|Engrossed in a good story...|
In book reviews you read many things – how clever the plot is, how thought-provoking the themes, how beautifully written, inventive, subtle… but do they tell you whether it is a Good Story? That’s what I want to know, because if it’s not I won’t enjoy it. As Lizzy Edmondson is reported to have said ‘If they write well but there's no story, I don't want to read it. For profound thoughts expressed in poetic language, I turn to poetry. For intellectual arguments and ideas that appeal to reason, I'll read non-fiction.’ [Guardian, 21st April 2014]
I completely agree! When I read fiction, I want an engrossing story line with engaging characters. An interesting setting helps, too, but it’s the story and the characters that are essential.
So the next question is, how do we as writers create a) that absorbing story and b) the characters that draw readers in?
For what they’re worth, here are my thoughts on how to create a Good Story:
- you need a situation which requires difficult decisions to be made
- you need characters who don’t always (or even often!) make the right decision
- you need emotional impact, something that makes the reader care about your characters (and that is why fully-developed characters are so important)
- and, finally, you need conflict, either within one character or (more usually) between characters. There has to be something at stake for the characters, otherwise there is no ‘story’. This conflict should be resolved (wholly or partially) by the end of the book.
And for the characters:
- as the writer you need to know your characters completely. This can be done either by thinking them through in your head or (if you’re like me and don’t have an infallible memory) by writing all the details out for yourself: how they look, what they feel and think, what they have experienced in the past, want in the future, etc. Much of this won’t actually appear in your writing, but it is this background that will give your characters depth
- characters should be believable. I know in real life some people just are too horrible to be true, but in fiction if you write them like that the reader won’t believe in them (this is also true for coincidences – the strangest coincidences happen in real life that are too far-fetched for fiction!)
- characters should therefore be complex, with both good and bad aspects. If you’re writing romance, as I am, the main protagonists MUST be likeable. They can have irritating aspects to them, but overall they must draw the reader in so that the reader cares.
If it was as easy as just following these few tips we wouldn’t all be battling so hard to achieve the perfect novel. But I’ll try to bear them in mind as I struggle onward and upward. And try to remember that, above all, it’s the story that counts.