Skip to main content

Table 2 Tips for writing good stories (adapted from[48]) e

From: Examining the ethical and social issues of health technology design through the public appraisal of prospective scenarios: a study protocol describing a multimedia-based deliberative method


‘A theme is something important the story tries to tell us—something that might help us in our own lives.’

Sheppard recommends not getting ‘too preachy’ and ‘not to say what the moral is.’ It is more interesting for readers if the theme grows out of the story with subtlety and nuances, so they feel they have learned something for, and by themselves.


The plot usually revolves around a ‘conflict or struggle that the main character goes through.’ It can invoke personal needs and feelings, involve another character, or be in response to ‘the way things are.’ The protagonists ‘should win or lose at least partly on their own, and not just be rescued by someone or something else.’

In a good story, by trying to solve things that are problematic, the characters learn and grow. This is what the ‘story theme’ is about.

Sheppard underlines that ‘a novel can have several conflicts, but a short story should have only one.’ This conflict should grow in intensity, reach a ‘climax’ and then resume.


Sheppard recommends laying out and defining the characters—who they are, how they think, what they do—before starting to write. Knowing those characters well will bring coherence to the story plot. These characters should have some traits that readers relate to, or even make them care about them.

Sheppard also stresses that ‘a main character should have at least one flaw or weakness. Perfect characters are not very interesting. […] And they don’t have anything to learn.’ Similarly, a ‘bad guy’ should also possess some positive qualities.


Sheppard recommends setting the story ‘in a place and time that will be interesting or familiar.’

In our case, since the scenarios are prospective, we describe settings that depart from those in which healthcare is currently delivered and from those in which people are now interacting. Nevertheless, our scenarios have to be plausible and therefore settings that are sufficiently concrete and puzzling are selected.