What Makes For A Good Story?

Air Travel Is For Assholes

Next month, I’m thinking I might use this space to take the 40,000 feet view and leave the “writing” discussion behind for February — writing, after all, is really just a delivery system for storytelling. The pen scratching and the fingers tippity-tapping across the keyboard are merely a conveyance. We’re making the unreal real. Writing is a means to that end. The thing that’s bigger than writing is storytelling. (And the thing that’s bigger than storytelling is creating, but for me that enters “too vague” territory. I do not consider myself a “creator.” Unless maybe you mean in the godly sense, because on the page, I’m making mountains, I’m killing millions, I’m turning this chick into a swan and that dude into a spider. I am the Zeus of my own reclusive little story-worlds. It’s all thunderbolts and incest, baby.)

The reason storytelling is interesting is because it transcends medium. A good story is a good story no matter how you tell you it — whether you tell it in moving images, across comic panels, across emails or blog posts or tweets or even across the pages of an old-school novel, story is story. Writing isn’t writing in these cases: the actual writing of each mode is a whole different animal. The mechanism is separate.

But the goal is the same: to tell a good story.

And, to reiterate, a good story is a good story, no matter how it is told.

In fact, I hereby demand someone make me a t-shirt:

“I Give Good Story.”

Mmm. Sexy. Yeah. Nnnngh. Give me that story. Tell it to me, you little story slut.

Whoa, sorry, went a weird place there for a wee moment.

Anyway, my point is, if you understand story (and the telling of stories), then the only thing standing in your way is the method of conveyance. As writers and storytellers are increasingly called upon to shapeshift and don the skin-cloak of other media, it seems like it would behoove us to really get to the center of it. Break apart the breastbone and get right to the beating heart. This is especially true of those who are transmedia designers: I think the raw power of transmedia, where good storytelling nimbly leaps from rooftop to rooftop, isn’t put on display as often as I’d prefer. A lot of that gets lost and buried underneath the many-headed media approach, or it gets shouldered out by the “cool factor,” or watered down because it’s a lot of work and not all the moving parts are so clearly understood.

So for me, to get to the truth of that, we need to take a long hard look at story. Or Story, if you prefer to make things more important by capitalizing them. Huzzah, Capitalization.

Now, to you, I ask the question posited in the post title.

It’s a vague question.

Totally open-ended.

And I want it that way.

Throw open you brain doors and see what answer lurks in response to the question:

What Makes For A Good Story?”

Brainstorm. Discuss. Talk to each other.

58 comments

    • @TNT:

      Desire where? On the part of whom? The characters? The readers? The authors? Does conflict spring them from the well of desire? If desire is present without conflict, is that still a good story?

      — c.

  • I think for most people it begins and ends with characters. You can have the coolest plot in the whole world, but give me cardboard or static characters and I WON’T CARE.

    • @Jim:

      I’m increasingly convinced that in my own personal storyteller hierarchy, characters are above all others, but let’s play Devil’s Advocate: can’t storytelling work with hollow characters? Let’s go back to campfire tales. Let’s say — the Hook Man. Y’know, couple goes out, they’re making out, the whole story with the Hook on the door and the blah blah blah. That was compelling storytelling back in the day (and around the campfire, still might be). And yet the characters are about as flimsy as they come, and yet the story resonates somehow and, at the least, keeps the audience in its grip.

      — c.

  • Character.

    Readers/viewers/players will forgive almost everything else being sucky as long as the characters are sympathetic (even in a teeny tiny way) and entertaining.

    Take for instance the series Rome. My husband, being a history nerd, should have spent his time pointing out “this didn’t happen like that” “that didn’t happen like this” “that’s not what they wore” “the year is wrong” and so on. Instead he sat with rapt attention because the characters (and I do mean all of them, holy shit) are engaging, intriguing, multifaceted little jewels that demand viewer attention.

