How do you know when a story is good?

Hats off to Janna at Rarely Dusty Books for putting out this list of things to assess while reading or reviewing. She’s given us a tool to clarify all those pleased, unhappy, dissatisfied, or content feelings that a story gives us. We’ve all read something and thought “Wow! this is great!” or “I don’t like this” but not been able to say why. When pressed, we tend to mumble something about awesome writing or it just didn’t click.

Now we know what the gears are that are clicking or not. (Okay, sorry about the bicycle metaphor. We are living and breathing the US Pro Cycling Challenge, or, as I prefer to call it, the Vuelta de Colorado.) Using these seven criteria, it should be a lot simpler to identify what works and what doesn’t. I don’t review much because I do get tongue tied over specifics, but may be able to produce a coherent opinion now. Here’s what Janna said:

The seven arguments:

1 Realistic argument: A book is good (or bad) when it’s projecting the world (un)realistically, when the story’s reality is (un)believable.

2 Moral argument: A book is good (or bad) when it contains certain ideas about sex, religion, morals or politics.

3 Structural argument: A book is good (or bad) when its structure is (not) solid, when the story is (not) built/paced well, when there’s (no) consistency.

4 Stylistic argument: A book is written in a good (or poor) writing style.

5 Innovation argument: You can learn something from the story. The book contains original ideas and provocative thoughts.

6 Emotivistic argument: A book has to touch you emotionally. It has to entertain you, move you and captivate you.

7 Intentional argument: The reader/reviewer assumes that the writer has a certain purpose/intention with his story and assesses whether the author has managed to achieve that goal.

This also gives me as an author a yardstick to measure whether I’ve created something likely to leave the reader smiling. Have I met these goals? Where might I have fallen down? Much better to find out in the rewrite stage than the “getting reviewed” stage. Since Cryselle boosted Janna’s signal, I know how she’s going to be thinking.

3 responses to “How do you know when a story is good?

  1. That was an excellent post of Janna’s! Are you going to GayRomLit? She’ll be there!

  2. She is? Wonderful! I’m going to ply her with hurricanes for thanks. You can help ply!

  3. Thanks for this. I put a link to Janna’s post on my web site.

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