Do you want to be the best writer you can be?
If you want to write good stories, read good stories and pay attention.
That looks a little too simple, doesn’t it? It’s still the truest piece of advice I can give. There’s an old programmer’s motto: GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Put another way, you are what you eat.
I used to think I knew what made a good story. I thought what I watched and read was great. It was not really great though – most of it was simplistic, with hackneyed plots and cardboard cutout characters and it didn’t challenge me at all. It caused my stories to be just as simplistic. Then I started reading and watching really high quality stuff, and found what I had missed. I discovered levels of artistry and complexity that took my breath away. Twists and turns of plot, well written stories, mysteries that were done right, and more. I began to see how my own stories were woefully simplistic. I saw ways of improving them, too. I now have a habit of seeking out the best stories I can find.
With all that said, what makes a good story? I didn’t know how to recognize one reliably, after all, I thought I WAS reading and watching good stuff! So here is a list of general characteristics that can point you toward better stories, whether you are looking for a book, an anime, a role playing game, a movie, or a TV show.
A good story…
…makes you think.
…will give you clues when it’s a mystery, but make them very subtle. It will make your mind work.
…uses good descriptions or dialogue to bring you in to the story.
…isn’t always a “classic.” Some classics are woefully bad, but are classics because they are old.
…doesn’t talk down to the audience.
…shows how the characters grow and develop.
…lets the characters change and doesn’t leave them in the same place at the end as they were at the beginning.
…challenges you. A story you can sleep through is no story at all.
…gives motivations behind the character’s actions, beyond “because he wanted to.”
…makes you think.
Finding good stories can be easy or hard depending on what genre you are interested in. Ask for recommendations from people you admire, read reviews on sites like Goodreads, check out forum posts about potential TV shows. Pay attention to why people like things and how they talk about them. If a person writes well when describing why they like a story, then the quality of the story is likely to be higher.
When you find a great story, pay attention to why it’s great! Then think about how you could incorporate the same techniques into your own work. Eventually, you’ll absorb aspects of the great writing styles you love.
Read great stories. Write great stories. Build your moxie.
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