Everyone has their own definition of what makes a good story. However, there are certain elements to consider that will make your book stand out from the crowd…
Out of everything we discuss at our critique group, this is probably at the top of the list. Whenever one of us starts a new project, one of us will always ask how the character changes throughout the course of the story. This is what will make the story interesting, and make the characters realistic. Some characters will overcome their fear of love; others will overcome their grief; some will discover their dreams but learn it’s not all they thought it would be, and others, well they don’t change at all. Be VERY careful when writing a character such as this. It can work, but it’s difficult to pull off. Your character must still go on a journey of sorts throughout the book, but then ultimately be headstrong and blind enough to not learn anything despite everything that’s happened.Good example: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Your plot matters. A decent plot is what will encourage your readers to recommend their book to your friends. A weak plot will put them off. It will also put off potential agents — most request a synopsis when you reach out to them. If the plot doesn’t work, they’re not interested.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out the five point plot system. Before I start each project, I do a vague outline for each character so that I know where they start and where they end up. It could be as little as one word for each point, but it’s still something to remind me of the path I want the character to take. That path could change, or some points could be blank initially, but having a springboard to start off stops the book from meandering on to a completely different path and being full of scenes that add nothing to the story, relationships, or moving the story along.
Voice and Style
Not everyone sees this as important, but if you want readers to finish your book and form a relationship with your characters, it is.
A dry, dull voice is going to put people off, but it could work if you’re writing non-fiction. On the other hand, a cheery, nauseatingly optimistic voice would work in romance but may be frustrating in a crime or thriller novel. Your voice should be genre-appropriate, but also feel natural coming from you.
Good example: Johnny be Good, by Paige Toon; any Marian Keyes book
This one is particularly important when writing romance, and it’s something I obsess over. Your characters MUST have chemistry, whether it’s an instant explosion or a slow burn. There’s no point forcing characters together that don’t fit, or having characters in a relationship that are totally bland. Long-term relationships don’t mean boring just as the start of a relationship doesn’t mean nauseating cuteness.
You want anyone that reads your book to ship your characters, even if it’s obvious that they’re going to end up together. This is something that was super important to me when working on What Happens in New York, and because I obsessed over it so much, it came across as contrived. Once I relaxed a little, writing the natural chemistry between Hollie and Astin became A LOT easier. Not only that, but I’ve had lots of comments from people who’ve read What Happens in New York telling me how much they love Hollie and Astin, and those of them that know what’s in store for book two…well they don’t like me so much right now.
Good example: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Be Cruel to Your Characters
You love your characters. I get it. You write to escape. You don’t want to be mean. But you have to be. Your characters will forgive you, and your story will be all the better for it.
Good example: Vampire Academy series, by Richelle Mead
The Short of it
- Make sure your characters arc
- Have a gripping plot
- Have a relatable, interesting and consistent voice for your character(s)
- Create relationships people will root for
- Don’t be afraid to be cruel to your characters
What do you think the ingredients for a good story are? Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know below!