A Quest for a Good Story

What makes a story great? Does it ratchet emotions to extremes? Is it perfumed with exotic visuals? Must it always take you to a new place—or at least a place that’s new to you? As I’m fascinated by story, I’m starting off on a quest and stuffing a file cabinet full of questions, like these, into a pack. I’m consulting a map that begins with Aristotle and ends with a “how to” book on screenplay writing.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to figure Story out before this. I’ve written seriously for years and recently went back to school for a Masters in creative writing. In fact, learning how to concoct a great story is the reason I became a SHR editor. My efforts haven’t all been for naught. I’ve learned a bit about storytelling, but my snarliest questions remain unanswered.

I believe story is everything to humans. It’s that thing we use to string together memories. It’s the foundation learning, as sharing our experiences is how we educate each other. Plus Story is the basis of most entertainment: film, television, novels, poetry, plays, history, song, games…and that’s just the short list.

Ask anyone exactly what makes a good story tick, however, and you’ll usually get a vague reference to heart strings: heart pounding action, heart to heart connections with characters, and endings that make your heart contort like a Cirque du Soleil act. Anytime that much heart is evoked, there is bound to be a qualifier: “It’s what works for you,” or “Everyone is different.” But are we really that different? Would it surprise you to know that the basic mechanics of good storytelling hasn’t changed in thousands of years? I want to know exactly what that looks like, so I mean to get to the bottom of what it takes to make Story, with a capital “S”, resonate for everyone.

You’re skeptical, aren’t you—that’s fine. Feel free to assume a superior stance. It will only be my face in the mud if I fail. Besides, making mud pies is fun.

Next up: Aristotle Begat “Save the Cat”.

What's your take on this?