  • Any story must deal with people, land, and technology. But simply adding those pieces doesn’t make it a good story. Character is extremely important. But it’s what the character desires that engages the reader. When you say that the reader must relate to the character, it is the desire that they relate to. Before there can be conflict, there must be a goal and that goal must be believable enough to warrant all the trouble it gets the protagonist into.

    So, yeah. Desire. That comes first and the story hinges on how well the writer executes in that phase.

  • Put me with the others firmly in the “characters” camp. You can get away with flimsier characters in examples like The Hook Man, or Saw, or any of its brethren, but if you want to create a story that has meaning outside of its spectacle, you need characters.

    Kate brings up a great example with Rome. George RR Martin is fantastic with characters and the HBO series of Game of Thrones better follow through with this, or there will be war.

  • I think what makes a good story is initially the hook-those opening few pages-because if the hook is no good the reader will likely stop reading right there. After the hook- there has to be a building up of something-good, bad or other- the reader needs to feel excited, worried, etc… they have to want/need to find what will happen next. If you have the first two, I think the next most important thing is word usage-how words are strung together- I’m not talking using 18 syllable words either. Just how the words flow from one to another-if you have the first two things down I believe word usage is what really sinks the hook in & the reader will gladly invest the time to read your story-start to finish.

  • To everyone who said “good characters” um, no. Good character make good characters. That’s all. Stick a fascinating character in a boring room solving a Rubik’s Cube over and over for three hundred pages and I am not going to care.
    Characters are important, but plot is something of its own. A good story takes the reader on a journey. Take for instance some of Chuck’s own short stories in Irregular Creatures. The best of them start at one emotional pole and travel somewhere completely different by the end of the story. That’s why I particularly loved “Radioactive Monkeys” and “Beware of Owner.” Both of these stories in spite of being very short, took the reader on a roller coaster journey from beginning to end.
    Longer stories need to do the same kind of thing. Because if you end in the same place you started what was the point of the story in the first place?

    • I dunno, if you have some pretty damn interesting characters, I might be compelled to read about them solving a Rubik’s Cube. If you have good characters, they’ll all have their own personal stories from their experiences. Maybe they’ll all sit around talking about their experiences while trying to solve the puzzle.

      Maybe they are all strangers who become good friends, who help one another overcome their problems and maybe some of their stories somehow overlap in some way and you find out they all were part of the same thing. With good characters that have a good back story, anything can happen.

    • Real quick: everybody play nice. This is a provocative question, perhaps, but has no right or wrong answers.

      Said it yesterday, and all would be wise to behoove the advice: Do not be a dick. Lest I break out the flinty banhammer.

      Continue on, good people of the Internet.

      — c.

  • See, with stories like Hook Man and others that branch off of urban legend, the characters are designed to be stock. The listener (at least when such stories were born) are meant to slip into the victim’s role – something that is difficult to do if you’ve got Jack Sparrow in the convertible making out with Lady Gaga (although …) – so that it can play on the fear of the audience.

    And like Josh said with his example – many horror movies/games/etc are built simply around the spectacle. They’re fun while they last, but are pure titillation. They fail to hold up as stories after viewing because it doesn’t have much relatable human impact other than death and sex. A good horror will let its character breathe, and change, and grow through the plot like any other sound story would.

  • @Terry Willitts
    I had a snarky reply all written out and everything, but then I thought, “Arguing on the internet? Is that the level you’ve sunk to Albert?”
    So, fine. If you think good plot is synonymous with good character and one cannot possibly exists without the other then go for it. Meanwhile I’ll be doing my best to make sure that I have both plot AND character working together to make a better story.

  • I think, rather than a “good” character, a story requires relateable characters – or at the very least, characters that the reader can understand in at least some fashion, and a well-set up environment to put the character IN. A character without environment is just character – the two have to work together really well in order to make a “good” story. I tend to write a lot of things that feature nameless characters – often, the name isn’t important to me. What the character is doing and how they are affecting their environment and how the environment is affecting them is far more important than who they actually ARE.

