New fiction writers often ask me to tell them whether their short story is “good”.
In response, I ask them how the story makes them feel. Did they achieve what they set out to do? Are they satisfied? If not, why not?
Then I read the story.
I’m looking for just one thing… entertainment. If the story entertained me, then it’s a good story.
Judgments on fiction — short stories and novels — are supremely subjective. You either like the genre – the type of story — or you don’t. For example, I don’t like vampire stories at all. I read Dracula years ago, but I can’t remember much about the novel. When a student hands me a vampire tale, I need to subdue my innate dislike, and focus on the entertainment factor.
Writing fiction is both an art and a craft. As with all art, it arouses emotions. Some readers may not like the emotions you made them feel. That’s OK. Be content that you made them feel at all — it’s a wonderful achievement.
Short stories are entertainments
When you’re writing fiction, satisfy yourself. If the story you get onto the computer screen satisfies you, it will satisfy readers.
If you’re a new fiction writer, ask someone who likes the kind of fiction (the genre) in which you’re writing to read your short story.
You aren’t asking for a critique, nor do you want your reader to proof the story. You don’t need to know that you made a spelling mistake, or whatever. Tell your reader that all you want to know is whether the story is entertaining. If he’s not entertained, can he tell you where in the story he got turned off, so to speak — where did he get bored?
Two tips for writing “good” fiction
Keeping in mind that reading fiction and judging it is a subjective matter, here are two tips to help you to write fiction which satisfies readers.
1.Write to a genre (I know, I know)
2. Don’t be boring — you need to be entertained while you write
Entertain yourself while you’re writing. Years ago, MacDonald Futura published my first novel. I had no clue about writing fiction, and I knew it. While I was writing, I hit a boring patch. I didn’t see that for the red flag it was, until my editor suggested that I make changes — either eliminate those scenes, or punch them up. Because they were boring.
If you’re bored while you’re writing… Stop. Figure out how to entertain yourself.
“When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.”
You don’t need a man with a gun, of course. 🙂 You need something that startles you, and engages the reader. If a man with a gun will work, bring him on.
And take this to heart, too: “A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.”
Make it entertaining. To do that, you’ll need to move out of your comfort zone. So move out of it. Stop asking yourself whether it’s good. Instead, ask yourself whether you’re entertained. Are you feeling? Enjoying? Do you hate the bad guy?
You may hate all the woes you’re heaping onto your beleaguered protagonist; that’s fine. Your readers want to read about people in trouble. Give them lots of trouble. 🙂
Entertain yourself; entertain readers. Do that, and your stories will be “good”.
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