Seven Simple Ways to Make a Good Story Great (Elizabeth Sims)

Whenever I think of the word gatekeeper, a little film clip from The Wizard of Oz starts up in my head, where the fearsome palace guard denies Dorothy and friends access to the Wizard. “The Wizard says, ‘Go away!’”

If aspiring authors are Dorothy, agents and editors are that guy. They seem bigger than you. They give stern lectures.

Except remember what happens? Dorothy’s sob story melts the mustachioed, bearskin-hatted guard’s heart, and he winds up letting them in. Thus the great secret is revealed: You don’t have to do anything but tell a fabulous story to make them love you.

This quote is from an article by Elizabeth Sims ( that I came upon this morning while writing. It really made me think.

Her advice, while not really all that simple, is essentially this:

1) Go beyond the five senses (into detail re body language)

2) Explore idiosyncrasies (make your characters weird, but believably weird)

3) Forget about being pretty (gritty is good)

4) Be true to your IQ (don’t write down to readers)

5) Use your best material only when it has a purpose (Throwing in random bits is a bad habit of mine)

6) Make them laugh (I struggle with this one – I’m just not that funny, but she suggests writing in some small believable incongruities)

7) Make them cry (I cry easily – I’m still wiping my eyes while editing my WIP (for the 1000th time)

I just finished two great books by Canadian, Brian Doyle – Boy, O’Boy and Pure Springboth of which feature the same character – Martin O’Boy. His writing reminds me a bit of Mordecai Richler, partly because the books are set in Montreal in the 1940s.  Doyle is a master at weaving in bits and pieces which later become significant. This is one of the hardest parts, for me, of writing a novel.

How do you deal with structure – do you just start writing and figure it out after you’re half-way through (like me!), or do you outline, keep detailed notes of how the story will all resolve itself in the end? Always so much to learn…


6 thoughts on “Seven Simple Ways to Make a Good Story Great (Elizabeth Sims)

  1. Great tips from Elizabeth Simms. I tend to be like you, Jan and just start writing and see where it leads. I have tried to outline but it just doesn’t work for me. Sometimes I wish it did. You are so right – there is always so much to learn. Thnaks for sharing these tips.

  2. Hey Jan, I’m glad my piece from Writer’s Digest magazine sparked your interest. Thanks for sharing it, and best wishes on your writing! p.s. (Darlene, outlining isn’t for everybody, though it might work sometimes…)

  3. I’m afraid I’ve never used an outline. It seems to me it might be too restrictive. Often times, I find that as I’m writing certain themes will reoccur in a piece as things start coming together. Truthfully, it just seems to happen on it’s own.

  4. Sometimes when I read about the detailed analysis process some writers go through while writing, I wonder how I ever accomplish anything! I’ll have to show you this 24-page presentation on dialogue sometime – now I have to keep all that in mind as I’m working through the latest edited version of The Power of Harmony – hope my brain remains intact:)

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