Q: What do you think makes a good story?
A: This is a profound question, by which I mean I find it virtually impossible to answer. If I could answer it conclusively, the number of rejection letters I receive would be much, much smaller. Sometimes it’s the inventiveness or the beauty of the language that makes a story. Often it’s that quality described by Jillsy Sloper in John Irving’s The World According to Garp: “Most books you know nothin’s gonna happen … Other books … you know just what’s gonna happen, so you don’t have to read them, either. But … this book’s so sick you know somethin’s gonna happen, but you can’t imagine what.” Most often, that can’t-look-away quality derives from the characters. They may be hard-boiled (Sam Spade, Easy Rawlins, Arya Stark); or perhaps they’re soft-boiled (Huck Finn, Indiana Jones, Gabriel Conroy of Joyce’s “The Dead”), or raw (Falstaff, George Eliot’s Maggie Tulliver, The Incredible Hulk). In some cases they’re even poached (Sanger Rainsford in “The Most Dangerous Game”). But some combination of compelling character and compelling need to see what comes next strikes me as being the closest thing to a magical formula for catching lightning in a bottle.
David A. Hewitt’s story “Donald Q. Haute, Gentleman Inquisitator, and the Peril of the Pythogator”
in Metaphorosis Friday, 24 April 2020.
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