2 Critical Factors for Successful Stories

Joshua Henkin

You can be a beautiful and gifted writer yet fail to craft a compelling narrative. Joshua Henkin, in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, elucidates, in a memorable and striking way, how to check your work for two critical factors of a successful story:

For a story to work, there needs to be both consequence and agency, and one way to tell whether your story is succeeding in this regard is to ask yourself a couple of questions. First, type your scenes out on separate sheets of paper so that it’s possible to scramble them. Can you scramble them? You shouldn’t be able to. … If you can reorder them, then the odds are your story isn’t driven sufficiently by consequence. Second, ask yourself what would happen if you yanked your protagonist out of the story. If the only thing the story would lose was your protagonist’s observations … then the odds are there’s insufficient agency in your story.

Read Henkin’s entire piece at the Glimmer Train site.

Also, check out these other articles:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Michael Smith

What does he mean by agency?

Darrelyn Saloom

Such a great post. Love the idea of scrambling scenes. Brilliant.

Teresa Robeson

I love Glimmer Train! I’d been with them since the beginning – I wish I’d kept the first issue…might be a collector’s item one day 😉 – and I’m pleased they’ve done so well.

Very good advice from Henkin (and thank you for explaining “agency;” I wondered about that myself).