I couldn’t hear her because my eyes and mind were buried too deep in a story I loved. I got in trouble frequently, but it was worth it every time.
I have no doubt my love of stories has guided me towards my career in writing. I could write about stories for a long time, but today I’m thinking about what makes a story good, in my opinion.
I know good stories are character first. I have no doubt of that in my mind, and without good characters even the best plot goes nowhere. But even with that being true, the best stories, in my mind, are tightly plotted masterpieces. I love the complexities of revenge in the Count of Monte Cristo and the idea of child-geniuses fighting our most important battles in Ender’s Game. You’ll never hear me doubt the importance of characters, but a great plot elevates a story to a higher level.
In my mind, all stories, even fantasy and science fiction, are a reflection of our real lives. Because of that, I sometimes struggle with heroes who face insurmountable odds and manage to win their happily ever after. They aren’t a deal breaker for me, but I do think the very best stories have real endings, endings that contain both positive and negative aspects. I won’t spoil the ending, but my favorite ending in recent memory is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. I couldn’t think of a more perfect ending to that story.
Antagonists that matter
I’m a sucker for action movies, where the villain is a one-dimensional bad guy seeking to take over the world, but the most memorable stories pay attention to their antagonists as well. Everyone has motivations, and if a story doesn’t do justice even to those who would do harm, it’s only telling half the story.
Stories where something is at stake
This is probably my biggest complaint when it comes to most literary fiction (at least a lot of the short fiction I end up reading), and one of the reasons I personally am drawn to sci fi and fantasy. These are stories that ask big questions, stories where something meaningful is at stake.
One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from the paragraph below. It was given by William Faulkner when he won his Nobel Prize:
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
These are the stories I like, but what about you? What stories do you like, or what makes a story good in your opinion?