You can be a beautiful and gifted writer yet fail to craft a compelling narrative. Joshua Henkin, in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, elucidates, in a memorable and striking way, how to check your work for two critical factors of a successful story:
For a story to work, there needs to be both consequence and agency, and one way to tell whether your story is succeeding in this regard is to ask yourself a couple of questions. First, type your scenes out on separate sheets of paper so that it’s possible to scramble them. Can you scramble them? You shouldn’t be able to. … If you can reorder them, then the odds are your story isn’t driven sufficiently by consequence. Second, ask yourself what would happen if you yanked your protagonist out of the story. If the only thing the story would lose was your protagonist’s observations … then the odds are there’s insufficient agency in your story.
Also, check out these other articles:
- On achieving needed focus to start writing, from Maggie Shipstead
- On the difference between short stories and novels, from David Ebenbach
- On the risk and reward of writing what you know, from Natalie Sypolt