What makes a good story? Reams and reams have been written on this, and creative writing courses up and down the country discuss the question at length. Is writing so scientific that if there are enough twists and turns, surprises, great protagonists who wrestle with what they want and what they need, are torn and tested through the story with obstacles in their path, reach a fork in the road and ultimately change by the end - once they have been tested - if all these requirements are part of some prescription will the story be a success? If there are inciting incidents and something is at stake all the way through, if we see the protagonist learn in the end but not before being pushed and pulled by interesting antagonists, nor without a bit of self protagonist denial, if we love the characters, even the villains, if all these boxes are ticked will the story work? Some say the vital element is jeopardy, others say without the characters driving the story then it won’t feel real, so character leads story. If the prose is more than up to scratch then will all that work to make the story perfect?
I think a good story is more than all of that. Yes, a good story needs those requirements above to make us care. But storytelling isn’t scientific, it doesn’t work if all those boxes are ticked alone. It needs something else. A story only works if it has a soul, and the writer gives it that in the process of writing. That’s why even the smartest computers (at the moment! Ahem) can’t write a truly good story. A writer does more than ask themselves all of the above and about what the character wants, a writer does more than plan out a beginning, middle and end. They live through it, they spend days, months, sometimes years with the story. They sweat it. What makes a good story is the blood on the end of the writer’s fingers. This is what helps make the story feel real, feels like there is some truth on the page.
That’s why ultimately every story is different, even though there are only seven stories in the world to tell (or thereabouts). Because every writer has their own lens through which they see the world, has their own experiences which influence them, their own voice by which to recount the story. We are all unique, and it is only when a writer embraces this individuality do they really begin to succeed to connect with the reader (or viewer if TV/play script). I believe a writer has been brave telling a story they know, they understand, that has touched them. As it can often be very painful and revealing when you see how much a writer cares about the subject matter, when that seeps through from the page into the reader’s consciousness; then the writer has succeeded in transferring their emotional response. That’s more than a scientific process, isn’t it, and important to remember when writing I think.