Here's what I took away from the exercise...
- an excellent story engages the reader's emotions. Note, too, serious emotions such as poignancy, sorrow, or joy are more effective than humor.
- an excellent story really tortures (figuratively, not necessarily literally) the protagonist. Often the protagonist is an underdog, starting the story behind the 8-ball (or whatever metaphor you prefer).
- many great stories have empathetic, and even sympathetic, protagonists. Interestingly, this is one of Donald Maass' instructions in Writing the Breakout Novel.
- many very good stories have unique voices
- most excellent spec fic stories have fully fleshed-out worlds. The reader feels like they are actually in another place and/or time
- most excellent stories follow the standard plot arc: the protag has a problem and acts to solve it
- most great/excellent stories are about more than one thing and these things are interrelated. Often this involves an external and internal plot arc.
- most great stories involve some kind of originality--a new twist on an old idea, or ideally, a totally new idea
I will continue to study the issue...
Anyone out there have any insights? What do you think makes a story great?