    I think in that respect, a good story also requires some kind of change. It could be anything – a subtle change like someone realizing something about another character, or something drastic like a death, a flood, you know – big stuff. By the end of any good story, however, I think the character(s) – or the environment, should the environment be the chief subject of the story – should have changed or been changed in some way.

  • I’m gonna go waaay the fuck out on a limb and say “empathy.” And I’m not even sure that’s exactly the right word in this context, but it’s as close as I can get.

    Look at all the important parts of a story in all the comments, or in any book about writing: characters, plot, a good hook, desire, waffles… Okay, that last one wasn’t in there, I’m just hungry this morning. But look at all the others. What do they have in common?

    They’re all ways to make the audience/reader/viewer/consumer give a shit. Because if the audience doesn’t give a shit, nothing else really matters.

    Back to your example about the hook-killer. That can be a great story, even with flimsy characters, to the right audience and with the right storyteller. Why? Because a storyteller who’s worth a shit is building suspense and using all his/her tools to suck the audience in. The audience locks into that shit because maybe they’ve made out in the back seat of a car, or even if not, a story like that engages some primal fear instinct which is sleeping inside all of us.

    On the flip side, if you put that same story in the hands of someone with no storytelling (I’m thinking a Ben Stein character, all monotone and drone) chops and have him tell it to a bunch of bankers in a brightly lit room, it falls flat. It’s still a story, but it’s not an EFFECTIVE one.

    On the other hand, take a story with extremely deep characters that grow and change in all the right places. If the storyteller doesn’t threaten them, doesn’t put them or something they care about in extreme jeopardy, you still don’t have an effective story.

    I’ve also known storytellers with an incredible “voice” (this can be actual speaking voice, or their writing voice, or a fascinating medium) who can hook an audience talking about moldy bread. For me, Garrison Keillor is one of those.

    I think the strongest stories pull on something, some primal mechanism, deep inside of us that pulls us in and makes us care about what is happening. I think that’s why what makes a good story good is sometimes so hard to define.

    I also think that the easiest way to define it would be that a good story must have some element, be it characters, plot, setting,, voice whatever, that engages the audience. It doesn’t necessarily need all of them, but I think the more of them it hits, the more effective it is as a story. The more hooks it can sink into the skin of that primal nugget inside every one of us, the better.

  • For me, it’s a combination of character and plot. I want to read about characters I care about going through some type of struggle and (hopefully) coming out better in the end for it. And that what I like to write as well. I don’t have to have a HEA, and I really dislike ones that are kluged together for the sake of having one.

  • The story must have spirit, the breath of life.

    “Show not tell” is part of it.

    Theme is part of it – what IS the story for? Why does it matter? Who cares? – but it isn’t theme.

    It’s when a story moves you, puts the hair up on the back of your neck, turns you on, leaves you cold.

    It’s when a story changes you; you are a different person because of it.

  • Good storytelling is engaging and enthralling. It draws the audience in through the measured use of the medium it is told in (appropriate special effects for audio and visual work, perfect word choice in the written or spoken form, ideal structure in a poem or any medium really). However I realize that this is just shifting the question. What makes it enthralling? Well to that I can only state that it varies. For some it will be familiarity. After all why do remakes and re tellings of Romeo and Juliet consistently do well? Because we are comfortable with the story. In an odd way you can even look to the Bible. We all know the story so it is a comfort to many people. Batman fills the same role.

    In many cases people feel that in order to be drawn to a story it needs to have a certain kind of character. In Twilight (as much as it galls me to type this) Bella Swan is ideal for that readership because she is a blank slate the reader can step into for a wish fulfillment fantasy. Other people want characters they can relate to on a personal level. Spider Man became a runaway hit, despite editorial misgivings, because he was very much a normal teenager having troubles in his life, in addition to all that superpower business. Booster Gold is a schmuck willing to shill for anyone with money. Harry Dresden is constantly broke.

