What Makes a Story Memorable?

We all want to write something no one can forget.

Every writer wants to write something unlike anything a reader has held in their hands before.

Is it possible? Yes. But seeking originality alone isn’t the key to success here. It’s learning how to write good stories that people remember. That they talk about in discussion groups and on online forums after the fact. That they recommend to others, again and again, because they want so desperately to talk through its main events with someone they know.

How does one write a story like this?

Obviously, memorable stories are well-written, well thought-out, informative, and entertaining all at once. But there are other elements these works also have in common. Don’t forget them.

Relatable characters and events

You’d think that something like a Star Wars novel — pure fiction, set in a galaxy we will never know — wouldn’t be relatable at all. What does the average Earth reader have in common with a Jedi, really?

The reason these stories still resonate with us is because their characters deal with the same realistic conflicts and experience the same trials and triumphs we do. They fall in love. They grieve. They try to do good things even when surrounded by not-so-good people. We can all resonate with that. We feel what they feel because we’ve been there, too.

Relevant morals

The moral of the story is, well, whatever you want it to be — you’re the writer. But think about any book you’ve read that you kept thinking about even after you finished it. That book taught you something, or lit up a part of your brain that won’t shut off. That didn’t happen by accident.

Memorable stories have morals — something to be learned, an essential reminder that spans across distance and time. You might not write a series of fables with a clear moral tagged onto the end in bolded, all-caps font, but your characters learn lessons. And your readers should always have something to walk away with even after they close the book and put it back on the shelf.

A unique style and voice

When you think about it, all stories are based around the same handful of ideas. It’s how you unfold those ideas and shape them into your own unique story that makes it possible to publish something very different from the original story that may have inspired you to write it.

New writers do not have their own style or voice yet. All they know how to do is model their words after the words of those writers they admire. We all start there. With many years of practice, we take bits and pieces of the types of writing we love and fit them together into something new. If you don’t feel “unique enough” yet, be patient. You will.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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7 thoughts on “What Makes a Story Memorable?

  1. I really like looking at oral tradition stories to better understand what resonates. The written word is a marvelous thing, but when everything is passed down verbally, every teller changes the story slightly, distilling the story down to its most universal components.

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