Even though the structure is different—isn’t it all these days—I’m still finishing up my classes right now and there’s one class that I’ve been struggling with for the last few weeks. So far, the final round of my senior project hasn’t actually required a whole lot of work on my part, it’s mostly planning for the work that I need to do in the last part of the quarter—the actual writing. Due to circumstances, I’m shifting gears to short stories.
The problem is, I’ve never really written short stories. Not ones that turned out to actually stay short. And as someone with ideas that always have complicated fantasy worldbuilding and long-winded plots, I’m kind of stuck.
Because, well, I don’t know what to write.
Now I realize that all of us have had to adjust our work ethic and how we’ve done things, the way we work around this pandemic, and I want to be able to do the same. But this senior project is the culmination of what I’ve learned in the past few years, applied to my creative writing emphasis, then paired with my own skills into whatever stories I can create.
I want them to be good stories. That’s where I need your help.
Like I said, we’ve all ended up doing different things for these past few months, not that I can say watching a lot of Netflix is different for me personally, but seeing more originals on services like that one is definitely new.
Have you noticed?
Platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and many others have been churning out new original stories and shows lately just to keep up with how quickly people have been moving through them.
And people like me keep coming back; apparently, they know how to write good stories. Either that, or they know how to make us think they do. So, here’s my question: what makes a good story?
Whether it’s in print, a movie, a letter, a comic, or any one of our lives, they all require a few of the same things. I’ve got a small list, but I want you to add to it in the comments, on LinkedIn, Facebook, or wherever you’re seeing this: What, to you, makes a good story?
I promise, you’re not doing my homework for me, hardly. But you’re definitely not letting the dog eat it either, instead you’re offering a little inspiration. Below, I’ve got it started, a list of 5 of a few things that I think a story needs. Let me know what you think.
Something to root for.
When I’m reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to someone tell me a story, I want them to make me laugh and get my hopes up. Then I want them to disappoint me and maybe after, make me smile. But this can only happen if I have something I’m rooting for in the first place. There has to be a goal, a definitive “yes, this is what I want in the end” that we’re looking for. It’s unwavering and we know that in the end, this thing or person or idea, this is our ride or die. This is what we’re rooting for. Think about Marvel’s character of Thanos up against the Avengers. I think most of us knew who we were rooting for there, but Thanos had his own ideas and he stuck to it. I have to give him credit for that.
Something to get attached to.
Get me attached to something, make me care about it. This is a little bit different than rooting for something because, well, maybe we’re actually rooting against it whether or not we’re attached. And maybe what we’re rooting for is something completely different. But when it comes to a story, there are little things we want to be able to see and think, “I like that.” So we smile. We get attached to those things. Just like in our lives, we have little habits that we do every now and then, things we barely even notice. Sometimes those things bug you, we call them pet peeves while other people might call them attachments. Tomato, tomato. One way or another, that’s what will get us hooked. It’s both character building and story building at the same time.
A reason to stay interested.
Have you ever heard a song that’s one-note the entire time? Did you listen to it all the way through? Probably not. There’s a purpose for everything, but usually those kinds of songs are short for a reason. So are those stories. Look at any one of our lives, they intersect with one another, the same way we all have multiple things going on at once. We want stories that reflect that, otherwise we get bored. If Goldilocks went looking for a bowl of porridge and found what she wanted on the first try instead of the third, the story would have ended there and never have been repeated. Because one bowl of porridge would be boring.
Someone to love and someone to hate.
Maybe in the same character. Or not. I mentioned Thanos earlier. If you’re not a Marvel fan, I’ll keep the analogy short, but for a lot of people, they actually love him. He’s the kind of character willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the greater good (at least in his eyes) and by giving him the emotional capability—the reasoning—to believe in the greater good that made people both love, as well as hate him, we learned to understand him. That’s gold in a character. I think sometimes we make the mistake of making characters too good or too bad. That doesn’t represent most of the general population, at least I’d like to think. We want characters we can see ourselves in, through and through. That means both loving and hating them.
At least a few moments to get lost in.
You know those moments where you forget to talk, to notice the tiny little details that couldn’t possibly happen in your life or the questions you’d have about whether or not a character would possibly wake up so perfectly in the morning or if you could ever teach your dog to do that… There have to be moments when you forget to remember what’s going on in your world and you disappear into theirs instead. Those are the moments that hold the beauty of it, that’s what I love. As someone who writes, that is when I know I’ve written something well. When I somehow manage to write myself into another world and forget to notice long enough to stop writing.
So there you have it, a list of 5. Those five things that, to me, make a good story. Now I know that there are so many more than that and maybe even less depending on who you are, and because of that, I want to hear from you. Whether it comes from your own life’s story or from the last book you read, show you watched, or even a one-note music piece you listened to, here’s the question: what made it good?
Your turn. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy Friday everyone.