    Some people want characters of a different stripe however, characters larger than themselves. Icons and ideas more than real people. Again Spider Man is useful here as he is that ideal hero, acting selflessly (in fact the same can be said for Dresden and Booster, when the chips are down they do the right thing). The guy we want to be. But Peter Parker is who we are, or were, or at least know someone like that. The Iliad and Odyssey are full of huge characters fighting titanic battles. Mythology is rife with examples of this.

    I am suffering from sleep deprivation so I will wrap this up quickly. Some people what character type A, some want B, and so on. Some want a fresh setting, some what what is already known, some want it straight up and some want symbolism. So what makes a good story is knowing your audience. Also I personally find that the hero’s journey is a pretty good go to template to make something engaging.

  • A good storyteller (and by extension a good story IMO) makes me believe in that storyteller’s world. In the case of fiction, I have to want to go along with the constructs/principles/rules that are laid out or implied for the story in order to feel comfortable enough to check my logical brain at the door. So if someone is writing a book where dinosaurs and cavemen are alive at the same time, there needs to be a corresponding explanation that I am comfortable with to explain the deviation from history, or I will be distracted at best and at worst will stop reading the book since I will decicde the author is an idiot and not worth my time. Just pulling cool elements out of the ether and trying to make them play together without an underlying construct is frustrating and confusing to the reader (or it is to me). I want to focus on the plot and the characters, not why penguins are living at the north pole with Santa.

  • (writing from my phone, so this may be more brief than I like)

    It’s like cooking Hobo Stew. Which is not a stew made of vagrants, but a constantly boiling slurry of whatever you have on hand. You like character? *dumps in more character* That’s good, but missing something… I know, have some interesting situations! You want more, here’s even more situation.

    Why are you making that face? Too much situation? I just happen to have some descriptive locations on hand….

    And so it goes. Can you make a tasty meal from just meat and base seasoning? Of course you can, but that can get boring after a while, it needs more. Just don’t overdo it.

    I could babble on in cooking metaphors for a lot longer (editing equals cooking time, food allergies, different tastes, etc), but that is the gist of it.

  • @Kate, Josh:

    On the subject of ROME: if character makes for good story, and ROME had kick-ass characters (which it did), why didn’t it do well at HBO? (I assume the answer is likely something to do with factors that exist outside the story, but even still — it suggests that more may be at play when dictating what makes a good story. Something more abstract or encompassing, maybe.)

    — c.

  • A good story evokes emotion. It can be plot-based or character-based, but if it makes the reader “feel,” the writer and the reader both win. Even something as poorly written as (urk) Twilight can evoke emotion (apparently in scads of tweens and emotionally stunted adult woman who think stalking equals love, but whatever). Something well-written and emotive, like Mockingjay, is destined to become an instant classic.

    • A good story evokes emotion. It can be plot-based or character-based, but if it makes the reader “feel,” the writer and the reader both win. Even something as poorly written as (urk) Twilight can evoke emotion (apparently in scads of tweens and emotionally stunted adult woman who think stalking equals love, but whatever). Something well-written and emotive, like Mockingjay, is destined to become an instant classic.

      I feel like there’s something in here. Something about making people feel, about evoking emotion. Is that what makes a story good? The ability to create a sense of — something? Anything? A way to make the audience feel?

      — c.

  • Characters I can relate to (in some way) and a whole heap of conflict make a good story to me. At least, from the outside.

    Then I look at some of my favorite stories… Relation to characters is still present to some degree, and then there’s the “interesting shit” factor, which I think adds up to “why is this story cool to me?”

    For example: In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the “interesting shit” factor is a) Thompson’s writing style, b) the craziness that fuels the book, and c) the political nature of the book. The main characters are a draw as well, but aren’t necessarily “relatable”.

  • Okay, so I went off the bat with the “Characters” argument. I said you could have the best plot in the world but no one cares without good characters.

    I DID NOT SAY PLOT WAS IMPORTANT.

