What makes a good story? Understanding the key elements of a great story and what satisfies readers regardless of finer details (such as genre) will help you write a more successful book. We’re satisfied when stories achieve certain effects, such as moving us, inspiring us to wonder. With the advent of self-publishing there are now more books than ever on the market. So how do you make a story good so it is more successful?

10 ways to make a good story successful and compelling:

1. Make the dramatic content of your story strong

‘Man has bacon and eggs for breakfast’ is not a story idea that is going to have readers clawing for a copy of your book. It also is highly unlikely this would sustain an entire novel.
‘Man has bacon and eggs for breakfast, but the bacon is made from human flesh’ is a story scenario with much more dramatic potential (this could be a scene from one of Thomas Harris’ popular novels about the serial killer Hannibal Lector). Once you’ve found the resulting actions and the eventual outcome that develops out of your primary story scenario, you have a story idea.

What are the key elements of a good, dramatic story?

Dramatic storytelling is a matter of including key elements of a good story such as:
  • Conflict
  • Tension
  • Surprise
  • Extraordinary characters or character behaviour
  • Controversy
  • Mystery
  • Suspense
The second story idea above contains most of these elements. It’s surprising because cannibalism is a taboo most people find disturbing. The character’s behaviour is extraordinary because cannibalism is not an everyday, common behaviour. The subject matter is controversial. There is implicit tension because of the possibility the character is a murderer, given his actions. There’s mystery – who is this character and why does he engage in this activity?
‘Dramatic content’ isn’t necessarily shocking or controversial. It could be something as innocuous as the reader not knowing whether romantic leads will end up in each other’s arms. Brainstorm characters, plot points or settings that give some of the above elements using our step-by-step prompts. Making a story good starts with finding and developing multi-faceted ideas.

2. Vary your prose’s rhythm and structure

Writing instructors often advise creative writing classes to write shorter, punchier sentences. Short sentences are great for increasing pace and help to make scenes that have tense subject matter tenser in mood. Yet be wary of monotonous writing. Vary sentence length. Tap out the rhythm of your sentences’ syllables every now and then, or read your prose aloud. This will help you hear its cadence, its music.
Use rhythmic structure from poetry for inspiration. For example, the japanese haiku is a short three-line poem in which the first line has 5 syllables, the second 7 and the third 5 again. Try write a few prose sentences with this syllabic structure, e.g.
‘He waited all day. It was cold and darkening. Would anyone come?’
Exploring the rhythm of your writing consciously will help you to write better sentences. A book contains many sentences, so make yours easier and lovelier to read. Consciously crafted, creative prose makes a book better in any genre.

3. Create believable, memorable characters

Why do we find some characters more memorable than others? Because they have one or more of the following:
Note that appearance comes last: If you simply describe your characters’ eye colour, your character won’t stand out. Key to making a story good is creating characters you’d remember if you stood next to them in line. Even if only for 15 minutes.
Part of a memorable voice is created by your character’s origins. Do they use regional dialects or sayings that mark them as being from a particular place? Are their voices soft or loud? What sorts of expressions do they use? And slang?
Read authors such as Charles Dickens, who is famous for creating larger-than-life, memorable characters. According to The Guardian, ‘hearing voices allowed Charles Dickens to create extraordinary fictional worlds’. 
Like their voices, characters’ goals and motivations should be wholly their own and should help us understand their behaviour.
What does each character in your book (even the secondary, ‘walk on, walk off’ ones) crave? Why do they desire the things they do? Get How to Write Real Characters for practical exercises and examples in how to make characters ring true.