New Author: Have You Written A “Good” Short Story? (Or Novel?)

A new author will 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 entertains, 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. 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.

New author? Satisfy yourself

When you’re writing fiction, especially if you’re a new author, satisfy yourself. If the story you get onto the computer screen satisfies you, it will satisfy readers.

Try this. 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 proofread the story. That is, you don’t want to know that you made a typo, or whatever. All you want to know is whether the story is entertaining. If the reader’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)

I know I hammer genre. I do that because genre is important. Your readers want a certain kind of experience when they read fiction—they may be in the mood for a romance, or a mystery, or a fantasy.

Readers want what they want and the easiest way to entertain is to give them what they want.

2. Don’t be bored — YOU need to be entertained while you write

Vital: entertain yourself while you’re writing.

Years ago, when MacDonald Futura published my first novel, I had no real clue about writing fiction, and I knew it. While I was writing, I got bored. I didn’t see that for the red flag it was, until my editor suggested that I make changes — either eliminate those “boring” scenes, or punch them up… Because they were boring.

If you’re bored while you’re writing… Stop. Figure out how to entertain yourself.

Raymond Chandler said:

“When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”

Good advice. But you don’t need a man with a gun. You need something that startles you, and engages you AND the reader. If a man with a gun will work, bring him on.

Entertain. Move out of your comfort zone. Stop asking yourself whether it’s good. Instead, ask yourself whether you’re entertained. What 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 and you’ll entertain readers. When you do that, your stories will be “good”.


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