Several weeks ago, I posted a favorite Theodore Roosevelt quote: “I am in the mood for a good story. Of course, I am always in the mood for a good story.”
As I posted it, I began to wonder “what is a good story?” It was a question I’d never really pondered before. I know I love a good story, but the qualities that define a good story have never really come into the forefront of my thoughts.
I decided to do a little survey of my family members. Interestingly, no one brushed me off saying, “who cares?” or “it doesn’t really matter”. Story is important to us.
First I headed to my bedroom, where sister Tine was busy typing up her latest tale. She didn’t hesitate at all to answer my question, emphatically stating: “A good story is exciting. It has a little bit of everything—something funny, something serious. It’s true to life. It doesn’t make you wish you lived somewhere else. But fairies are OK sometimes. Most mysteries I don’t like. I write my books the way I wish other books had been written.” She turned back to her own story.
This was promising! I left to get my mother’s opinion. It was characteristically brief: “A good story is humorous and true to life.”
I had to dig a little to get taciturn Matt to answer, but once he did, he expressed ideas that are a common thread throughout all the responses I’ve received so far: “ It’s intriguing and holds your interest. It has a good plot and storyline. Not boring!”
I had to giggle when I heard Timmy’s ideas: “No kissing. No walking around talking about nothing. There should be bears and snowballs.” How like all little boys!
This was too good to keep to myself. I was telling Mommy about it when Daddy walked in. Pencil in hand, I again asked “what makes a good story?” He didn’t have to think long: “A good story has human interest. It stirs your emotions.” Probing, I asked which ones. “You’ll get a good laugh. Be moved with compassion.” The conversation took a lofty turn. “A good story shows you the brevity and value of life. You experience life’s joys. A good story takes you to places you’ve never been to meet people you’d not otherwise meet.”
It was the next day before I could ask busy college-going brother A. It was possibly a reflection of his current workload when he immediately said, “A good story keeps me awake. It has a combination of good dialogue, mystery, adventure, comedy, tragedy, and love.” (We’re not talking to a 9-year-old now!) “A story has to have all elements of life. Love and hate. You can’t understand one without the other."
Being an interviewer is fun. You can ask all the questions you want, and never have to give any answers. I won’t be so provoking as that. However, I will postpone the moment of my own answer!
It’s time for you, my reader, to respond. What features of a story draw you in? What are things that make you want to read a book again? Negatively, what things about a story repel you? I’m thinking of fiction in particular, but the question could apply to nearly any type of book. Remember, “story” is simply a connected series of events.