Want to learn how to write a good story? Think of it like dating.
A story is an experience. People sit down to enjoy it by reading, listening, or watching.
The idea is that a story is a relationship between two people: a writer and the audience.
The writer aims to satisfy the reader, and the reader comes to read or give you some of their time.
If one of these two parties isn’t interested or doing their job, it’s difficult for the other to fulfil their part of the deal. For instance, if the reader isn’t interested, then there is little you can do as an author. This post will help you understand your part better if you are a writer.
As an editor and publisher, I frequently heard that an editor’s job was to help the writer realize his intentions. That is true except for the fact that many writers have inappropriate intentions. The four most common I’ve heard are “I am expressing myself”; “I have something to say”; “I want to be loved by readers”; and “I need money.” Those are all occasional outcomes of the correct intention, which is to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life. If the reader is also rewarded with insights, it is not always the result of the writer’s wisdom but of the writer’s ability to create the conditions that enable pleasure to edify.Sol Stein, On Writing
How to write a good story
1. Give them an idea of what they are getting into
A story should interest you before you start listening or Reading- just like dating. Call this an initial attraction.
You can make a story attractive with its title, the book cover, the first line, or the first paragraph.
Normal people would say things like, “that guy ain’t my type,” which is a judgment. It means they didn’t find the person sexually attractive.
Some say, “I love sci-fi or romance, but I don’t enjoy literary fiction.”
Same thing. It’s about preference.
I love sci-fi, but they are hard to read if they don’t have themes. I love literary fiction much more because I can learn life lessons from them. That’s my taste in stories.
As a storyteller, you will get more listening ears when you know your audience and why they love the kind of things they like. For instance, why do people read romance? Or fantasy? Try to answer that.
2. Give them time to enjoy the build-up
I want to tell you how I lost my tooth to a girl. It was a punch. I was too weak. And I was seven years old.
Is that interesting to you?
Let’s try again.
I watched the girl, who maintained a serious gaze. She was way taller and bolder than I had expected. My heart was pounding really hard, like some rocket engine. And there were two choices in my head. To fight or run. But some older folks were laughing already. I was a boy. I would become a man, or so I have been taught. Men do not fear… fighting… or fighting a girl the same age as them. So I had to fight her. So when someone laughed and called me a weakling, I charged forward like a kite. I didn’t see the punch coming. It hit me hard and forced me back. I shut my eyes and opened them. When I touched my mouth, I had a tooth and blood in my palm.
The main story is ‘the punch.’ That’s what really happened. If you see me that day with blood in my mouth and you ask why, I would say something like, “I got punched.”
But that won’t make you laugh until I start telling the story of what was in my head and how the attacker was a girl I had boasted of beating.
What makes a story good?
Build-up is one of those things.
In sex, they call it foreplay. Touching, snogging, kissing. The main thing is usually the sex — the ejaculation, if we are being precise. Or, if we go a little backward, we have the talking stage or first chat. Everything the two people do before they start dating.
In storytelling, let’s call it “why?”
Why am I standing there trying to fight at all costs? Cos people are laughing.
And why did I get in the fight in the first place? Cos I think I’m a man.
Tell us what the characters do. But more than that, tell us why they do it. It’s one of what makes a story good.
Do not overdo it, though. That’s like telling someone your best grade in primary school when you are expected to go for a kiss.
3. Give them a reason to continue
One of the things you need to write a good story is to think of a reason for the readers should continue.
Make them care, just like when you go on a date. This is tricky because no one is perfect and presenting yourself as a flawless creature on a date is a big turn-off.
In storytelling, you have to give people reasons to continue going.
These are the things you should include:
A lovable character
Someone who is fighting an important cause or mission.
In Game of Thrones, viewers quickly fell in love with Arya Stark, Ned Stark, and Jon Snow. So your assignment right now is to answer, why did I like any of these characters?
If the readers like the characters, they will be more interested in what happened to them.
Suspense is when there are two results from following one action, and the readers experience the possibility of a positive and negative thing happening.
The action is fighting a man in a boxing ring. As readers continue reading, they will experience suspense when they can’t tell if the character will win or lose.
Ordinary people aren’t interesting. No one wants to read their story or spend money watching it.
I do content writing, write fiction and teach people how to master learning. Writing is lonely, and if anyone should watch me do it, they will be bored to death. I am an average person.
What if I tell you I am the son of the hand of the king and feel I don’t belong in my family? My father won’t tell me about my mother, and I am looking for an opportunity to make him proud.
Now, this story looks more interesting.
That’s not me. That’s Jon Snow.
What’s surprising about your character? Plot? Or Setting? This is the most secrets of better stories.
When creating plots, we call this idea a “plot twist.” It’s another way of saying, “surprise your readers.”
If it surprises us regularly, we will keep reading it no matter how many books you write or how many seasons you create. But, once the element of surprise isn’t there, you will lose us.
Talking about sex, I have seen many sex scenes in movies. “I didn’t know you’re this good” or “This is what I have been looking for all my life” are compliments that validate the idea that people care like surprises either in sex or at the cinema.
Don’t shock people out of their pants, though. Surprising is different from scaring people. If people’s expectation is on a scale of 1-10, you will do just fine if you do something between 7-10. Once you head to 11, you will be scaring people off or get comments like “this is ridiculous.”
4. Give them an interesting place
Setting matters depending on the story or the part the setting plays. In my experience in writing a story, the stage is just a compliment to the characters and how you build up and narrate the actions.
Same thing with sex. I was watching a show the other day, and the participants mentioned the best place they have had sex. Their answer varies from parks to cars to swimming pools to kitchens.
Think about the setting this way: how does the setting improve the suspense or build up? Let things complement each other. In other words, it’s not really about the setting but what is happening in that place, and the place influences it.
If blue lights make your character perform better, then make it shine blue. This example works for both sex and storytelling.
5. Give them a reason to believe you are telling the truth
If I have a reason to doubt the story while reading, it’s not interesting.
Readers can doubt it later, but not when they are still reading.
When I was learning how to write a story, an editor once wrote, “people do not talk like this…” about my dialogue.
Yes, it’s fiction, but people want to believe it’s true, like something that happens in a place they have never been to.
You can use two things to make your story believable:
Details are like proof.
If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is on this: the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite and concrete. The greatest writers . . . are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter.E. B White, Elements of Style
Use details that matter. “The man died” is not as believable as “I heard him gulp like he was trying to swallow something, and then he stopped breathing.”
A Strong Motive
Why is this important?
Add a solid purpose for your action.
Why do zombies invade the city? Because an experiment went wrong. Why is a father running back home despite all the zombies in the city? His daughter is at home alone. Why does he care about his daughter? Because the writer or movie has shown how much he loves his daughter?
Learn How to write a good story
Of course, there is more you need to know. I only scratch the surface in this post.
What I have written isn’t for most beginners. It’s for those who already have a background in how to write fiction or storytelling. At best, consider this a short guide on how to write a good short story or some short story tips.
If you want to learn more, check my other posts:
- A saner guide to writing a novel
- Why Your Ad Isn’t Selling? A beginner guide to storytelling in marketing
- How to use storytelling in marketing