What makes a good story?


New Member
May 20, 2003
I am new to the forum and I have been browsing through the other topics. I thought I would ask you all, not who you like to read but what...what are you looking for in a good story. What appeals to you the most...good plot, memorable characters, exotic worlds...etc. Can you name a few stories or novels that have stuck with you and perhaps you even re-read because you can't find anything as good?

Thanks for the input :)

Real character.
Convincing world.
Unpredictable plot.
Original feel.
Not sure about "Real character". Some people would much prefer a protagonist who served as an "ego-fantasy", whereas others would prefer a character filled with flaws.

Unless you mean "real character" simply to the extent of having realistic seeming emotional responses - but even then I'm not sure if we're back to the issue of "ego-fantasy versus realism".

Personally, I'm all for realism. I have enough ego already without a writer trying to add more. I'm happy as I am, thanks! :)
On some level it has to be believeable. If it's not believable then it won't drag you in.
Absolutely - but then it's a case of creating something that the reader not only can believe, but actually wants to believe. After all, how many pseudo-mediaeval protagonists have missing teeth, leg ulcers, a polio limp, and tuberculosis? And yet...
I want good, dynamic characters. I like how Victor Hugo does it in Les Miserables... He can start a chapter taking a deep-dive into a persons history, going back to his grand-father or whatever, and explaining all of the events leading up to "today" that has made the person who he is. Then he finishes by saying something like: "And we will get back to this later" and continues the story. When this character is re-introduced, you already feel you know him sort-of... :)

I second the Unpredictable plot.

When I first read Empyrion, I felt I couldn't be certain who were the "good-guys" and who were the "bad-guys" (sorry for using those expressions) and that was kind of cool. Feeling the uncertainty the protagonist felt, that was well done I think.
I think the way a story is good is mostly based on the ability of the writer. Everything else is still relavent-plot, characters, milieu(sp?)-but I guess good writing will always amplify a lesser plot or a bad character.
Think about every book that you've reread for pleasure. Why? What do they have in common? Real characters? What's a real character? Convincing world? Who do I have to convince? Unpredictable plot? What's unpredictable? The author's ability to write? I've read bad books by great author's.
The books that I've reread for pleasure have characters that I care about, likeable characters. The milieu has to be well defined where the action takes place so that it seems real. The plot can be predictable but it must keep me turning the pages, but this can only happen with likeable characters. And it does take an author with talent.

Think about what your favorite stories have in common. I bet you come back to the characters.

My favorites:
"The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" Robert A. Heinlein
"The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" J. R. R. Tolkien
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Douglass Adams
I agree (sort of) with teddyrux. I took the advice and rethought all my favorite books (actually just two - the ones I've read a million times each). The things I like most are this:

The characters are such that I want to hang out with them, sit down and chat, weed a garden with. They also seem to have some traits in common with me (so I can relate to their point of view) and they have traits that I don't have that I admire.

In addition to this, the story is so seamless that it isn't until after you put it down that you've realized that three chapters have gone by and your cup of tea is ice cold and it is way past your bedtime. ;D
I agree with characters being the most important factor. Ultimately, every novel is about us in some way or another (even books written about animals because the writer instills human traits).
Stories are about our struggles as much with ourselves as against some form of adversity. It doesn't matter if you love or hate a character - what matters is that you actually care in some way what happens to that character. If the reader believes in the character, everything else will fall into place. The worst thing a writer can inflict upon the reader is a two dimensional caricature for which the reader has no feelings whatsoever. Stephen Donaldson's Gap series springs to mind - those people really suffered and every page I turned, I fretted for them, hoped for them and suffered with them. Wonderful stuff!
I think that's a vote for not simply for proper character building, but also for adversity.

I haven't read the Gap series myself, but I've heard some good things - just put up a short but general review in www.alternative-worlds.com - sounds interesting. Not sure if it sounds too dark for my liking, though.
Just checked out the Gap series review and I would say that I agree with the reviewer's opinions. The one thing that can't come across in such a short review is the sheer quality and talent which has been invested in each of the main characters.
Impressed you found it! The site isn't actually supposed to be functional yet - spent all day yesterday tidying up the files that are there, and correcting a string of errors. Still a couple of bugs to remove.
I feel plot is most essential to a good story. I have read many sci-fi books that have turned out to be nothing more than a great, boring descriptions of people and "amazing" worlds...that do absolutely nothing. Snore, LOL! Lots of sci-fi writers "overwrite" their evironments, and fail to realize that people don't need to be told every single detail. Create interesting situations, and the important details will flow out naturally.
A good mix of everything. I'll use George RR Martin as an example. He has great characters, great epic plot, immaculate detail, but to top it off he's a brilliant writer. If he was weak in any of these, he wouldn't have rocketed to No 1 on my best author list.
What makes a good story?

  • characters I care about
  • enough background to make the world seem real (and this goes for stories that take place in what we would think of as the "real" world as well as for stories in created worlds)
  • story developments that seem logical (no characters doing things that feel "out of character" for them)
  • a conflict that seems realistic rather than completely arbitrary
  • some unidentifiable something that just makes the story seem "right".
If all these things are there, then I can fall into the story and lose myself in it. This is what I'm looking for when reading fiction - I like to be able to come up out of the story with a feeling of dislocation, as if I was actually there and have to readjust my consciousness to my real world when I put the book down. Sheesh...I make reading a good story sound almost like a drug, don't I? Well, better that kind than the kind that messes up one's physical body chemistry, I guess. And, hey, at least books are legal.
dwndrgn said:
Thank goodness!! Otherwise I'd be locked up somewhere without a book to read, slowly going crazy...
Yeah, me too.
Only I don't think it would be a slow trip for me, but more of a rush toward madness. I literally have to have time to sit down and read every day, or I get kind of twitchy.
Intricate like tolkien

Imaginative like stephen King

a bit off like phillip dick

great story like Heinlein

gritty action like Hubbard was capable of or Burt Cole (the quick)

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