What Makes a Good Story? 11 Quotes From Famous Writers

storytelling quotes
Photo by Kate Hisock via Flickr

Maya Angelou said “there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you,” but how do you go about telling that story? Creativity and storytelling go hand-in-hand –– whether you’re a filmmaker editing a documentary, a ceramicist crafting a line of dinnerware, or a wedding photographer capturing a couple’s big moment in love. Even business owners use storytelling to advertise, as stories are such an persuasive means of relating to the human spirit.

Most of us posses at least one untold story of our own, but finding the inspiration and wherewithal to tell it can be a challenge. Luckily, there’s no better way to learn the art of storytelling than by taking advice from experts –– in this case, famous authors who have successfully crafted narratives that both resonate with readers and stand the test of time. Check out some of CreativeLive’s favorite authorial quotes about storytelling below.

“A storyteller was someone with a generative, unlimited imagination, the kind of person who makes worlds: someone like CS Lewis, say, or Ursula K Le Guin. Imagine a world in a wardrobe or a planet in which gender is not a fixed state but a condition, changing season by season. Those are stories.” –– Zadie Smith

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” ― Graham Greene

anais nin storytelling

“Humanity’s legacy of stories and storytelling is the most precious we have. All wisdom is in our stories and songs. A story is how we construct our experiences. At the very simplest, it can be: ‘He/she was born, lived, died.’ Probably that is the template of our stories – a beginning, middle, and end. This structure is in our minds.” –– Doris Lessing

“I am a person who believes in asking questions, in not conforming for the sake of conforming. I am deeply dissatisfied – about so many things, about injustice, about the way the world works – and in some ways, my dissatisfaction drives my storytelling.” –– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Stories are the only enchantment possible, for when we begin to see our suffering as a story, we are saved.” –– Anaïs Nin

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath

“Nothing in my life is worth writing about. I know that story. I write books to answer questions.” –– Toni Morrison

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ––Virginia Woolf

“Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles. The problem is structural; it is insoluble; it is why no one can ever write this book. Complex stories, essays and poems have this problem, too – the prohibitive structural defect the writer wishes he had never noticed. He writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air and it holds.” –– Annie Dillard

“I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way – what happens to somebody – but I want that ‘what happens’ to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing – not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens.” –– Alice Munro

“If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen…. A great lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar.” ― John Steinbeck

Photo: Anais Nin, by Elsa Dorfman

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Mehera Bonner is a freelance lifestyle and entertainment writer. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two children.