The Fundamental Components for a Good Story
A good story isn’t down to just one magical ingredient, but instead it’s part of a whole cluster of ingredients that come together to make a story work well. But how do you capture all those essential components? What are they? And how do you make an average story into a great story?
A Good Premise
If a story is to work, the premise needs to be solid. Many stories fail to make an impression because the premise isn’t strong enough. From initial story ideas to a fully-fledged novel, the story needs to make sense - it needs to be logical rather than contrived. Many stories sound good, but on paper, they’re weak because the premise is flawed.
Story ideas need to be strong in order to hold the whole story together. And if writers really want to stand out, the idea needs to be original. If you have a strong premise, then you’ll have a strong story.
Just as important as a solid premise, a tight plot can make or break a novel. That means the plot needs to be logical – it must make sense. Almost all new writers fail to do this – their stories start well but then go in strange directions or they become absurd and often difficult to follow. They lose that sense of logic and so readers find it hard to suspend their disbelief.
A plot must be believable; otherwise readers just won’t invest in the story. Not only that, but it should be water tight. There is no room for glaring plot flaws and silly mistakes, because if you don’t spot them, your reader will.
Enough can’t be said about believable, likeable main characters. The reader wants to relate to your protagonist, to empathise and become emotionally involved with them on their journey. After all, the main character carries the story, so it’s important to get characterisation right.
Main characters need to be a real as any person. If not, then readers won’t feel any connection to them. They must be relatable, especially where emotions are concerned, which is why authors create a sense of immediacy, so that they immerse the reader.
A Great Opening
A strong opening line – the hook – is what pulls the reader into the story. The strength of that, and the writing, will invite the reader to read more of your work.
A book without a good opening will fall flat, and often writers make the mistake of writing long, boring prologues or they forget to start their story right at the moment their main character’s life changes and instead narrate for two or three pages before anything interesting happens.
Make your opening line count.
Escalation of Crisis and Conflict
This is the basis of the story; the very thing that sets everything in motion and pushes your main character on a collision course with the antagonist. These events become ever more tense, dramatic or dangerous as the conclusion draws near.
Stories wouldn’t work too well if the characters didn’t do much or achieve anything. That’s why we constantly escalate drama and conflict by placing the main character in danger, by pushing them into seemingly impossible corners, by making their lives difficult and giving them impossible dilemmas. Just when they (and the reader) think everything is okay, we escalate again. Every time you up the stakes and increase the danger, you add tension, drama, atmosphere, and even excitement, to the story.
Conflict is so important that stories wouldn’t exist without it. The more conflict you can create, the better the story will be.
A Grasp of Description
Visual description is essential. As the writer, you are describing the events to the reader, but if there is no description, what are you describing? Readers want to picture every scene, but they won’t be able to do that if you don’t give them anything to imagine, and many new writers fail this because they don’t have enough good description.
Every story is open to interpretation, so it’s vital that powerful or visual descriptions ensure the reader interprets the story in a way that lets them be part of the story, that they become involved and want the main character to achieve his or her goal.
A novel can have lots of description, but it needs to be the right description. Show, don’t tell. Whether your style is raw, gritty or poetic, make sure you describe the story. Don’t just tell it.
It’s not just the story that changes. Your main character must change in some way, too, whether they learn a life lesson or whether they change their behaviour or attitude by the end of the story. The protagonist in on a journey the moment the story opens, so inevitably by the end of the story, so much will have happened that they will feel differently about the world and the people around them.
Characters evolve with the story. If they don’t, there’s something wrong.
Hooking the reader with a great opening is one thing, but writers must also satisfy the reader with a sufficient ending that isn’t contrived, ridiculous (think any Hollywood action movie), or forced.
The story conclusion should be logical and believable, while maintaining a sense of drama, conflict and tension. Don’t fob the reader off with an ill-thought out ending that leaves the reader scratching their heads.
The ending should tie up loose ends, relieve the main character of his or her crisis and provide a satisfying conclusion. More importantly, it should lure the reader into wanting to read your next novel.
If you can pull all these ingredients together, you’ll end up with a strong story worth reading.