5 qualities of a brilliant story

3389004318_2e8d3200fb_zI write a lot of posts about problems with book drafts. But isn’t it just as important to look at the positive? If we listed the qualities of a brilliant read, what would they be? (Plus, I think we need a feelgood post.)

So, as I sit here on Sunday morning in London with an hour to get this post out of my head and into the grey matter of the blogosphere, this is the list I’ve come up with. I hope you’ll storm your brains and join in at the end.

Here goes.

Deft use of details

A writer needs to give a lot of details to evoke the setting, time period (if it’s not contemporary), distinguishing features of the characters, points about the weather. A skilful storyteller will smuggle a lot of these in as part of the action. A historical period might be evoked by showing a character cleaning their teeth, or lifting their skirts away from the horse manure on the city roads. If we need to know a character is left handed, we might see them borrowing a friend’s PC and clearing the clutter off the desk to rearrange the mouse before they start to use it. Weather might be evoked by a character worrying that the rain will ruin their suede boots on a day when it’s important to look smart. We’ll never get the sense that the narrative is marking time in order to explain something.

317454974_4bf323fafa_oCharacters that are real

We hear this phrase a lot, but what does it mean? The characters will seem to have their own agendas, and good reasons for everything they do. They won’t seem like puppets for the plot. Their emotions will spur them to act so we feel everything they do is genuine and believable. They’ll have distinctive ways of thinking and expressing themselves. Even if they are conflicted or make bad choices and decisions, they’ll have ways of justifying what they do. They might have interesting blind spots about how the other characters feel.

Never a dull moment

Every scene will move the action on. There will be a sense of trouble building and escalating. The characters’ plans will never quite work out as they’re supposed to, and every scene will finish on a slightly unexpected note. Whenever the characters get something they want or need, it won’t be in the way anyone could predict.


Fresh until the end

The writer will know when to change to a different group of characters, which we’ll welcome. At the same time we’ll be eager to see those other characters again soon. They’ll know when to vary the mood with some humour or a more serious note. They’ll deploy some major turning points at just the point where we think you know where it’s going.

It all adds up

The story might begin by resembling an unraveled sweater with threads going everywhere, but slowly it will converge into a shape. The ending will seem to be inevitable, yet it will be a surprise. Or, if we can anticipate the ending’s events, we won’t be able to predict how we’ll feel about them.

(Lots more about characters in Nail Your Novel 2, and plots in Nail Your Novel 3.)

Thanks for the pics Hans Splinter Kadorin   Rachel Johnson  

Now you. Grab coffee or brain-stimulating accessory of choice, and … jump in!



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  1. #1 by ellenbest24 on January 29, 2017 - 11:41 am

    Brilliantly informative thanl you.😇

  2. #3 by suzannebowditch on January 29, 2017 - 11:43 am

    Reblogged this on suzannebowditch and commented:
    Great tips here for writers 🙂

  3. #4 by suzannebowditch on January 29, 2017 - 11:43 am

    Great post ! 🙂

    • #5 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 29, 2017 - 11:54 am

      Thanks, Suzanne! And thanks for the reblog.

      • #6 by suzannebowditch on January 29, 2017 - 11:58 am

        Your welcome Roz! Loved your post, great advice 🙂

        • #7 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 29, 2017 - 6:28 pm

          And I just saw you subscribed to my writer website RozMorris.wordpress.com – thanks! Actually, that’s a static site rather than a blog and doesn’t post new content very often, so you might never hear a peep from it again. But I do have a newsletter, if that’s what you were looking for… http://tinyurl.com/rozmorrismailinglist

  4. #9 by acflory on January 29, 2017 - 12:15 pm

    Oh this is THE holy grail. Thanks for laying it out so well. Btw I love the example of the suede shoes. 😀

  5. #12 by The Story Reading Ape on January 29, 2017 - 12:41 pm

  6. #13 by m Hembroff on January 29, 2017 - 3:48 pm

    Its good to see something written about the positive for a change. We tend to spend to much time dwelling on what is wrong without also commenting on what works.
    For some reason or other I seem to have lost the ability to forward posts like this on twitter.

