What Makes a Good Story?

Story, rather than plot, is the reason that we read fiction. As Stephen King says, ‘it’s all about the story,’ whereas he describes plot as ‘the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.’

There are no firm guidelines on what makes a good story. If you were to ask the opinions of a selection of readers, their responses would be dictated by personal taste, genre preferences and other considerations. Some genres have conventions and rules which are expected by their readers, notably in romantic fiction, science fiction and horror although, when considering commercial and literary fiction, there are some general story criteria that are common to many books.

Here are some examples:

  • Characters that the reader identifies with, whether similar or very different from themselves.
  • Original ideas or a new twist on a familiar story.
  • Change in the life and circumstances of the main character(s).
  • Overcoming adversity and other obstacles.
  • Surprise, that is original and creative, yet credible and founded in truth and reality.
  • Mystery. Having to deduce the truth of what is happening.
  • Moral values. Debate and balancing  the effects and consequences of characters’ actions.

The list is by no means exhaustive. Are there other examples you would add?