Thursday, January 15, 2009

new day, new information

My daughter is starting a college short story course this week. Her first assignment was "what is a good story." She asked me to tell her. While I could give her my ideas right off the top of my head, what for me constitutes a good story, that wasn't exactly what the I believe her professor planned. So, I put it back to her. I began interviewing her, made her think about stories and novels I knew she liked, and had her come up with her own list of what makes a good story in her reader's world. I wasn't surprised that what she ultimately came up with was nearly identical with what I felt myself. She's grown up in my world, after all, so of course our ideas would mirror each other. But more importantly, her answers were universal, because a good story is a good story because it has all the elements reader look for in a timeless work--regardless of the genre.

Here's her list. For her, a good story--
  1. ends in an action that keeps the characters alive, and keeps her thinking about what likely happened after she's run out of pages and closed the back cover.
  2. breaths life to everything relating to the work, and keeps a reader believing long afterward.
  3. offers a full sensory experience, with all five senses addressed throughout each scene.
  4. offers a valid conflict, with characters relatable on some level to the reader.
  5. shows change in the character, as no one can go through any level of conflict without changing in some way.
  6. gives a beginning that hooks a reader, a middle that keeps the story going at a strong pace, and an ending that not only gives climax, but offers satisfaction and believability. The ending doesn’t have to be “happily ever after” but it must show the characters acting true to the way the writer has portrayed them throughout the story.

Call me an indulgent mom, or a writer who wants to share market information with her peers. But most importantly, I am a happy writer who sees that even a young college student can see the things I try to put into each of my works, and looks for those same things in the works of others. The only thing I would add is:

7. Provides surprise(s) for the reader.

Other than that, I'm running slow but steady with my JaNo project, having to fit in work that will hopefully bring paychecks soon, and help me pay my heating bill. But since it's freezing cold outside, I don't want to go anywhere, and that always helps me write. Especially when I can keep my warm laptop on my lap to fight the chill. Unless the cat wants my lap instead, of course.


Marianne Arkins said...

The weather is bitterly cold! Brrr...

And your daughter is one smart cookie. I have to agree (for the most part--I do insist on a happy ending, simply because I read fiction for warm fuzzies. The news is for reality. Still, that doesn't make a non-happy ending invalid for others pleasure).

Sounds like you're still making forward movement. Great!

Dru said...

Your factors are what I expect when I finish reading a book although I like a happy ending regardless if it is a romance, mystery or thriller.

When I read the last page of a book, I always want to take my thoughts further and predict what may happen and if I do, then the author did a great job in telling their story.

Good post.

Amy said...

I like your list. Very comprehensive.

And slow and steady is the way to go. Good job!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I like the list, too. I agree about the surprises. I certainly like surprises, both as a reader and a writer.

I think paying the heating bill has to come first, sadly.

It's much easier to suffer for one's art when there isn't family or others to care for that are involved with your personal decision to suffer for your art.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Ugh... Joanie, that wasn't directed at you, at all. That was just a philosophical ramble on how my own thoughts have changed over the years.

Joanie said...

Jen, don't worry. I completely understand "stream of conscious blogging." (grin)

Keri Mikulski said...

Great list.. :)

As a writer, I'm always obsessing over that question. Sounds like a fun course.