Non-Negotiable: The One Thing That Makes Stories Timeless

Have you ever wondered what books like Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, Animal Farm, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Dune, and Murder on the Orient Express have in common? Why do these stories sell year after year and survive the passage of time?

  • Is it merely a stroke of luck?
  • Are the authors following some hidden formula?
  • Or are they doing something more than just weaving a gripping narrative?

The Hidden Layer

While beautiful prose, sentence structure, and character development are vital, they’re not the real reasons we keep returning to these stories.

It all boils down to one simple, yet profoundly challenging thing.

Unveiling the Magic: George Orwell

Consider George Orwell, the man behind masterpieces like 1984 and Animal Farm.

Why have his works endured? Is it due to Orwell’s eloquent sentence structures or his complex characters? Though these elements contribute, they aren’t the core reason. What makes Orwell’s work immortal is the underlying message.

In his essay “Why I Write,” Orwell reveals:

“My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention.”

Orwell was compelled to expose injustices through his writing. This mission imbued his work with a timeless relevance.

More than Fantasy: J.R.R. Tolkien

Next, consider J.R.R. Tolkien. Known for The Hobbit, published just before WWII, Tolkien had a profound message for his children—John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla—and the world.

He lived through WWI and witnessed WWII unfold.

So when Bilbo Baggins reluctantly leaves his comfort zone, you can see that Tolkien wanted his readers, especially his children, to understand the importance of facing a perilous world courageously.

Agatha Christie’s Layers

Even if you aim to write something seemingly superficial, like a locked-room mystery, know that the greats like Agatha Christie imbued their stories with deeper meaning. Murder on the Orient Express was not just a cleverly plotted mystery; it delved into questions of justice and revenge, inspired by real-life events like the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son.

The Non-Negotiable

At Story Grid, we talk about the “Non-Negotiable” of a story. This is what your story is truly about— the change you aim to instill in your readers. A story is not just a sequence of events but a vessel for transformation. This is what generates word-of-mouth and builds a lasting legacy.

If you’re finding it hard to figure out what you want to write about, consider these questions:

  • What do you think causes the most pain in the world?
  • What would you die for, or who would you die for?
  • What change do you want to effect in how your reader perceives themselves or the world around them?


So, what’s your non-negotiable? Once you figure that out, you’re ready to write a book that will not only entertain but also stand the test of time. Remember, writing is a challenging endeavor, as George Orwell describes it, “like a long bout of some painful illness.” But the pain is worth it if you’re able to change how your readers see themselves and the world.

The stories that last are the ones that mean something not just to the writer, but to the world. So, find your “Non-Negotiable” and go write a timeless story.

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