Recently we read the award-winning novel by Lois Lowry, The Giver, to assess what made that story good, to see what lessons we could learn and apply in our own writing. This week, I’d like to turn that question around a bit and ask: What makes a story good?
About a month ago, there was an article in The New Yorker, “Can Science Explain Why We Tell Stories?” It delves into the human psychology behind what makes stories so compelling to us, in how we organize information, relate to others, and shape our sense of ethics.
Do you agree with the conclusion, that the story is in the surprise?
Think about your favorite reads: whether they were novels or memoirs, a historical or political critique, or a book of spiritual inspiration? What story did they tell, and what made it good? (Even if it’s nonfiction, believe me, it still tells a story: the way information is presented, the framework, the central question and the answers all are one facet or filter for viewing a particular aspect of life and must be a coherent story to be told well. And probably can be summarized in 50 words or less – it had to be, to be submitted in a proposal that caught the attention of publishers.)
When you think about what made your favorite reads your favorites, try to be specific. If it was the plot: what about the plot? If it was the characters: why? Were they likeable, relatable…or a surprise? Was it the universal truth that resonated with you…or was it something new you learned?
Or perhaps, it’s a bit of both: the familiar to draw you in, and a surprise that shook you up?
Share with us a favorite and tell us why it stands out!