For as long as there have been people, there have been stories. They were told around campfires, in the shelter of caves, in great castle halls, in a child’s bedroom. Stories have cemented their place in our culture, in our very way of life as human beings. We grew up listening to stories, telling stories and living out our own stories.
Of course, not all stories are created equal. Some are simply better than others. It is a fact of life that there are master storytellers among us, able to weave us into their web of fantasy and illusion. These masters tell stories so rich and deep that they transport audiences into all manner of different worlds and universes with just a few well chosen words.
So, what makes for a great story? Just what is it about these magnum opuses that set them apart from the rest of the herd? Let’s talk about the parts that make up a great story, the puzzle pieces that form the masterpiece.
Who Are These People?
A great story needs to have interesting characters, that much is obvious. That doesn’t mean they have to be perfect and beautiful all the time; on the contrary, it’s often a good idea to have incredibly flawed characters. Not only can perfection be difficult to relate to, but more importantly, it gets really boring.
What makes for a great character? Characters should be as comprehensive as possible. Every random person on the street is living out their own unique story, so why should your characters be any different? Always have a back story for your characters.
What was life like for them growing up? Where did they attend school? Are they children of divorced parents? Are they married? What is their relationship with their families like? Is your character a dog person or a cat person?
Nothing adds more spice to a great story than a great back story. By developing your characters, you add a rich layer of added history to whatever tale you are telling. Character development is just as important as your main story plot, so it would be wise to invest some serious effort in this endeavour.
Give your characters personality. Be creative! Take advantage of the fact that you can pretty much define the people you are writing about. Is your character a kind person? Or is he a lying, scheming, manipulative megalomaniac? Or maybe he is both, suffering from some sort of split personality? It’s all up to you. The very fates, nay, the past, present and future of your characters are all in your hands.
Now that you know exactly whom you are writing about, it’s time to think about what happens to them. There is one thing that all great storytellers have in common: they have a great story to tell. Now, that may seem a little too simplistic, but it really is as straightforward as that. The plot is the heart of every story.
Nobody wants to hear about nothing happening. It is the plot that draws the audience’s interest, and holds their attention captive. Without a brilliantly conceived plot, every story would simply centre on characters standing around doing nothing. Who wants to hear about that?
When constructing the plot, a great storyteller must take all factors into account. You already have the characters ready, but that’s only the beginning. There are plenty of other aspects to consider. Where is your story taking place? When is it happening? The setting plays a huge role as the backdrop of your story, and can be a defining part of your plot. Defining the settings and the characters gives you the canvas and the colours with which to create your masterpiece.
As for the plot itself, well, the sky is the limit. You can make your story about anything and everything your heart desires. Monsters, dragons, spy thrillers, and romance – if you can imagine it, then you can create it. You have complete and total control over what happens in this world that you have created. However, this doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want without consequences. Having complete control means that you can create either a beautiful story that touches all who encounter it in a lasting, profound way, or a terribly crafted story that turns readers away.
The fate of your story all comes down to vision and execution. All great storytellers have a clear vision of what they want their story to be. This determines the direction of the plot, and the events that will contribute to it. However, vision without execution is worthless. Execution is all about consistently working to achieve your story’s ambitious vision as perfectly as possible. The characters, the settings, the events – all these things come together to complete a story.
Why Should We Care?
A great story is one that its audience can relate to. You can write about aliens or whales or dinosaurs, but there is always that human element to all great stories. Aliens have feelings too, right? And maybe the whale can evoke feelings about how beautiful the raw majesty of nature is. The point is, the audience must care. There is an entire universe of human emotions to draw response from. By creating an emotional bond with your audience, you are able to draw them in, make them feel like they are part of the story.
This relationship is incredibly important because it ensures that your audience is personally invested in whatever happens in your tale. All great stories are able to embrace their audiences and make them feel as though they’re personally involved with whatever is happening. Great works of fiction are able to share the experience with their audiences. The audience is no longer just reading about something, they are actually immersed in the world created by the master storyteller.
I Don’t Understand!
Great storytellers recognize the fine line between a masterful plot twist and a simply illogical sequence of events. While it is okay (and most often encouraged) to be as creative as possible, that doesn’t mean that you can throw all sense of reason and consistency out the window. A story must still make sense. A tale can take place in the most fantastic setting, with the most outlandish characters, but at the end of the day, it needs to makes sense. The audience must feel like your story is weaving a magical place just beyond reality, not like you are making fools of them. Audiences are smart: if you don’t put enough thought into your plot, then they will recognize it and call you out on it.
That’s why great stories take great planning, which is also why the vision of the story is so important. The best storytellers execute their vision, sticking to it at all times. They have something they want to share with the audience and they do just that. The best stories all make sense in the end. Different people may feel different things about them, but everything makes sense when it’s all said and done. A story that has no regard for logic and reason will usually lose its audience almost immediately.
End It Well
A great story always ends well. Now this doesn’t mean that everybody is happy with the ending, or that it presented the best ending possible as far as your characters are concerned; it simply means that the story ended satisfactory. It’s important that there is a sense of closure to the entire affair. At the end of a great story, the audience should feel a sense of fulfilment. They should feel as though there are no loose ends still remaining, and that all issues and crises have been addressed adequately. Unless you’re planning on a sequel, it is of utmost importance that your audience walks away completely satisfied.
Everybody knows what it’s like to finish a story and be disappointed. Nobody likes that feeling. The goal is to leave your audience breathless at the end. You want people to walk away saying “Wow.” You may start beautifully, but you must make an effort to end just as elegantly. After all, the ending is what stays with the audience. A story with an unsatisfactory conclusion leaves one feeling worse off than when the story started, and that is never a good sign. Start strong, but finish stronger.
To sum up, all great stories are masterful works of art. The best storytellers pour their hearts and souls into the crafting of these masterpieces. Everything, from the characters to the setting to the plot, is a work of art that can stand on its own, but it’s the perfect interaction amongst all these factors that truly makes for fantastic fiction. All great stories have the requisite components, but true magic comes from the master storyteller’s unparalleled ability to execute his vision perfectly.