How You Know When Your Story Works

How do you know when your story works?

When somebody tells you it does.

And the more people who tell you it works, the MORE it works.

No big revelation here.

But is there a way for writers to know when magic sparkles the page WHILE they write it?

As an author of fiction, this is the question I keep asking myself. When I’m writing, how do I know my ideas are moving past my ego to touch others? How do I know if I’m really conveying emotional truth that coaxes people to read more?

I know the techniques for getting words to flow, but that’s not nearly as important as engaging the reader with the IDEAS behind the words. Following a tried and true structure just isn’t enough. I’ve written scenes and stories where all the elements were neatly in place, I withheld just the right amount of information and built my characters from the inside out. Yet my words laid listlessly on the page or seemed unrealistic.


Why didn’t I know I was writing wrong when I was writing it? Why do I still come up with stuff that doesn’t pop off the page?

I don’t want to write stuff that’s just “okay.” I want my readers to be waiting for my words. I want to share my thoughts with them and make a positive difference, bringing them gripping experiences. And I guess I want to be liked too.

And to make all that happen, in the way I want it to happen, I need to be a really good writer of ideas and emotions. And I need to know when I’m not doing that.


So here’s what I’ve learned (or re-learned) as I publish my weekly Irv-in-Therapy short stories. It’s a three-point check list you may already have.

First and foremost, I must not, or even try, writing stories remotely.

By that I mean, if I want to create an emotional scene, I must BE emotional when I write it. I must feel the feelings and not just remember how they felt when describing them.

To do that, I must go INSIDE the scene, into the Zone as they say, experiencing it as the words come out of me. And I have to clear time to do it. If it takes two hours or two days, I must wait until I have entered the emotional state of my characters.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen on the first draft, but it’s a rung that must not be skipped. That emotional lift brings color to the gray scale of description.

Finally, I must be HONEST about those feelings, letting them be what they are and not fake them to shape a scene. Only then can truth flow. Because if I replicate emotions rather than LIVE them in my mind, you readers will definitely pick that up and turn away my words.

Yes, of course there are preliminary steps we writers do that is more an intellectual exercise than an emotional one – like structuring the plot, setting the tone, building the background story and character construction. With all genres, including fantasy, comedy and satire, the spine must be accurately assembled before it can be dressed with believable personalities. The premise and subtext of our stories must ring true.

And what do all literary premises revolve around, even self-help books?

The human story.

And what is the human story?

Our fears, our joys, and growing from that, our wins and losses. All human existence is a variation of that internal/external struggle.

So bearing all this in mind, WHAT must I never forget when scribing a scene?

Be true to my fears and joys.
Do not write about feelings.
Feel them as I write.

And if I do that, I just might get a glimmer of knowing when my writing is right.

Authoring fiction is an inner journey. By taking that challenge with honest sincerely, you’ll find at least one reader who always benefits from taking in your words.

That reader is YOU, your most important fan.

Be kind. Don’t rush the gift.


This post was originally published on Curiosityquills.com.



  1. Jerry's cousin says:

    So, is Irv nuts or not? I gotta know?
    Will someone save him? Will he live happily everafter? Will Irv find love? He deserves to be happy, after going through so much. Or will his be another sad story I don’t want to finish?

    1. Steven says:

      Well, he does say on page 270 of book one, “I’m afraid I’ll never be

      So will he gain the wisdom to see that “happy” is not a place, but more of a flow?

      1. Irving H. Podolsky says:

        Will he gain the wisdom, you ask. Irv is on an odyssey, and at the end of his journey, many insights are learned — for himself, and the reader, step by step by step…expanding…expanding…

    2. Irving H. Podolsky says:

      Irv’s resilient, JC. Sure he gets sad, but he deeply feels things, and touches the emotions of the people around him. And then he thinks about all that and does his best to be a kinder person.

      So don’t fret, JC. Irv’s not nuts and he WILL find love, because people DO love him. It’s just that most of the time he doesn’t realize it.

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