Good Stories—Day 1


What makes for a good story? I’ve been studying writing seriously now for four years, and I have an idea, but one thing that is true about literature: not everyone looks at a work in the same way. Still, I think there might be some universals we can agree upon.

First, (have you noticed that nearly all my posts have a paragraph starting with “First”? LOL Part of my non-fiction style, I guess), these thoughts started with a discussion on the ACFW loop about commercial fiction (read, financially successful) vs. literary fiction (read, artistically successful).

In my reread of Donald Maass’s excellent book Writing the Breakout Novel, I came upon his treatment of the subject:

What about the truly original theme, though? Is it possible for readers to accept a point that is unfamiliar, perhaps even unpopular? Certainly it is. Few novelists want to say exactly what has been said before. Most would like to be visionary. That is fine, and indeed it is one of the purposes of literature; as opposed to genre fiction, the thematic purpose of which is to validate familiar beliefs. (Emphasis added.)

Ever since I first entered into this discussion over at Faith in Fiction discussion board, I believed it is possible to write well—crafting an artistic story—and sell well. Maass thinks it is possible for someone writing visionary literature to break out (though he doesn’t define this term as becoming a blockbuster), so I’ll hold to that belief. And yet, with the purposes of the two being distinct, it seems like a challenge.

Maybe I need to examine the concept of “visionary.” In Maass’s context and his mention of the “unfamiliar” and the “unpopular,” I admit, I initially want to shy away from such themes. But do I? Isn’t “taking up your cross daily” rather an unpopular concept? Or how about belief in a narrow road to salvation? Maybe Christian themes, above all, qualify as unpopular.

But unfamiliar? To some people, yes. To others, the familiar needs to be rendered in a fresh way to help them see as if for the very first time.

So I conclude, I do want to write both/and stories—ones that are visionary and that validate familiar beliefs.

The topic, though, is “Good Stories.” Do all good stories have to aim for both? I don’t think so. Stories that are visionary can be good stores. Ones that reinforce familiar beliefs can also be good. Conversely, both types might fail.

So what qualifies as a good story? I think there are a couple basic elements that need to be in place. We’ll explore those next time.

Published in: on October 9, 2006 at 11:02 am  Comments Off on Good Stories—Day 1  
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