How Do Good Stories Get Made?

How much work really goes into the best stories you’ve ever consumed?

How do good stories get made?

How does a rough, disjointed, basically unpublishable story become one of the best-selling, highest-grossing, most memorable stories of all time?

It doesn’t happen overnight. And it doesn’t happen for everyone who sits down to write the words woven into their soul. Someone who has never written before can’t lock themselves in a room and come out a month later with A New Hope or an Infinity War or a Fellowship of the Ring.

The hardest part about deciding you’re going to write something is accepting that there are steps and hurdles and repetitive, tedious strokes everyone must endure before they can hand someone else something they’ve written and call it “good.”

It takes strength. Patience. Time. And,  of course, skill. Anyone can do it. Some of those who attempt might actually produce something the world will cherish for centuries to come.

This is what it takes.

Writing a “complete” first draft. Let it be known that many aspiring writers never accomplish even this first step. Whether you outline or let it all spill from your head straight to paper, there is a particular process that works for you — a set of personal guidelines that makes it possible for you to start with a blank document and somehow end up with 400 pages of words.

Looking at finished stories in your genre of choice. It’s important to keep in mind, of course, that these stories are as polished and refined as they could have possibly been before release — your first draft won’t match them, not even a little bit. But let these stories motivate you. Analyze their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Familiarize yourself with the general elements of a story that work, that don’t work, that writers often do well and too often don’t.

Revising, revising, revising. More than one author has stated in some form or another that approximately 90 percent of every first draft never makes it into the final product. While finishing the first draft may be a huge hurdle — and an amazing accomplishment — it’s not the end. Please, don’t let that fact overwhelm you so much that you can’t finish an initial rough drat. But do be prepared.

Writing not the story you like, but the story that needs to be told. That’s not to say you can’t be proud of your story or that you should write something you don’t enjoy. But you can’t, for example, settle for an ending that’s less powerful because it spares your favorite character’s life. Stories are as much for an audience as they are for you. Not all good stories have the happiest endings, or please the most people. Good stories send messages, stir up emotions (good and bad), and say a lot with relatively few words.

There’s so much more. But it all starts with you, alone, in your home office or basement or local coffee shop. All you have is an idea in your head and a means of getting it down on paper. The rest, every word of it, all depends on how deep you’re willing to dive to make it happen.

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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5 thoughts on “How Do Good Stories Get Made?

  1. Thanks for this post, Meg! Sometimes it’s so hard to just finish writing a book, it’s a small miracle if that book ends up being any good at all.

  2. I think a lot of it is accepting that any one story you write may not “make it”, but if you keep writing, one of them will. Neil Gaiman once said that no story is ever really “complete”, it just reaches a certain point and then the author stops working on it. If it’s a completed draft, they start sending it out, and if it’s not, they put it away. And down the road, if it’s not accepted/published, they sometimes return to it and give it another go, until they reach that point again.

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