What does a good story do?

Last month, fellow writer and editor Tarl Roger Kudrick of On the Premises said on Facebook that he hadn’t updated the OTP blog, because he hadn’t thought of something interesting to blog about. So I proposed this topic which has been occupying my mind recently:

“I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately on the “literature vs popular” theme (maybe because of the last Twilight film?). Is it a good story only if it is well crafted on every level from grammar to themes, or is it a good story because people enjoy it regardless of any traditional literary standards of merit? I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.”

Tarl took up my challenge immediately, and I looked forward to a good and thoughtful answer from the editor of one of my favorite ezines (and a man with the good taste and literary discrimination to buy one of my stories for his second issue). I didn’t quite expect what I actually got: one of the best discussions I’ve read in recent years, of what elements make a story work or not work.

Here’s a tiny taste:

“Our first step was to “operationalize,” as we social scientists say. In this case, that meant changing the question from “What is a good story?” to a pair of more easily answered questions: “What does a good story do?” and “What does a bad story do?”

We came up with a list. Here are some excerpts.

Good story: Makes us want to finish it. When it’s over, we want to share it with friends.

Bad story: Bores us.

Good story: Either uses standard grammar, spelling, and punctuation so these elements of writing do not distract from the story, OR deliberately uses them in non-standard ways that thoughtfully enhance the story.”

You can read the rest here on the OTP blog, along with lots of other good stuff about writing and editing. (You can even read Tarl’s experience of having his story edited by the editors at Cliffhanger Books. That would be Kevin Hosey and me.)

If you care about what makes a story work, Tarl’s discussion is definitely worth the read.

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