January 31, 2005

Good Books and Great Books

Category: Literature :: Permalink

A good story is one in which a sympathetic and three-dimensional protagonist has interesting and unusual adventures against a varied and interesting background. A great story is one a cultivated reader can read with pleasure and later reread with increased pleasure. — Gene Wolfe, “Sun of Heliotrope,” Castle of Days 224.

That’s not a bad definition, though I suppose the word “adventure” may not be the first thing that comes to mind in considering what happens in many stories (e.g., the short stories of Bernard Malamud). Is it necessary, too, that what happens be unusual? I don’t know about that either; it seems to me that it would be possible to tell a good and interesting story about someone who does something quite ordinary.

But I do appreciate the latter half of Wolfe’s definition: a good story may be reread with pleasure, but a great story is one which repays repeated readings. And I’ll add that some readers never appreciate the greatness of a story because they zip through it once and never return to it again.

So how would you define a good story and a great story?

Posted by John Barach @ 7:08 pm | Discuss (0)

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