What makes a good story?

What makes a good story?

What makes a good story? If you asked one hundred people that question, you would get a hundred different responses. As Jane Austen writers, we need to pay more attention to this question. Why? Because we are writing based on a previous work. Let’s face it: there are a lot of Pride and Prejudice variations, and there is little which has not been done.

I have read Pride and Prejudice fan fiction extensively, both published and unpublished works. If I asked a fellow Austen fan to come up with an idea for a novel, I could tell you whether your idea has been done before. Most of the time, it has. I might not be able to tell you who wrote it or what the title was, but I could likely tell you whether a plot has been done. I drive my sister crazy—she’s read a lot of my books and is planning to write her own, and when she mentions an idea she has, I usually respond with “Yup, I’ve read that before.”

But that’s really not the point. The trick is not to desperately look for something that hasn’t been done before. The trick is to put a new spin on it. So, what are my tricks?

I Write it Myself

A good Pride & Prejudice story should never copy huge swaths of text from the original. I know writers often do this, and I know why they do it. But that’s lazy writing. A writer should use their own words.

While I tend to prefer a complete reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, I do write books that branch off from the original at a critical point. When I do a scene from the original book, I try to write the events in a different order or have someone say something that takes the original conversation off on a tangent.

That does not mean that I will never use something from the original. In fact, I find it amusing to put the words of one character into the mouth of another . . . especially when the new character is Mr. Collins. He’s such a blast to play with!

Be Creative with Scenes

This is a trap I’ve fallen into, though I try to avoid it when I can. A lot of Jane Austen writing has the same elements: dinner parties, walks, morning visits, assemblies, and balls. Yes, I know that a lot of social life in those days centered around those activities.

A story is much more interesting, however, when you find different things for the characters to do. Send the characters to a new place, such as Brighton or come up with a new character with an estate in Staffordshire. Where are other places the characters can meet? Maybe the menagerie in London or at a picnic beside the tower of London. Or maybe a visit to more exotic places, such as Paris. I have not written a book in which Elizabeth or Darcy goes to America, but I think something like that would add a lot of interest to a story.

A Villain is a Must

There is some demand for stories which are all fluff, but to write a really good story, there has to be conflict, and though there tends to be quite a bit of conflict between our favorite characters, there’s nothing like a good villain to ratchet up the interest. Recently, I’ve written a number of stories where is a little less conflict between Darcy and Elizabeth, but I’ve also got some where they don’t get along. There’s room for both styles.

As for the villains themselves, Lady Catherine, Wickham, Caroline Bingley, and even Mrs. Bennet are good antagonists, and they’re the characters we all love to hate. Changing another character and making them a good antagonist can add some interest. I’ve used Mr. Bennet, Mr. Collins, and a sprinkling of original characters to fill the role of antagonist. I also try not to get predictable, though I will admit that I have used certain plot ideas more than once.

Give the Reader a Strong Elizabeth

Those who have read my books might have noticed, but rarely have I had Elizabeth serve only as a damsel in distress. To me, she is a strong character who knows how to take care of herself. Whether it’s fending off Wickham, striking back at Charlotte Lucas’s slimy younger brother, or escaping from a locked cabin in the middle of winter, I typically have Elizabeth effect her own rescue, though sometimes with the help of others.

But How Do You Come Up With an Idea?

To be honest, sometimes I hardly know myself how I came up with an idea. As some of you may know, I have written in the past with a collaborator, and while we tend to focus on original works when we write together these days, we haven’t ruled out working together again on a Pride & Prejudice. A long time ago, we came up with a long list of ideas which we have locked in a vault deep in the side of a mountain . . . er . . . well, it’s sitting in a Word document on OneDrive. But there are lot of ideas there, and on occasion, I have taken ideas from that document.

But there are many other ways I get ideas. Sometimes, I get them in dreams. Sometimes I get them due to random thoughts while taking a shower. The novel I am currently working on came out of a conversation I had with a friend about how a novel should not be based completely on coincidence. Anything can turn into an idea. I try to keep an eye open for everyday situations which might prove to be my inspiration.