    • #14 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 29, 2017 - 6:21 pm

      Hi Margie! It felt like the right thing to write today, glad you appreciated it. And thanks for wanting to share it on Twitter. There is a tweet button at the foot of the post, in the social share buttons. Have you tried that?

  7. #15 by Icy Sedgwick on January 29, 2017 - 5:30 pm

    Thank you, Roz!

  8. #17 by ccyager on January 29, 2017 - 8:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Anatomy of Perceval and commented:
    Roz Morris nails it with this post! Here are the elements that make a story brilliant. Print and save!

  9. #18 by MG Mason on January 29, 2017 - 10:30 pm

    I love the “it all adds up” bit. For me, using foreshadowing of later events during the later drafting is one of the most fun things about writing.

    I like enabling my inner mischievous side 🙂

  10. #20 by tracikenworth on January 29, 2017 - 10:38 pm

    Great job of listing what’s important! I love the idea of her lifting her skirts up to avoid the manure, might borrow that.

  11. #23 by Charles Ray on January 29, 2017 - 11:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Charles Ray's Ramblings.

  12. #24 by Don Massenzio on January 30, 2017 - 10:07 pm

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Check out this helpful post from the Nail Your Novel blog on the five qualities of a brilliant story

  13. #25 by Damyanti Biswas on January 31, 2017 - 2:01 pm

    Loved the “It all adds up” part. Just what I needed to hear right this minute. I lurk on your blog a fair bit, Roz, but had to come out and comment today :).

  14. #27 by lesley rice on February 1, 2017 - 1:51 pm

    Love the list though I struggle with many of these. It’s not really an addition, but I’d emphasise your second point: characters that are real. This is especially necessary for the antagonist – a good antagonist raises your protagonists game. Too many stories have characters that are just bad or evil when the best stories result from antagonist and protagonist wanting the same thing, both believing they’re right, but for very different reasons which are interesting to explore.

    • #28 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 1, 2017 - 7:59 pm

      Hi Lesley! I’m gald you’ve brought up antagonists. As I hammered out the post, I wondered whether to detour into this. As you say, antagonists have to be three-dimensional too. I especially like your point about each person believing they’re right. And the ‘why’ being as important as the ‘what’.

  15. #29 by wyattsawday on February 2, 2017 - 11:47 pm

    Great advice–especially the part about the end being surprising but inevitable (though we find that’s one of the more difficult things to accomplish.) Thanks for the read

  16. #31 by The Owl Lady on February 5, 2017 - 1:03 pm

    Reblogged this on The Owl Lady.

  17. #32 by Steve Mathisen on February 7, 2017 - 7:14 pm

    Reblogged this on Steve's Story Place and commented:
    A few thoughts on what makes a story brilliant from Roz Morris.

  18. #33 by The Business of Life Club on February 20, 2017 - 2:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing this advice Roz, very insightful.

  19. #35 by Diana Stevan on February 24, 2017 - 7:48 pm

    Liked your examples of how to show weather as part of setting, Nicely done.

    • #36 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 24, 2017 - 8:14 pm

      Diana, lovely to see you here. Thank you!

      • #37 by Diana Stevan on February 24, 2017 - 8:17 pm

        You’re welcome. I’ll have to visit more often. Hope all is well with you. 🙂

  20. #38 by Daphne on April 10, 2017 - 12:17 am

    Reblogged this on My Passion's Pen.

  21. #40 by niasharmafiction on July 3, 2017 - 12:24 am

    Thanks Roz. As a new writer, I especially like the point that the narrative should never just mark time in explaining details, these can be smuggled in…!

  22. #42 by Tarang on December 14, 2017 - 3:55 pm

    Spot on! Very helpful and apt.

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