What makes a good story – revisited

Kramer vs Kramer is a prime example of a good story that engages through emotion
Kramer vs Kramer is a prime example of a good story that engages through emotion

What goes into writing a good story?

Many things—-maturity, insight, observational skills, a good ear for dialogue, an understanding of story structure, and so on.

But is there one element in particular whose absence would make a story significantly weaker?

Yes.

A  story that fails to solicit emotion on the part of the reader or audience is headed for oblivion.

A story filled with characters who leave us cold is probably not worth writing. It may be overflowing with wonderful ideas and insights about life, science, religion, philosophy, but who cares? If your focus is more on such insights than the emotions in a story, go publish a paper in an academic journal, write an editorial in a magazine, or give a talk at your local philosophical society. Your efforts might go down better there.

A story is, of course, capable of conveying deep, world-changing ideas, but only if the emotion in it causes us to care enough about the events and characters in the tale to delve deeper into the text in order to ferret out such ideas.

So, how do we create characters that audiences and readers care about? This is a skill that we must nurture throughout our writing careers. It does not come overnight.

Emotion makes for a good story

If I could give one bit of advice to kick-start the process it would be to make your lead characters worthy, interesting and caring people who find themselves in worsening situations of undeserved misfortune. This is the first step in creating empathy for your characters, and therefore, in wanting to get to know and care for them.

Summary

One of the most important requirements of a good story is that it solicits an emotional response from its readers and audiences. Only if we are emotionally involved in a tale will we care enough about it to spend time trying to understand its deeper layers – the themes and ideas it espouses.

Published by

Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

2 thoughts on “What makes a good story – revisited”

  1. Good post. I appreciate the image of Kramer vs Kramer. It’s really a memorable film because it’s the first real feature that shows the ugly truth about divorce. The title Kramer vs Kramer imminently sparks one curiosity. Any story worth telling is like a wave emotions. The most effective way to convey emotion is to have a understanding of structure ( Sid field). Only by mastering structure will a writer be able to implement the appropriate emotion. The best way to to determine your story structure : What is your opening image and what is your final image. How do we get to this place ?

    1. Gerhard, although an understanding of structure is crucial, and keeping in mind that characters are ultimately nuggets of structure in themselves, I would say the chief way to solicit emotion in the reader or audience is through a character, and the action she initiates or responds to.

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