What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? Good question, with an involved answer. The thing about a great story is that you would think it’s all based on opinions. Well, that may be somewhat true, but not totally true.
While a lot of stories are dependent on the opinion of the reader, a lot of readers tend to want the same things.

So let’s start with the basic concept of story. What does the word story mean to you? I once heard an author describe story as characters in conflict. Characters with impossible dreams. Characters willing to do anything to reach their dreams. That pretty much sums it up for me. I mean, what’s the point of reading a story if there was no conflict? “Jane woke up happy, met the man of her dreams, and now they’re getting married. The end.” Wow – who cares?

Let’s face it, we love to read about characters who are suffering. I think part of the point in reading a story is to be able to grow with the characters. If the characters are not in conflict, then they are probably not growing either. The conflict is what draws us in. It makes us want to turn the pages to see how the character is going to overcome whatever obstacle they happen to be facing.

Another key to a great story is a great character. Readers want to idolize the characters they’re reading about. My dad recommended a fantasy book once. I won’t give the name because I don’t want to make fun of the author. This author was actually quite gifted. The world he created was very original and the conflict and plot twists were fabulous. But I just couldn’t get through the whole thing.

Because the book was so well written and came recommended, I tried to finish it. I pushed myself to read until I was halfway, and then finally put it down. Why? Because I hated the main character! He was totally self-absorbed, wallowing in his own misery. He raped a girl and then didn’t seem to feel any remorse whatsoever. The girl’s mother was his guide and she knew what he had done to her daughter, yet he didn’t appear to even feel awkward around her. I just couldn’t read through this man’s journey because I didn’t like him and didn’t want him to win.

Please note that there are characters in the fictional world who could also be described as egotistical and depressed. However, those characters usually have some redeeming qualities that make the reader want to cheer for them anyway.

Another note is that it’s not just the main character who needs to be well written, but all of the characters. Even the ones who are around for a few pages should still come across as third dimensional instead of two dimensional.
The story also needs to have a good flow to it. There needs to be ups and down throughout the whole book that can all be tied together by the end.

And, finally, the author’s voice needs to be their own. There has to be some way the author describes the story that readers can get into. Of course, this one is pretty subjective because some people prefer a different kind of voice. But the point remains that the author needs to be themselves while they write and not try to imitate someone else. I should also mention that basic grammar also makes the story flow well.

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