watching, reading, and writing stories

What makes a good story?

on June 28, 2013

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Alright, I’ve seen two movies recently and they got me thinking about storyline and what makes a good story. I bet you can guess which two movies I just saw, but can you guess which one I liked and which one I loved?

I’ll tell you at the end of my post, but you might be able to figure it out for yourself before then. Now before I start, I want to make sure everyone knows that I don’t want to bash either film. I did enjoy both of these movies and I think they’re both worth seeing in theaters.

Now on to what makes a good… or let’s say great story.

First of all, and this is in no particular order, you need good characters. Now I don’t mean good in the sense of some heroic protagonist, there have been good movies based around the perspective of the villain too. No what I mean is developed characters, characters we understand and connect with and care about. And this isn’t just the main character, a good story has several background characters that also have depth. So basically for a good story, we need characters that aren’t “flat.”

On to number two; a good story needs some unexpected twists. It needs to be unique. A story that follows the same old plot line of a typical “romance” or “underdog story” or “hero” or whatever, is boring. A good story has something new and original and hopefully surprises the audience with something unexpected. (It’s hard for me to enjoy an ending that I saw coming).

Number three; a good story needs to connect with the audience. If I don’t care about what happens to the characters, that’s a pretty bad sign. A good story draws you in, because you identify with the storyline. Maybe it’s about a kid that gets picked on or left out and you went through that. Or maybe it’s about someone in love with a person they can never have, and you’ve felt the agony of loving someone from a distance. It doesn’t really matter what the connection is, but there needs to be one, or else the audience won’t care, no matter how many cool effects or explosions there are. And what makes a great movie is if it can connect with a wide audience, not just a specific group.

And number four, at least for me, is comedy. I know not every movie is a comedy, but is seems like there are usually a few jokes in every film, just to lighten the mood. However, it seems like most jokes rely on simple potty humor or are at least crude in nature. I really enjoy jokes that can make everyone laugh and that are funny without having to be crude.

So, can you guess which movie I liked better? (drum roll…) It’s Monster’s University!

So I don’t want to say I didn’t like Man of Steel, but compared to Monster’s University, it was kind of a let down. Maybe my expectations were too high for the red-caped hero but I found myself not connecting very well with the character. Perhaps that’s because Clark Kent was always on the run, not connecting with the people in his own storyline. But I also felt like the background characters in the movie were flat. I didn’t know anyone’s name from the newspaper that Lois Lane worked for, but her co-workers kept showing up in the storyline. I also felt like the plot was somewhat predictable and the little jokes that were thrown in didn’t really make me laugh. It had a fairly good story line, but I didn’t really connect with the characters enough, so I didn’t care that the world was ending.

In Monster’s University however, I connected with the characters right away. It’s hard not to connect with the little kid who is always left out and told “no you can’t.” I feel like everyone has been that person at one time or another. We all want things to change and can easily cheer for someone who is trying to succeed despite the opposition. And I feel like kid’s movies in general appeal to a wider audience because the film is intended for children as well as parents to enjoy. I also was surprised by the storyline. I didn’t expect that Mike and Randall would be roommates and that Sully and Mike would be so aggressively competitive. I also was surprised that the ending was so realistic. They actually got kicked out of school for their escapades and had to work their way into a “scaring position” at Monsters Inc. Also, throughout the movie I was laughing hysterically, especially at the “mom” character. Plus they were good clean jokes. And I didn’t think the background characters were flat, I actually saw them develop and change too. All in all it was a very enjoyable movie that I could say “Yes I liked it” before the credits had even finished rolling, and that I wouldn’t hesitate to see again.

So, that’s what I think a story needs to be great. I’m sure there are lots of other things a great story needs that I didn’t mention, but this is just a blog not a book, so we’ll stick with those four things: developed characters, unique story, connection with the audience, and clean humor.

So what did you think of the movies? Or what’s something you feel a great story needs? Leave a comment if you want, they’re always welcome.


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