Isn't that just — the question every single storyteller asks themselves constantly throughout their lives? Is there a definitive answer? Is there a recipe/formula/archetype to write a good story? Short answer — not really, but there are definitely things that you'll most likely find in every "good" story you've ever heard. Here to tell you what those things are is Darious Britt.
Okay, so what are a few elements that can be found in "good" stories? Darious says they are:
Stories are basically nothing without conflict. Without it, they're just a string of words that lead nowhere, and if you're the poor soul spewing these words, your audience is going to not only be super bored by what you're saying, but they're going to probably never want to hear what you have to say ever again. (We all have those friends — the ones that when they start telling you about "what happened last weekend" you cringe and hunker down for a long stretch of mind-numbing quasi-listening.) The moral to this, ahem, story, is to be sure to include plenty of conflict — conflict that overarches your whole story, each act, and each scene. The more the better.
Okay, you've got conflict, but who cares about that unless your characters have something to lose. "Oh my gosh! If she doesn't defuse the bomb, it'll go off and decimate that abandoned building resulting in exactly zero casualties," sounds silly compared to, "Oh my gosh! If she doesn't defuse the bomb, it'll go off and destroy the entire city — the city in which a scientist created a cure for the zombie apocalypse — plus she hasn't even confessed her undying love to him yet!" Stakes — raise 'em. Make the conflict mean something!
You've got the conflict. You've got the stakes. But who cares if you don't even like the character who must overcome these high-stakes conflicts?Finding out how to make a character sympathetic is complicated, deserving of years of independent study, but let's try to break it down. A sympathetic character is someone who you like — someone you root for — someone you want to see overcome the obstacles they face during the film. Usually this means that, though they're flawed (yes, you've gotta make your characters flawed, because who likes a perfect person? Nobody.), they have qualities that you find appealing. Bravery, selflessness, humor — these are all things that make even the most dysfunctional individual likable enough to hang out with for an hour and a half.
If your character doesn't change — why are we even watching? Again, it's basically like listening to a stream of consciousness conversation that has no point. Audiences want to see your character evolve and change from the person they were when they first met them in the first act. This is where all of these elements congeal — create a sympathetic character that we like, give them a really high, really important hurdle to jump over, and let them clear it and stick that landing. There are exceptions to this rule, though. There are plenty of films, usually Aristotelian tragedies, that play against this convention and don't allow the protagonist learn from their mistakes of the first act: Hud, Fargo, Romeo + Juliet, etc.
What do you think makes a good story good? Let us know in the comments below!