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How to Write a Memorable Story

crime and suspense meet the team Sep 19, 2021
how to write a memorable story

If you’re curious about what it takes to write a memorable story, you can bet our writing coach Jack Jordan has a trick or two up his sleeve. Jack is a global number one bestselling author of six gripping novels.

Here, Jack explains what he’s learned about creating memorable stories with an impactful ending, and how he got the idea for his own story. Whether you’re writing a short story or a full-length novel, literary fiction or any kind of genre, Jack has a few techniques that will help you write stories with memorable characters and a final act that stays with readers.

Surprising endings make for memorable stories 

I can still vividly remember the day a single book changed my life.

I was shut away in the family living room, aged twelve, ripping through the pages of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses with such vigour that I’m surprised I didn’t tear them from the binding. 

I should have seen the impending tragedy coming, what with it being a modern take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But every book I had read before had tied up the endings so neatly and conveniently that I expected the story to swivel at the last minute. I expected it to end in the only way I knew: tied up in a perfect bow, with the villain getting their just deserts, and the main character getting their Happy Ever After. 

short story writers and novelists alike know the importance of great opening lines, but a memorable ending is the key to a great story

But the ending Blackman delivered changed my view of storytelling forever. I stared, slack-jawed, as I re-read the last page, with my heart racing and my young mind reeling with emotions and questions. Blackman doesn’t tie up the end of Noughts and Crosses in a pretty, neat bow – she gives the reader the ultimate gift. She makes us feel.

My understanding of ‘story’ was changed forever

The ending Blackman delivered changed my view of storytelling forever. I stared, slack-jawed, as I re-read the last page, with my heart racing and my young mind reeling with emotions and questions.

As I sat staring at that infamous last page, a fervent need ignited me. 

As a reader, I no longer wanted the cookie-cutter ending, or the perfectly likeable characters. I wanted flaws. I wanted pain and tragedy. I wanted to feel every emotion I possibly could. That’s what would create a truly memorable ending.

Even now, all these years later, I long for that same sucker-punch of emotion, and feel disheartened when I sense the pretty pink ribbon slithering through the last chapter of a book, ready to be bowed. 

 

Possibilities for memorable story writing multiplied

As a writer, my mind opened to a whole new way of storytelling, a new paradigm for what could qualify as a good story. It was practically exploding with new possibilities.

There wasn’t a rule to deliver a Happy Ever After for the main character’s life like I had assumed. I could carve my own way, add a plot twist to the generic mould, deliver impacts of emotion like Blackman had for me. 

Over the years, I have realised that books that divert from the Happy Ever After, either partially or totally, have stayed with me the most: Noughts and Crosses, Gone with the Wind, The Lottery, Gone Girl. These are memorable stories. That harsh slap of macabre leaves its sting long after I close the book.

There wasn’t a rule to deliver a Happy Ever After for the main character’s life like I had assumed. I could carve my own way, add a plot twist to the generic mould, deliver impacts of emotion.

a good story like noughts and crosses has a great main character and rising action to hook readers

To write a memorable story, make your readers care

That is not to say every story needs to end in tragedy. If that were the case, we would all be weeping in the streets. 

The integral part of this approach is to ensure that there are enough trials and tribulations for the characters along the way for readers’ emotions to linger beyond the last page. 

So the key to writing a memorable story is simple: first you have to make readers fall in love – then you must break their hearts. 

Successful happy endings work because the reader has fallen for the characters and had their heart broken along the way, delivering the same emotional impact, even if the characters get their deserved closure at the end of the book. 

The key to writing a memorable story is simple: first you have to make readers fall in love – then you must break their hearts.

Trials and transformations are integral for memorable stories

Just like real life, the characters will have faced life-changing circumstances that have forced them to grow; broken them, before fixing them again, but forever changed from who they were at the start of the story. As any professional writer will attest – even many who work in non fiction writing – character development is at the heart of any great story. And you’ll need to create conflict that forces them to change.

It’s pain that makes the reader empathise, and most importantly, creates that special lasting impression, and has them recommending the book to everyone they know. 

But sometimes, like with my personal Hero book, Noughts and Crosses, it pays to skip the Happy Ever After entirely and create a surprising ending befitting the interesting character you’ve created… You make the rules.

When I think of readers reacting to books in this way, of stories that have so captivated a reader’s attention and stirred their emotional depths, I often think of my former spouse’s mother, who would launch a book across the room with a scream every time she reached a pivotal, emotional twist in a tale. When there was no twist ending, when the story concluded with the aforementioned pretty pink bow, she could remember liking the story, but didn’t remember what it was actually about. 

It’s pain that makes the reader empathise, and most importantly, creates that special lasting impression, and has them recommending the book to everyone they know.

When she was shocked, heartbroken, angry, or relieved to reach a happy ending after a character’s many trials and tribulations, she could tell me everything that happened, because her memory of it was attached to the emotion she felt along the way. She didn’t just recollect the book as she spoke to me – she was experiencing the emotions all over again. And that’s what makes a story powerful. You must make the reader care.

plot holes or a weak inciting incident can damage a story, but the most constructive feedback often centres around a memorable ending for your main characters

Emotion is the key ingredient 

Every time I write a new book, I write with this emotional impact in mind. I’m constantly thinking of how it will make my readers feel, deep in their bones. 

How can I deliver that slap of emotion with my writing? The lingering sting? How can I make the reader feel just like I did aged twelve, reeling as I reached the last page of Noughts and Crosses?

If your characters are going to have a Happy Ever After, make them work for it, or dare to go further, and leave it in tragedy (it worked for Shakespeare). If you’ve already got a first draft, start editing to make sure you’ve earned that ending and delivered something surprising. If you’re just about to start writing, keep in mind my advice to prioritise the emotional connection with your main characters.

Your readers won’t just thank you, they will never forget your book, or how you made them feel. That’s how you write a memorable story. 

 
  


 
 
image of Jack Jordan who knows how to write a hook

Jack Jordan

Author Tutor at The Novelry

Jack Jordan is the global number one bestselling author of six thrillers including Do No HarmAnything for Her and Night by Night – an Amazon No.1 bestseller in the UK, Canada, and Australia. Jack tutors writers tackling crime, psychological thrillers and suspense fiction at The Novelry. Write your novel with Jack at The Novelry.

Join us for the online creative writing course with thrills and spills and coaching from our brilliant crime and suspense writers. Start today!

 

 

 


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