March 30, 2016

4 Elements of a Good Story

What makes a story good?

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:

Conflict

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.

Stakes

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!

Sympathetic Characters

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.

Transformation

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: HudFargoRomeo + Juliet, etc.

What do you think makes a good story good? Let us know in the comments below!     

Your Comment

7 Comments

March 30, 2016 at 4:18AM

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A good story has interesting characters, regardless whether they are likeable or not.
"There Will Be Blood", "The Wolf of Wall Street" (basically a good percentage of Scorsese films), "The Godfather", "A Clockwork Orange", "The Social Network" or "House of Cards" all have main characters with very unlikeable behaviours. We enjoy watching them because they are interesting.

March 30, 2016 at 5:52AM

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Ben Develin
Filmmaker
162

Francis was the first one that came to my mind when I read the article (maybe because I rewatched House yesterday). Underwood is not likeable, under any term. He is worse than many of his competitors, he is many times horrible to his wife, his lover, his friends and people, he bends and destroys 'good' rules. He has a hard past yes, but it's not enough. You like him because of his will to overcome gigantic obstacles, to be able to do anything to get to where he wants to be. He's ruthless, he doesn't stop and is not afraid to use anyone.
I think the audience cheer on for Frank despise not being likeable, because of who he is not (he's not the classical archetype).

March 30, 2016 at 12:02PM

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Abi Stricker
Student
401

I think I should send it to some directors, because last three films that I have seen are so, so bad! Great video, I love your tips!

March 30, 2016 at 11:01AM, Edited March 30, 11:01AM

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What I look for most is transformation. I don't want just a likeable character, or lots of stakes, I want that something changes, for a bit or forever, a little piece of the character's universe or every single part of it.
And a good twist always comes handy.

March 30, 2016 at 12:14PM

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Abi Stricker
Student
401

Helpful. And I agree with the risks of doing a predictable narrative story, which is what my current client-requested project faces without a creative intervention! I will apply these concepts to a business-client project where the objective is to tell their story in a 12 minute video to introduce themselves, their history, and their relevance for customer consideration and choice -- it's a winery wanting to drive wine club membership growth. And I don't want to do just a rote depiction for them. I wonder if the four elements to a good story could be applied from the point of view of the vineyard, rather than the owners. Might be a more interesting creative way to hold attention and have a better chance of engagement with the viewer.

April 1, 2016 at 2:02PM, Edited April 1, 2:05PM

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Miguel Lecuona
Wine Marketing Guide LLC
74

Nice job!

April 2, 2016 at 10:30PM

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Rik Zak
Director/writer
81