    I suppose I should have listed all elements, but we’re trying to boil it down to what’s important, right? I think Character is the first thing, but I was trying to just start the discussion. It is important to have a plot that makes sense and maintains your intellectual interest, but characters give us an emotional attachment. The stakes mean something when we identify with the characters, whether they are fully fleshed-out people or not. We can identify with people on Alderaan who we never see as they are blown to tiny bits. We identify with the loss.

    Chuck, in the case of The Hook Man, isn’t the more engaging character the Hook Man himself? In fact, the plot (if it can be called that) is centered on the mystery of the Hook Man.

    • Far as the Hook-Man goes, as a character he’s pretty weak. He’s an icon at best — he has no arc, no role, no traits, nothing. He’s a hollow boogeyman.

      And yet that (and other urban legends and campfire tales) are compelling stories even though they do not necessarily offer the stock story components outside beginning, middle, and end.

      — c.

  • A good story must consist of characters who are life-like, yet exotic or beyond plain in some way. I like to think of it in the same way people go nuts over celebrities. We swoon and fawn all over ourselves because of the sensationalism that is hollywood, any gossip, any feeling of the inside scoop we get from reading about these large-than-life people grips our attention whether we like it or not. Readers need a point of connection to relate to (I feel the same way), and something to aspire to as well (I could do that, be her, go there), even if it doesn’t exist in the real world. As humans we want more out of life, but need to feel like we’re already a part of something special with a certain notable figure. Pushing the limits of those 2 areas in writing is what creates great tension and leaves the reader spellbound.

    Shutting up before I give you my whole future book in a comment.

  • @Chuck

    Like all the great shows that pass through HBO, it was too expensive to keep in production. It suffered the same exact fate as Carnivale – critical acclaim, a feverish fan base, and a high price tag.

    (I’m afraid this will happen for Game of Thrones.)

    As for the rest of it … I think what all us “Character is King” folk (and some of us not so explicit) is saying is that it is the human element of the story that makes it compelling. We’re a narcissistic bundle of apes – we like stories about ourselves. Whether that’s a direct relation (with condom characters) or a full, strong character. We want to see an authentic (though not necessarily accurate) human experience.

  • “I feel like there’s something in here. Something about making people feel, about evoking emotion. Is that what makes a story good? The ability to create a sense of — something? Anything? A way to make the audience feel?”

    I really think it’s the desire line that sets this all up. Think about LoTR. Frodo is just some hobbit chillin’ in a hole. Not compelling in the least. We are not emotionally attached to Frodo’s life as a couch potato. It’s not until he musters the desire to shepherd an amazingly dangerous object into hell on earth that we begin to involve ourselves with his plight.

    The heroes desire, with the opposition in direct conflict with that desire, is the piece I think really makes a story emotionally charged and therefore good. That said, there’s a good chance I’m wrong on this. Horses for courses and all that.

    • @TNT:

      Desire is definitely a component of lots of great stories, but I wonder if it’s a critical component. I mean, in most character arcs it figures in — Character Wants X, Y Prevents Character From Getting It.

      It might be that “desire” is a bit loaded, a bit salacious of a term — “I desire cheesecake and porn” (which I do) is different from Frodo’s journey. I don’t know that I’d qualify his quest as driven by desire. Want, perhaps. Need. Maybe by a sense of obligation and duty.

      To play Devil’s advocate, do any stories NOT feature the character wanting/desiring something as a key component?

      — c.

  • I think that one definition of a good story could be as simple as saying ‘one that keeps the audience wanting to know what happens next’, things that do that are interesting characters and story (although personally I find the idea that characters and story exist separately kind of weird, to me they’re two aspects of the same thing… but anyway), but something else to bear in mind is that there are things you can do that can break that interest. An obvious one is that you can go into complete ramble mode and bore your audience until they switch off, but that takes a while, you can probably meander for a page or two (or the equivalent in other media) without costing yourself too many readers/viewers/etc but the longer you do that the more people will give up.

