June 9


I was wondering what makes a good story. Because I feel if you can’t write a good story, your movie is just another movie.

Jon from Haydenville Massachusetts

That’s a very big question. Many of us spend our entire careers answering it over and over, hoping each time to get it right.

I will give you my answer, but ultimately, you have to create your own. How you answer it defines you as a writer and, as I’ve said many times, your individual voice is one of your most important assets.

The other important limitation on giving an answer is that, no matter what the answer, there are always stories that match none of the criteria that are excellent and broadly recognized to be so. With those caveats, these are the characteristics which, to me, make a good story:

1. Remarkability.

2. A central theme arising out of an important moral conflict that is symbolic of a conflict we all face. For example, in Jerry McGuire, the central conflict was how to stand up for the values that brought him into the business in the first place and how to deal with the cost of standing up. The values at the heart of the story were important to its audience. A substantial number of middle class employees face this question daily. They are not top sports agents, but even as mid-level insurance executives, they wonder whether they will ever escape the grind.

3. Excellent craftsmanship. Writing is a craft as much as anything else. Well-crafted scenes, dialogue and structure mean a great deal to me.

4. A story tightly wound around the important thematic questions the story is intended to explore. No waste – nothing superfluous. Every scene is an interesting exploration and deepening of the theme. A few examples of this kind of story are “Pleasantville”, “High Noon” and “Casablanca”.

5. Intelligent and witty writing. A good story expresses itself in ways the average audience member recognizes he or she could not do if he or she sat down to write a movie. Audiences recognize exceptional storytelling and respond to it.

I am personally less interested in whether the story has a traditional resolution. For example, I enjoy tragedies and non-conventional stories. Examples include “The Perfect Storm”, “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind” and “Barton Fink”.

But, that’s just me.

Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

Posted June 9, 2005 by TW in category "The Craft


  1. By alan on

    okay. i’m going to take a stab at this (although the question has mammoth implications).

    a good story:

    1) has all the proper elements (relating to protagonist, structure, etc)


    2) is entertaining

    however, if criteria #1 cannot be accomplished, just go with criteria #2 and that will suffice

    i believe that covers it.

  2. By Catherine on

    You need to have something readers can relate to, something interesting where the reader feels involved in what you’ve written.

    Part of that is your voice. Without your own natural voice your writing will be discouraging to read.

  3. By Hudson on

    A good story, is one that draws a person out of “their” world and captivates them in your’s.

  4. By Jason R. Thrift on

    I’ve recently just had a story I wrote last year published called The Civilization Loop. It was a story I had been thinking of for nearly ten years when I finally sat down and wrote it out in the summer of 2006. To my surprise, I submitted the manuscript to two publishers and both wanted to bring it to print.

    I was amazed by this. I could not believe I was actually going to have a story I wrote published! For years people thought I was a good writer from stories I wrote as a child and ideas I could come up with, but I never sat down and really tried to write until last year.

    This story was more about me and the person I am deep down inside and what drives my passions and personal desires. The hard part was putting that into a form that other’s could relate too. Because, naturally, when you’re writing, you’re writing for someone else, not just yourself.

    If I had to offer what I believe makes a good writer, as difficult as that is to describe, I would have to say that when you’re writing something, just be yourself. Write what you know about and let other’s decide what they think of it.

    The greatest storytellers of all time wrote what they were passionate about and let other’s decide for themselves what to make of it. Sure there are always nay sayers and people that think you’re the greatest, but ultimately if you have written a story that is true to yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks or believes you have accomplished greatest and proven metaphorically, literally and every other way that you are a good writer. Because if you don’t believe yourself that you are a good writer, it will be hard for other’s to think that of you as well.

  5. By Andrew Nicoletti on

    A good story needs to be

    understood clearly

    otherwise it is pointless. another criteria for a good story, the writer (you) needs to have the passion for

    writing the story in your head.

    letting other people know what story you have concocted while you were staring at the ceiling late at night. usually my stories come from

    music, i imagine movies in my head with music

    and sometimes it comes out to be a great story in my opinion, so i tell myself

    write that down, publish it, let people read your world.

    dont be afraid of criticism, write this the way you want to.

    I draw out my stories in comic book form, which i love to do and it shows surprisingly well.

  6. By Kouen on

    A good story is as good as the passion for writing it.

    Don’t listen to all of the critics telling you how to write a story in a specific format, requiring certain things, as you write stories and as you criticize your own writing you’ll learn from experience what it really takes to make a good story.

  7. By tieeishasmith on

    I think a good story comes from your heart and your self. and how you feel about your self.

  8. By mamasa on

    i think a good story comes frome what you are thinking in your heart

  9. By Aisha Dukureh on

    I think a good story comes from the way you express your feeelings, the way you feel about serrtin things, emotional things and many more. I also think a good story comes from the heart

  10. By simon on

    i think it is a wonderful experince to think on your own!!!!!!

  11. By mashae on

    I think a good story does come from the heart and it comes from the mind.My tacher told us that a good story comes with a begging middle and end.In the begging you should have charcters inganging begging an at least 1 or 2 litery technicts.

  12. By Elijah on

    I think a good story comes from your own words and your own ideas.

  13. By Tierra Hunte on

    I think a good a story comes from life and from your heart because it’s like expessing your felling and it6’s like an autobiography.

  14. Pingback: What Makes a Good Story? « Words and Coffee

  15. By Eittie on

    Anything that the reader(s) will enjoy and remember.

    “I like a story that hardly anybody knows about but I LOVE it!! (the story is I, Coriander)”

    Find a way to open up to not just one “type” of person but, almost everyone.

    “Harry Potter is popular cause it has humor, and magic (fiction), romance, action, and adventure.”

    Make it unique!!

    “People dont like storys that they think they could write. They like to think ‘WOW’ this is something different.”

  16. By Bassania on

    A good story, emotes a feeling in a reader, it offers the reader an escape from their everyday lives.
    It has to make a person laugh and cry
    It has to make a person feel anger and hatred
    It has to make a person feel joy and happiness
    And it has to allow a person to feel the relief, friendships and struggles of the character. A story is someone\’s imagination, it brings to life the mind of its writer, it allows the writer to finally escape from the world, which their mind has created. It has to allow escapism.

  17. By Demetre on

    For me a good story is one that shows what it means to live in a crazy abysmal world such as ours and still continue strive to create a meaningful life.

  18. By Bon on

    As I skim through all these comments regarding what a good story is, I found that it boils down to two things – It’s subjective and imaginative. If a story touches the heart, intrigues the mind and the reader can relate their own life or situation to the story it would be memorable. On the other hand, if the story takes them out of reality into the imagination of the writer in interesting detail, that would also make a great distraction to everyday living.

  19. By Victoria on

    In my opinion, every good story must have a piece of the author in it, something that shows the authors personality. The story should be alive to the writer too, if not, it would just be words on paper.

  20. By emmy on

    In my own personal point view.A good storyteller is a person who draws the attention of the audiences,and has the natural voice that captures the audiences attention completly.Becouse a good story come from your heart,its like a deep feeling that you express to people.

  21. By eduardo on

    i think a a good good stroy cames from what u live thought
    evey day and what u feel inside and a experints u go thought

  22. Pingback: Welcome to Ramblinman « RAMBLINMAN

  23. By Dana on

    “To make a story a story, the main character has to change. This much we all knew. A good story will change the ready. But the best stories are the ones that have, through the process of the writing, changed the writers
    -excerpt from Walking the Twilight

  24. By sunday lunkombe on

    i think a good story should be thinkable with critics and uniqness and the idea written should touch peoples hearts and minds

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