What I Seek in a Story

Some years ago I made a list of vital ingredients for an excellent story.  These are the elements that capture my attention, make me mark the page, and stick in my mind and heart long after the book is finished.  These are the elements I want to have in my own writing.  I thought I’d share them today:

  • Wit, Wonder, Wisdom: Wit– I love humour, but it must be clever. Constant slapstick and bathroom humour doesn’t work.  Wonder– Our own world is just as intriguing as any fiction, so wherever the story is set there is a chance to be amazed.  Wisdom– Always.  Wisdom perfectly rounds out both a character and a plot.
  • Reason, Retribution, Reconciliation: Reason– everything that happens should make sense. Avoid coincidences.  Retribution– the villain should have his comeuppance.  Even if he lives to ruin another day he should at least feel some of the weight of his actions.  Heroes who make poor choices should also face the consequences.  Reconciliation– something must come together in the end, even if that something seems little.
  • Idiosyncrasies, Irony, Improvising: Idiosyncrasies– little quirks add realism, humour, and relatability. This goes for story world as well as for characters. Irony– Irony works great as humour, but also works to show a lesson without being preachy.  Improvising- things must go wrong in stories, and it is always awesome when the characters show ingenuity to fix things in unexpected ways.
  • Truth, Trouble, Triumph: Truth– that is what makes a story timeless and solid. Trouble- what triggers the story and keeps it going.  It also raises the stakes and shows the characters mettle. Triumph– the payoff.  Triumphs may be of any size, but they must always be meaningful.
  • Eclecticism, Edification, Eloquence: Eclecticism– a little bit of diversity not only reflects real life, but encourages more thought. It’s a chance to build characters and even create a little conflict. Edification– growth is important.  The characters should reach the end of the story both stronger and wiser, and so should the reader.  Eloquence– The story may be well thought out, but it will come off as amateurish unless well written.

Another thing that makes a good story: Alliteration.  

6 thoughts on “What I Seek in a Story

  1. This is the most delightful post! Writers setting rules for themselves strikes me as a gloriously sane idea; I can’t wait to read your stories, because you’ve clearly got a handle on what makes a good one! And the “alliteration” note at the end made me chuckle.


  2. Really enjoyed this post. Now it has me thinking of what I look for in a story. Mainly the same things, I think- at least I agreed with everything on your list – but I might have to try my hand at writing my own just to find out. There’d probably be less alliteration though, unfortunately


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