    However, the one that most often has me giving up on a book or show is when the storyteller destroys the thing that made me interested in the first place, for example, if I’m interested in a particular character and what happens to them, I might well stop reading if the author kills that character off, I don’t mean out of pique, just out of lack of interest, obviously if there was more than one character that I was interested in I might well keep going until they’re all killed off or written out, but take away what I found interesting about a story, and you take away my interest.

    • @Aiwevanya:

      I don’t think character is separate from story. I think it’s… well, I don’t know. Each character has a story, or is a “carrier” of the story — perhaps the embodiment of the story? The effigy? The something?

      Need more brain.

      — c.

  • My point isn’t that just any desire line must be present, but that a compelling desire line be the track that a “good” story travel down. Having a clear desire allows the best possible conflict. You can have the best setting, the most interesting characters, the most thrilling technology, and without a compelling desire line, there is no story. It’s the fuel that ignites story.

    Think about a one sentence pitch. What do you include? You include the main character’s desire and how that introduces conflict. “Frodo seeks to cast the ring of power into Mt. Doom but he is opposed by a dark overlord.” “Bella Swan wants to get it on with some sparkly dude but he insists on waiting till their married.”

    “To play Devil’s advocate, do any stories NOT feature the character wanting/desiring something as a key component?”

    No good ones. ;)

  • For me a good story is one that makes taps an emotion in me, whether it’s completely relating to a situation, totally loathing a character, or has me still thinking about it after I’ve finished reading the story. If a story can connect to me the reader, it’s a good story for me.

  • @Chuck – For me, the stronger my emotional reaction to a story, the more it resonates with me. If it’s all negative emotion, I probably won’t read it again (The Velveteen Rabbit…*sob*), but it stays with me.

    I feel safe using porn as an example on your site ;) They’ve done studies that show porn is addictive because the images are linked to a strong emotional reaction in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. Books could do that too. Wouldn’t it be cool to get someone addicted to your writing? Not that I would do that or anything….

    @TNT – I agree that the story goal is also important. (What you call a character desire, I call a story goal.) The desire/story goal has to be powerful and emotive, though, to make the story resonate. Saving Middle Earth engages my interest. Watching a character find the coolest new shoes to match her bag doesn’t. She may desire shoes, but it doesn’t click with me.

    Which brings up another thought: how do you know that the story goal will evoke emotion with the most readers? Hmm…must think on this :)

  • Nudity. Lots and lots and LOTS of nudity.

    Oh yeah and, you know, like words and stuff.

    ***

    Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I think a good story is completely subjective. There are things that we might all look at and agree are a good story but chances are we have slightly different things we like about it, even if many of them overlap.

    Or we might recognize it as a good story but simply don’t like it. I hate certain foods but I can recognize when they’re prepared well. Doesn’t mean I want to eat them.

    I don’t know if you can necessarily separate the story from the manner in which you tell it. There are quirks and tricks and methods that each has that either support or detract from the telling. Sometimes you can, sure.

    Romeo and Juliet is such a simple story you can use it everywhere. It’s a template. But stories might have multiple templates. So you might have to distill the story down into its components in order to translate it, and sometimes you lose whole chunks.

    L.A. Confidential, for example, is a radically different book than it is a movie. And I don’t know if it would have worked as a straight translation. The book spans more characters and something like twenty years. The movie boils it down and crams it into a much smaller timeframe.

    The book uses a lot of different templates; inner struggles, unrequited love, redemption, etc. but the movie pretty much boils it down to that last. It’s a lot more black and white than the book is.

    I think the closer media is to each other in format, if not form, the less translation you have to do.

    Cable mini-series are perfect for that. Dexter is mostly Darkly Dreaming Dexter and True Blood season 1 is the first Sookie Stackhouse novel. They maintain the story and just make tweaks, though admittedly some large ones. See Nudity above.

    But if they’d tried to cram those into a movie? I don’t know if it would have worked as well.

    Okay, I think I’ve gone completely into babbling mode so I’ll stop here.

  • I agree with Angela’s first comment.

