WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?
I was wondering what makes a good story. Because I feel if you can’t write a good story, your movie is just another movie.
Jon from Haydenville Massachusetts
That’s a very big question. Many of us spend our entire careers answering it over and over, hoping each time to get it right.
I will give you my answer, but ultimately, you have to create your own. How you answer it defines you as a writer and, as I’ve said many times, your individual voice is one of your most important assets.
The other important limitation on giving an answer is that, no matter what the answer, there are always stories that match none of the criteria that are excellent and broadly recognized to be so. With those caveats, these are the characteristics which, to me, make a good story:
2. A central theme arising out of an important moral conflict that is symbolic of a conflict we all face. For example, in Jerry McGuire, the central conflict was how to stand up for the values that brought him into the business in the first place and how to deal with the cost of standing up. The values at the heart of the story were important to its audience. A substantial number of middle class employees face this question daily. They are not top sports agents, but even as mid-level insurance executives, they wonder whether they will ever escape the grind.
3. Excellent craftsmanship. Writing is a craft as much as anything else. Well-crafted scenes, dialogue and structure mean a great deal to me.
4. A story tightly wound around the important thematic questions the story is intended to explore. No waste – nothing superfluous. Every scene is an interesting exploration and deepening of the theme. A few examples of this kind of story are “Pleasantville”, “High Noon” and “Casablanca”.
5. Intelligent and witty writing. A good story expresses itself in ways the average audience member recognizes he or she could not do if he or she sat down to write a movie. Audiences recognize exceptional storytelling and respond to it.
I am personally less interested in whether the story has a traditional resolution. For example, I enjoy tragedies and non-conventional stories. Examples include “The Perfect Storm”, “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind” and “Barton Fink”.
But, that’s just me.