What Makes a Story Great? (Part 2)

Last week I asked the question, “Just what is it that makes a story great?” This seemed like an important question to answer since I’m working on my first book at the moment. It also seemed like a good idea to share what I came up with with all of you Epic Dreamers since many of you will be doing NaNoWriMo next month.

Since there are so many elements involved in a great story, I split the answer to this question into three posts. In the last post, I talked about how important characters are in a story. In this post we’ll go over dialogue, twists, and tragedies.

So, let’s continue our list. Great stories…

Use entertaining dialogue

Dialogue fills a large portion of a book, so it’s pretty important that readers find it interesting. Fill your story with uninteresting dialogue and your readers will feel like they’re listening to the teachers in a Charlie Brown comic.

Image result for charlie brown teacher meme

Luckily, dialogue is fun to write. It’s a chance to show personalities and to see how characters interact with each other. It’s also a way to make readers grin.

Take this short bit of dialogue between some characters in Brandon Sanderson’s Alloy of Law.

Wax: You’re going home. That is that.
Marasi: I’m staying. That is that.
Wayne: I need to get something to eat. Fat is fat.

It makes us laugh, but it also conveys each character’s personality. We can tell that Wax and Marasi are both a bit stubborn while Wayne doesn’t take things too seriously and has a bit more of a care-free personality than the other two characters.

Yep, all that in those short little lines. Dialogue is pretty powerful.

Have twists and turns

Nothing makes me more excited to keep reading a story than an unexpected turn or a secret discovered. Twists and turns are an excellent way to keep readers interest and make your story memorable.

Who could every forget them moment they found out that Snape had actually been helping Dumbledore or that he’d loved Lily, Harry’s mother?

There is just something so thrilling about being surprised in a story whether it’s finding out that the sweet little maid was the one who committed the murder or discovering that the dedicated teacher is actually a part of a secret society sent to draft the main character.

It works even if the reader happens to figure it out before the big twist is revealed. Readers love to guess what’s going to happen next. We like to be surprised, but we also like feeling like a world-class detective smart enough to figure it out before the protagonist.

Image result for detective sherlock meme

Get readers sobbing their eyes out

Name your top three favorite books. I bet they all have at least one scene in them that brought you to tears (or at least made you feel a little twinge of compassion for all you cold-hearted out there 😛 ). Most have more than one scene that was tear-inducing. Think of how many deaths and tragedies were in the Harry Potter books or the Hunger Games trilogy.

This doesn’t mean that a story has to be laced with tragedies to be great. In fact, adding too many tragic events can have the opposite affect and make your story seem ridiculous. But if done the right way, a tragedy can make your story memorable.

Why is this?

Any time a strong emotion is cultivated, the memory of that event is stronger and stays with a person longer. It works in real life and it works in books.

But why does it have to be sad emotions? Why can’t the story use happy emotions to make it stick with readers?

For one, readers wouldn’t feel happy for the characters unless they had some not-too-happy events to compare them to. Second, we’ve all gone through tough spots in out lives and watching characters go through similar or even worse circumstances gives us the strength to do the same.

Besides, it’s really difficult to relate to character’s whose lives just keep getting better and better with no adversity.

Image result for crying over fandoms meme

If you aren’t liking the thought of all this writing all this sad stuff, don’t worry. Great stories also bring a smile to readers’ lips. But that will be next week’s topic, so until then let me know what you love in a good story.

Until next week! Dream on Epic Dreames! 😉

Part 3

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8 thoughts on “What Makes a Story Great? (Part 2)

    1. I don’t usually have accual tears running down my face, but if it’s a really good book with a really heart-twisting scene I will get a bit teary-eyed. But some stories are better at pulling you in than others.

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  1. All of them true, Megan. I agree that having a tragedy here and there is definitely essential to a good story. I remember sobbing my eyes out when Sirius, Dumbledore and Fred died. A good author should be able to make a reader care about their characters so much that it moves them – not necessarily to tears every time. I also love a bit of humour to compensate for high intensity plots.
    Coming to dialogue, although I love Sanderson as a writer, his dialogues are all the ‘he said/she said’ type, which made it slightly monotonous for me. But he’s very good at giving characters their own voice. That’s the thing about dialogue – you can (sort of have to, really) give each character a distinct way of speaking to go with their personalities. A child from the street can’t be saying things in the same way kings and queens do.
    Twists and turns are something we all love, but I’ve always found it difficult to work them into my stories. A good tip is to ask yourself, “What if a character doesn’t know X?” and see where that thought takes you. If you adds suspense, then great. If it makes it extremely confusing, it’s probably a good idea to change that X.

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    1. Reading about their deaths were just awful. Sirius was just so fun and a sort of father figure to Harry so I just didn’t want his death to be real. And same with Dumbledore. I kept thinking, “there’s no way he can actually be dead.” And of course the twins are just so inseparable that it was just the worst when they weren’t together anymore.
      Yep, those characters need a voice of their own. It can be a lot of fun to discover your character’s voice or sometimes frustration if characters are sounding the same. A lot of times when that happens, I start writing in that character’s point of view even if they aren’t the viewpoint character in a story just to get in their head.
      That’s good advice in twists in stories. You want it to add suspense, not make things so confusing that readers put the book down. 😀

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  2. I love Blue! I mean, uh, I love your work, too. And I do. The way you talk about stories and especially storytelling is sound and likable. I like how you show the value of humor. I think your skill with dialogue is sharp (in a good way), so I’m glad you talk about that (talk about talking), too. Your skill is strong. (The Force is with you.) Thank you for all you share, Megan!

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