What makes a good story?

It might seem like there is a big difference between a story being good and great. When really a great story is just a good one topped with a few magical ingredients. Needless to say, we all strive to create something great, but to become great, one must first start with good. I like to think about it in terms of cooking. First, you find a recipe (idea), then you find quality ingredients (story and theme), and finally, you make sure you get the cooking time right. You don’t want to leave the food raw (leave the story elements underdeveloped), and you certainly don’t want to burn the food (cramming too many elements in a story, losing sight of the theme and making a mess of the story world).

No, I didn’t forget the spices; that’s what makes a story great. But today, we are talking about good.

“To write great or even good, you must feel passionate about your story, and you must love and hate your characters. If you don’t believe your story, why would anyone else?”

Let’s start with the recipe (idea).

Many beginner writers think that an idea for a story has to be something amazingly exotic or special, but the fact is that almost every story idea has already been written by someone or at least exists out there, even if not on paper. Essentially it’s not far-fetched to say there are no new ideas, and you certainly shouldn’t stress about thinking of one.


I hope it’s obvious that you shouldn’t try to copy anyone’s idea/story. Don’t try to remake something you have read or seen unless that’s your specific project. But don’t try to pass someone else’s work as your own.


Because you will get caught and called out for it. Also, how will you feel knowing you didn’t actually create anything of value yourself? Pretty bad, I would assume. You see, to write great or even good, you must feel passionate about your story, and you must love and hate your characters. If you don’t believe your story, why would anyone else?


Stay true to your idea for a story, even if you realize at some point that it’s the same idea you have seen done before. Work on developing different plot twists, developing deep characters and creating an interesting story world. These things will eventually make your story unique, even if the same idea has been used a thousand times before.

“The theme is something that should be repeated throughout your story.”

Moving on to the ingredients (story and theme).

Some people write without having mapped out the story (one famous example would be Stephen King), but most people map out their story before they actually start writing or would benefit from doing so. If you are in the small minority of people who can write a great story without planning ahead, then I can’t help you; it’s all on you.

I would, however, say that unless you are a verified greater writer (having successfully sold your stories) without any pre-planning, you should definitely review your story and make sure all the basic elements and ingredients are there. Just to make sure your story does truly have the structure it needs.

For the rest of us who do map out our stories beforehand, I will say this: map out and plan the story as much as you feel you can. Even down to some detailed scenes or dialogues. I’m often lying in bed about to fall asleep and suddenly startled awake by random scenes, images, or dialogues flashing through my mind for whatever project I’m working on. I then have to sit up and write them down, even if they are the smallest thing. I would actually say that maybe 90% of my project content comes to me randomly without me actively thinking about what to write.

But if that’s not you, don’t worry!


Map out your story on paper. Sure, you can use your computer, but I don’t recommend it. There are benefits to writing down the story points/timeline with an actual pen and paper. It has been scientifically proven that using a pen and paper for writing increases brain activity as it is a complex cognitive exercise. It might also support processing feelings associated with your story and help you remember your story points better so that it’s easier to build the story in your head even when not actively doing so.

Try taping A4 papers together in a row and draw a long timeline on it. Then start adding key events and character development moments as bullet points. Seeing the entire storyline linearly in front of your eyes will help you develop the story structure and make sure all the needed elements are there.

As you develop your plot and story world, a theme should emerge. The theme of a story is the meaning of the story, the abstract main message explored through the story and the characters.

For example, a story might be about a girl whose cat is sick, but a phobia prevents her from leaving her house. In the story, she finally ends up challenging herself and leaving her house to get help for the cat. In simple terms, that’s the story. The theme, on the other hand (depending on the rest of the story), might be overcoming trauma or self-sacrificing love.

The theme is something that should be repeated throughout your story. It should be somehow related to your character’s personality, what they do and why they do it. It should be the driving force behind every decision anyone makes in your story, and even the story world should reflect the theme of your story. In short, the theme should be everywhere. Everywhere.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself because it’s not a long distance to go from good to great.”

Cooking time (when the story is ready).

One of the most important things when creating a story is to know when it is ready. Most people struggle with this one, some rushing to the ending and leaving the story development shallow and others perfect their story to the world’s end, adding too many elements and making the end result a hot mess.

To say that I have the answer to when someone’s story is ready would be a flat-out lie. I don’t know when your story will be ready, nor does anyone else. Only you can know that. But if you hesitate, there are several things you can do to become more confident the project is done and ready to be released into the world.


  • Is the story beginning captivating?
  • Go through basic checklists to make sure your story has a structure
  • Are you also considering subplots?
  • Things need to be foreshadowed before they happen; stuff can’t just happen out of the blue
  • Make sure each scene or at least each chapter has some kind of conflict (even if it’s small)
  • Are all the scenes moving the story forward?
  • Interview your characters. Do you know everything about them?
  • Are all the characters moving the story forward in some way? Do they have a reason to be there?
  • Do all characters have an arc? Are they changing throughout the story?
  • At least your main characters need to be active, make choices, start things, solve problems, etc.
  • Are the dialogues smooth? Do you need to cut out filler words?
  • Is the story world mirroring the theme of the story?
  • Make sure your theme is considered with every word you write
  • Is your story world interesting on its own (even without the characters)?
  • Make sure your writing flows (try reading it out loud). Does it sound natural?
  • Is the ending satisfying? Is it moving? Did you tie the loose ends you wanted to?

This list could be ten times longer, but if you get even these right, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance you might be sitting on something good. And remember, don’t be too hard on yourself because it’s not a long distance to go from good to great.

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