Everyone likes a good story. But what exactly makes a good story?
A good story, good writing, does not just happen. Certain elements must run throughout the work before it can call itself “good.” Such a story is Jack Finney’s 1952 “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets.”
First, the excellent title immediately stirs up wonder in the reader’s mind: Who died? How did he die? What do the dead man’s pockets contain? Is this a “whodunit” story? The mystery that shrouds Jack Finney’s well-chosen title tries to ensure the reader will read the story.
A second thing that makes this story good is the conflict, the danger, and the suspense. The conflict of what the protagonist Tom will do with, or do about, his escaping paper grabs the reader’s attention; the danger of his climbing out on that tiny ledge, perilously high above the street, thrills the reader; and the suspense keeps the reader’s thoughts focused intently on Tom’s plight, wondering if he will ever get to live like he eventually realizes he should.
A third element that gives this story worthiness is the realistic people and setting, giving the reader a relatable connection to the plot.
A final item that makes Finney’s writing good is his writing style. It is neither too fancy nor too simple. It is clear, concise, adheres to standards, and does not detract from the reading experience.
If I can make my writing anything like Jack Finney’s in “Content of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” I will have gained knowledge and a bit of expertise in writing good prose, especially for short stories.