What Is A Good Story? And What A Good Piece Of Writing?

Posted at 11:20am on 30th March 2009

"Is there a difference between a good story and good writing?"

I was asked the question by a lady living in Greece, who has been reading my blog posts for sometime, and who e-mailed me, direct. She, like many would-be authors, is frustrated by the stone-walling she has received from the publishers to whom she’s submitted her novel. And so, a second question is implied: Is there any way around this?

I have already dealt with the second question – at least in part – but for the sake of those who didn’t see it, I’ll go over some of the points again, and then I’ll begin a mini-series tomorrow, answering the first question.

Here, in essence, is what I wrote to this lady:


“Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I appreciate hearing from you and wish that I could tell you that if you do this, this, and this you will get your novel published. Unfortunately, getting anything published these days is becoming increasingly difficult.

Competition from the internet, from the print on demand service and from cut-throat pricing on books from supermarkets has put pressure on mainstream publishers to such an extent that they rarely, if ever, take on anyone unknown. Celebrity sells, and publishers have to make a profit to survive. Few publishers will accept submissions direct from the author, and finding an agent is harder even than finding a publisher.

The only ray of hope I can offer is that you either think of setting up a blog and posting your novel chapter by chapter, which would not make you any money (but would give you the satisfaction of seeing it in print and knowing it is being read); or that you try the self-publishing route - see my blog post The Book Publishing Process Laid Bare


I’d like to add a comment from another of my readers here. In response to my post on Modern Morality: What Is Its Place In Contemporary Fiction? he wrote:

“I have always seen my writing as more than just entertainment. Stories for me have always been the best way to convey my convictions. Stories act like analogies to the reality of life, and sometimes the reality becomes clearer using fiction.”

Erich’s right! And what he has to say chimes with the way I finished my reply to the lady from Greece:

“I hope this has been of some help and encouragement to you. Don't give up! If you're a writer you're a writer - no matter what. Think of all the artists who painted in impoverishment and were only recognised posthumously. Take satisfaction in what you do for its own sake. God bless!”

And that, I hope, is how you will all see your writing experience. Let me finish with one of my favourite quotes from a writer friend: “Do you want to BE a writer (for the sake of status); or do you want to WRITE?” (Because the urge to express your perception of the realities of life won’t be silenced?)

NEXT TIME: We'll look at the first question: What is a good story? And what a good piece of writing?

Your Comments:

6th April 2009
at 1:33am

i enjoy writing but somehow i dont find my stories very creative
i have the general idea to start the story but i dont think that i
can express myself very well is there any trick you can teach me.
by the way i am only twelve but would welcome your


6th April 2009
at 9:05am

Vanessa, in these days of txting, it's so good to hear of a
girl of twelve enjoying the art of writing. As I think I said
recently in a blog, I began making up stories in my childhood -
sometimes writing them down; sometimes acting them out with my
cousins or friend as we walked to school.

so - acting things out is a good way to be creative because more
than one imagination is involved.

Another trick - though I've never tried it - might be
mind-mapping. Write your central idea in the middle of a sheet of
paper, then send spokes out with related ideas. Each spoke may
spawn other spokes - each with an idea that you've thought of
because of the central idea.

But I think THE most important thing is a) to know your
characters inside out so that you KNOW how they will react to what
happens to them. And b) to know your THEME - which I wrote about on
23rd August 2008 if you want to look back.

I hope this will be the encouragement you were looking for. Care
for your gift as tenderly as you would a baby so that you can
nurture it into a grown-up talent. All the best.

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