Monday, May 4, 2015

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #323 -- What Makes a Good Story?

What do you think makes a good story?

The answer you're probably looking for from me would be this: A good story has memorable characters, an inventive plot, rising action and falling action and some sort of resolution. So there. To me that's a merely good story. For those who are comfortable with for an answer, you can stop reading now and let the rest of us go for something a bit less generic.

For me a good story has all of that, yes, but it also has something to say about the human condition.

It has a theme.

It has some sort of failure and need to be redeemed on either a physical (save the kidnapping victim), emotional (get the lover whose heart you broke all those years ago to forgive you), or spiritual level (to become a better person by escaping the clutches of past failures). Or even if such a redemption fails, it was at least attempted.

It has a conflict that pits imperfect people against other imperfect people in some way that has lasting repercussions.

And perhaps most important to me as a writer, it has what I'll call "The Unattainable Thing." It needs that one thing the protagonist wants desperately but knows he or she will never get. It could be a relationship (as with Rick Ruby and Evelyn). It could be the opportunity to see a lost loved one and say goodbye (Starlord). Or it could be any number of other things, but it needs to be there as a driving force to keep the protagonist going. 

To use a recent example, The Avengers was a good movie. It had memorable characters, and inventive plot about an alien invasion, and lots of action along the story triangle. But aside from "there's the alien, hit it!" it didn't offer too much along the lines of anything deeper than surface tension. The Age of Ultron, on the other hand had all that PLUS the hubris of a man who believed himself to be able to make decisions for the whole world, the question of what makes us human underneath the skin, the idea of putting aside serious harms done to us in order to create a new family, and whether or not two people who know that they are monsters can really ever find happiness as people. So, the second movie, at least in regards to my understanding of what makes a good story, was a great story with deeper ramifications that I will take with me far beyond when the taste of popcorn fades away.

(Then again, I'm a lit major, so your mileage may vary.)