What Makes A Good Story?

Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

Who doesn’t love a good story? We are drawn into some tales, so much that we feel we can’t turn away. We can’t put the book down. We are mesmerized.

What is it that grips us so? Is it a likable character, or characters, who draw us into their own stories—almost as if they were our own—or does a compelling story grab our attention, whether or not we find depth and humanness in the characters who play it out?

Lots of Books

I really don’t know. I feel could be swayed either way.

My kids love a good story. We will often read “chapter books” together just before bedtime. We’ve read some great stories like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Gentle Ben, and we just finished off The Jungle Book (the real stories by Rudyard Kipling, not the Disney-fied versions) and The Black Stallion. Next up is C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia!

But they pretty quickly recognize a story that is missing “something”. (We would not recommend Irma and Jerry, by George Selden, though we loved The Cricket In Times Square!) The most interesting part was that we began Kipling’s Jungle Books after giving up on Irma & Jerry midway through, and within mere paragraphs all four listeners were hooked (as was the Reader!) by the tale Kipling spun.

On the other side of the coin, the oldest two boys and I tried—and tried, and tried—to read Dickens’ Great Expectations together, until after months of trying, we finally put it down and have never returned. While the story has some interesting, likable characters, we would say the plot was not only not compelling, it was perhaps entirely nonexistent?

What is it that is either present or lacking in a story that compels or repels the reader?

I am a reader. I am also a writer.

I am currently enjoying the process of writing out a story that has been very well-received. The plot is not very original, I don’t think, though there are plenty of cliff-hangers and interesting adventures. The strength of this story does seem to be its cast of likable characters. The reader (and even the writer!) want to know what happens to these characters. We are rooting for the “good guys” and against the “bad guys”.

The story that I am writing was originally told over a series of nights at bedtime. It was perhaps a couple weeks. Maybe slightly more. The kids love the stories that I tell, and they especially love the ones that I make up with them as the main characters!

We need to identify with the story. That’s important.

Does that mean the characters are the most important part of a “good” story? Or can a strong, interesting story overcome less interesting individuals who are playing it out?

I’d really love to hear from you, Dear Reader. What do you prefer? What prevents you from putting down your book? When real life demands you pull yourself away, do the characters, or their story remain in your thoughts. Do you find that you miss them, or wonder what will happen to them?

Or is it both?

These are the questions that I currently ponder as I enjoy the characters and stories of books read and written.

Now, I must return to my book… 🙂


  1. You’re writing a fiction book, Mr. Campbell? That’s awesome! I’d like to read it when you’re done. What’s the premise?

    Characters, in fact, are your most important element. I truly think you should focus on that the most. Don’t make it a drag, though–let them tell the story. No, I’m serious, that’s how characters work. I’m currently writing a ghost story (set in Rochester!) and I realized that my characters weren’t always agreeing with what I made them say or do. It didn’t feel “right” to me. Too artificial. Then again, I was so caught up in worrying about things, then I realized that the more I worried, the worse things were going to turn out.

    I pray that God helps you write something (and me too…gosh I have a lot of words to finish this night :/ ). Good luck Mr. C!
    Dave’s last post: sherlocksexperiments:

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    1. Yes! I am working on writing the book version of a story I told earlier this year. It’s been really fun. And it’s full of (we think) interesting characters. Aimed at probably 8-12 year old readers, but should be enjoyable for younger and older readers/listeners. I’m sure your family will be in the inner circle as I get closer to finishing it!

      I hope you got your lots of words finished last night, and enjoy the process of writing, or letting your characters write the story!


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