How Do You Know when a Story Is a Winner?


Author Mike Resnick won more Hugo Awards for short stories than any other author.  So a couple of years ago, I asked him, “How do you know when you’re writing a story that it is going to be Hugo- or Nebula-award worthy?”

His answer was so basic, it surprised me.  He said, “Usually, somewhere about the middle of the story, I’ll start to recognize that this is a great one.  I can see that it’s turning into a powerful story, that it will have a strong emotional impact.”

He paused, and said, “Then, of course, it has to have a strong element of surprise at the end.”

“On top of that, I have to look closely and ask myself, ‘Does it have solid characters?’ Because, of course, in a science fiction story, the real story isn’t about the science.  Ultimately, it’s about how the story makes you feel.”

His answer surprised me because ultimately it doesn’t differ much at all from what I look for as a contest judge.  Sure, I want some interesting concepts in a story—a basic idea that feels original.  You can take it for granted that I want a story that is beautifully written, where the author has fine control over his tone and voice and has an interesting style.

But ultimately, the story that makes the reader cry the most, the one that provides the greatest emotional impact, is likely to win over other tales that are written at the same high level.

That element of surprise, though, is also important.  It can play throughout a story.  For example, you as an author can have surprising word choices in the opening of your tale, and surprising metaphors and similes, so that every paragraph offers some new treasure.

Just as importantly, you can give your characters unusual motivations, so that they make unconventional choices when trying to solve a problem, and the result of each attempt to resolve a problem can also offer surprise.

In other words, a story that affects readers powerfully on an emotional level will win out in a contest against one that just offers gorgeous prose.


Just a reminder, we have a sale on David Farland’s Super Bundle. You get the audited versions of his most popular workshops and seminars for only $139, a huge discount! But this sale ends Friday!



If you’re interested in joining the Apex online writing group, we have a number of upcoming speakers. Bestselling authors Jodi Lynn Nye and Eric Flint are on the schedule, along with Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, and M.J. Rose whose company specializes in book marketing and promotion.  Simply send the word “Apex” to dwolvert@xmission.com.


We’re opening a new Epic Novel Writing Workshops soon. All of our classes will be on Saturdays and will be handled on Zoom. The deadline for entry is only four weeks from now. For more info, go to http://mystorydoctor.com/live-workshops-2/


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