Judging the Merits of a Story

editor/publisher of CommuterLit

Copyright is held by the author.

As a long-time editor of a literary ezine, I know what I’m looking for in a story, but I’ve never really articulated my criteria for judging merit. I’m going to give it a go:  I am in no way looking for perfection, rather I’m looking for potential. But what does that mean?

1. Characters. Are they cardboard cut-outs or clichés? Or can I feel some rumblings of complexity there?
2. Dialogue. Does the dialogue serve only for exposition? Or does it push the narrative along and show character? Do real people talk like that?
3. Point of View. Regardless of whether it’s  in the first or third person, is the story written from inside the protagonist looking out? Does it fully inhabit that head- and heart-space, without wavering?
4. Plot and pacing. Does it have a story, with a beginning, middle and end? Does the story unravel the way it should? Does the pace vary effectively?
5. Themes. Is there a point to the story? Do the themes interweave well with the plot, characters, and imagery?
6. Imagery and wordplay. Is there the right amount or is the story bloated with turns of phrase? Do the descriptions and wordplay zing?
7. Exposition and back story. Is there the right amount? Is the right info conveyed? Does it fall in the right spots and is it interwoven seamlessly into the story?
8. The ending. I’m not necessarily looking for a twist ending, but I need to feel that the ending was inevitable.
9. Emotion. Does the story move me?
10. Surprise. Does the story surprise me?
11. Authenticity. Does it feel like the author is invested in the story?