That’s a bit of glimpse into my psyche. It’s not an exhaustive treatise on how I write, but it should give you a bit of an idea of what you’ll see from me in the future.

Now, I’m happy to confirm the announcement of my new novel, My Brother’s Keeper, which will be released on November 14. I would also like to reveal the cover at this time. As you will see below, the cover is similar to what I posted last time, but I went with a different mask, one which is more detailed and more sinister. This is completely by design, though you won’t find out why until the end of the novel.

I am excited for its release next Monday, and I hope you will join me!

my-brothers-keeper-7-1a-final

14 Responses to What makes a good story?

  1. Hi Jann,

    Thank you for an interesting post. While I don’t do the ideas for our books (Renata’s and mine), I do for my fantasy novels. People ask me all the time how I come up with some of the things I write. I tell them I think about it a lot 🙂 I love our plots because they change things. Pride and Prejudice will always be perfect (obviously, or it wouldn’t be so enduring and well-loved) but it’s fun to change things around. Also, I agree, Elizabeth should be strong.

    That’s a great cover. Good luck with your new release!

    Summer

  2. Gorgeous cover, Jann! Thank you for this wonderful post! There are many elements involved in creating a good story.

  3. Your opening reminded me of a podcast speaker who said that a story idea could be given to a room of 100 people and the results would be 100 different stories. 🙂 And I bet if we asked those same 100 people what they liked in a story or what made a story their favourite we would get about 100 different answers as well. 🙂 Thanks for the post! And….Congrats on the new release!

  4. Love the cover of your book,I wish you the best of luck with it and hope it’s well received.

    I,like others,am constantly amazed at the various tangents you encourage our beloved characters to go on,be it forced marriage,Mr B’s premature demise or Lady C’s misconstrued interferences.

    Credit to all authors who daily face a white empty page and,as if my magic,weave an enthralling tale,letter by letter,word by word.

  5. Last week I posted my recommendation of Mistress of Longbourne. In my opinion, this is one of the more unique variations while remaining in the P&P moment. I’m ready to read more, thanks to your exemplary writing!

  6. Congratulations on your new launch. Would you believe me if I told you that I have 10 of your books on my e-reader? I have made it through 2 and am making my way toward the others. Time, so little time. By-the-way, I love the cover of this book. It looks so cool.

    I agree with your comment about P&P story ideas. It is a favorite topic among JAFF authors. Like you, I decided to make my own list of possible JAFF story ideas. During my annual read of P&P, I looked at every conversation, every nuance, examined every scene, and tried to make a list of alternate ideas. My poor book has post-it notes all throughout it’s pages. However, as you have just pointed out, during my continued reading of JAFF authors and their stories, I began to encounter my ideas in printed form and my list has deteriorated substantially. There are still a few ideas not presented in JAFF form, so I am still a half-step ahead of the herd. I suppose the old saying that there is nothing new under the sun applies to JAFF ideas.

    Good luck or blessings in your writing and the launch of your new book. One more to add to my wish list.

  7. Last things first! What a gorgeous cover, Jann, and many congratulations on your forthcoming release.

    I often wonder how authors come up with new plots/ideas/scenarios….whatever you may care to call them. I guess that’s why you’re the author and I’m not. Since I discovered this online community and wider world of JAFF just short of three years ago, I’ve been amazed by how so many different authors can take the plots of just six (and mostly just one) novels and end up with so many unique stories. OK, I think the vast majority of us want the main protagonists of each novel to end up as per canon but there are a myriad of places where one little tweak of the plot, or one alteration to the basic “universe” can send it off in a totally new direction before they reach their HEA, aren’t there?

    Then there are the sequels and there almost anything goes, as long as it feels true to the original and respects the author and her books.

    Thank you for such a fascinating insight into your writing.

  8. I really don’t know how you authors come up with so many different plot ideas based on one wonderful book! I have read a great number and must admit I tend to prefer the ones where Darcy and Elizabeth get together early in the book. I also admit I love a passionate romantic Darcy. I look forward to checking out your new book. Such a striking cover.

Your thoughts are precious!