    I believe that it’s the reader or the viewer that determines what a good story is by how they react or relate to it. Angela brought up Twilight, which I was about to do as well. Stephenie Meyer may not be a good writer, she may not have had an incredible plot or incredible characters, but there is something intangible in the story that made a good number of readers react to it or relate to it. She tapped into something in the hearts and minds of readers in a way that other people writing in the genre have not done before.

    So I guess a good story should be able to evoke a real reaction or real emotion in a reader or viewer–as Chuck said, “The ability to create a sense of—something,” which was actually how I was wording it in my head–no matter how vague it is, no matter what device the writer/creator uses (e.g. great characters, great plot, etc.), no matter what the writer/creator’s initial intention was.

  • As you say, the medium may vary but the story remains the same (kind of like The Who song–I said KINDA like).
    1. Conflict is the real gut of the story. Otherwise there’s no point.
    2. Characterization–your characters MUST engage the reader.
    3. Plot innovation. It’s the way you execute the plot, not just the plot points.
    4. Obviously, tension.
    5. Climax (& you can take that any way you want)
    6. Resolution

    If you look at the bare bones of all story telling media~~film, print, verbal~~they usually hit all these points including the verbal storytelling(I know because I was the storyteller for my nieces and nephews and I made up my own). IMHO, if you hit these basic points then you will have the emotional, intellectual, engagement of the reader. It’s kind of like structure or framework and you are then free to fill in all the emotional, creative, impassioned prose and dialogue to make it a piece of art. But what do I know?

  • Good stories have sweet cycles of tension and release, mystery and revelation. The plot can be stale and the characters wooden, but if the hooks keep coming, and the bleeding holes they make keep getting those sweet kisses, then you have something there. The illusion of novelty makes a good story.

  • It might be a dick answer, but it;s true – I want good, relatable characters and a plot that’s doing something interesting. If for some bizarre reason I could only have one, then I fall on the side of having good characters that i want to continue to spend time with, but there are books out there that have both the cool plots and the great characters.

    Can’t we have both?

  • I think it has been said here in a bunch of different ways, but what a good story really needs is a point where the audience can enter it.

    Now, this can be with relate-able characters, something the audience can grip onto and ride through the story. The Luke Skywalker, going from ‘normal kid wanting something more’ into ‘Galactic Savior’ as he is pulled a long, that might not be the best example, but it kind of works. It can also be ‘compelling’ characters, characters that grip you and make you want to know more about them. It could also just be with characters you can empathize with (though, I’d argue this is back to relate-able and compelling).

    It doesn’t have to be characters though. For that hookman story, the entrance point is the shared primal fear of the unknown, combined with a situation we can easily put ourselves into (assisted even further by cardboard cutout characters that are easy to slip into the view of).

    I mean, maybe I’m being too vague here with ‘entrance point’, but the phrase I hear most often when someone says they didn’t like what is otherwise considered a good tale is that they “just couldn’t get into it”. There was no way for them to get into the story, through the plot, stellar as it may be; the characters, compelling or relate-able, or not; or through any form of shared experience.

    You could have the best story around, with the best plot, good characters, and everything else going for it. But, if there is no way for the audience to climb into the story…well, it’s not really the best story then is it? This is also why, to me, knowing your audience is so important. If you know your audience, you know who to open doors for. Sure, you may grab others too, but you’re aiming to let that group of people in.

  • Good Story: Characters and a situation worthy of them, truth revealed in some refreshing way, but also the language. That crisp turn of phrase and images stacked to reveal more than the sum of the plot’s parts.

  • Create a character and get people to care about that character — whether because you relate to them or want to be them or however. Have them fall in love. Then put that character in a GODAWFUL situation.

    Now turn that situation on its head through the most unique, most challenging, vividly, cinematic, dramatic process/journey possible.

    In other words, have the character turn the situation into a situation that is ten times better than it was before through blood, sweat, and tears.

    And in the end, have the character sacrifice something BIG in order to do it.

    That’s what I think makes a good story. I know, a little specific. But for me, all great stories do this.

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