What Goes into a Good Story? Part 1

Posted by on Nov 1, 2013 | 0 comments

What Goes into a Good Story? Part 1

I began writing professionally since 1982 and although I’ve only been playing at the creative side of the writing equation for a dozen years or so, I’ve assembled a number of humble opinions about how to write stories.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people make a lot of money teaching budding authors how to write a novel and much as I respect the transfer of knowledge, I think that it is just as important for a writer to unleash their imagination and allow the story to develop as it will. Fiction writing is one of those rare occupations that requires a certain amount of structure at the same as it requires unbridled imaginary abandon. It is creative and formulaic, to some extent, both at the same time.

If you are new to the idea of writing fiction, I would like to suggest the most important work you will ever do lies in giving yourself permission to invent.


Exposition is the part of your story that provides the reader with important background information. Sometimes you need to provide some backstory that is not directly part of the action itself. If you’re too wordy with it, you risk forcing your readers to tune out. To get around that, authors might use a flashback or have the character talk about his or thoughts of the past:

“When I was a child, I didn’t realize that my family was unlike others.”

Or the character might project some of the story into the future:

“It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized we were different.”

And speaking of characters…


We generally have at least two characters in a novel – the hero (back in high school he or she would have been called the protagonist) and the Hero’s nemesis, who I would generally think of as the antagonist. The Hero drives the action of the story and we’re really reading the story to find out about his or her adventure – be it physical, emotional or spiritual. While the hero may have numerous friends and supporters, he or she is brought into conflict with the antagonist – the person or group who does not want the hero to succeed. Ideally you want your hero’s life to be miserable. Readers love to see a hero struggle, and the more impossible you can make their journey, the more inspirational their success will be at the end. Bear in mind that the success doesn’t mean they have to be alive at the end of the book (although I personally prefer happy endings), but rather that their goal or journey ideally needs to evince some level of triumph.

Readers generally like to see some sort of personal evolution in the characters in a novel, and you will keep people most engaged if you make your characters easy to visualize – describe their appearance and personality quirks, give them dialogue that allows them to express their deepest thoughts and feelings, make them move and make sure there are plenty of gestures: a raised eyebrow, a quiet smirk, a toss of the hair, a well-timed sneer. Don’t forget to show your readers how your characters are feeling!

Watch for the next blog featuring the second part in the creative writing process!


If you would like to order a copy of either my novel, “Shades of Teale” or my book of creative non-fiction stories, “Passages to Epiphany,”  you can either get in touch with me directly at susan@crossmancommunications.com or find them on Amazon!

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