Storytelling Failures – Introduction

As I have said before, my job as a writer is to tell you the audience a story.  The medium doesn’t really matter although the tools to tell a story vary from medium to medium (obviously).  And when I say, “Tell a story,” I don’t mean in the bad sense of “tell, not show.”   Maybe I should use a different word, such as “craft” a story.  I craft a story and hopefully the audience enjoys it.  There are a lot of pitfalls in this process, no matter the medium.  Some of those pitfalls actually transcend the different media.  Bad dialogue, for example, is bad dialogue in a novel, a movie, a comic book, or a television show.

In a roundabout fashion, what I’m saying is that I’ve so far stayed away from movie reviews (and other types of reviews) because I’m not sure I have any different opinion or perspective to offer.  But I am a writer, so I figured if I approached a work from that perspective and criticize a work on how well the story was crafted, that might be something different enough to be interesting.  We’ll see how this turns out.

Here are my criteria for a good story:
1) Characters – characters should at least not be tropes or stereotypes with no dimension or growth.  Characters should seem as real as actual people.  It doesn’t matter if the character is a hard-nosed police officer, idealist aristocratic elf princess, uncertain space pilot, or alien demi-god.  This is of course much more difficult the one further strays from a modern human being, but that doesn’t excuse laziness.  The audience should care about the characters.  They don’t have to like the characters, but they audience should associate some emotion with the characters.
– Some believe the importance of plot trumps the importance of character.  I disagree.  A plot is being acted out by the characters and if the audience doesn’t care about the characters in any way, then the characters are literally just plot devices.

2) Plot – Obviously the plot is important.  A plot that is not fully developed, or too thin for the story, or full of plot holes, is going t be a detriment to the story.  I won’t say a plot has to be new because there are only six or seven plots available.  Even a tired plot can be interesting if it is well crafted in the story and the other elements are also good.

3) Setting – The reader shouldn’t be bored with a description of every rock and tree but there should be enough detail the reader knows what places look like, what people look like, and what kind of technology level is prevalent.  A reader should never get to a point in the story and think, “Hey, wait, this isn’t what I thought s/he/it/city looked like.”

4) Narrative structure – stories should have a build-up, climax, denouement (also listed as set-up, conflict, and resolution).  Stories don’t necessarily have the build-up at the beginning; some start with the climax or even the denouement.  But events need to coherently build on each other.  Obey Chekhov’s Law.  Have a point.  Each scene or event should contribute to the plot or character development or setting.  Be logical and be consistent with characters and plots.

There are of course a lot of details and nuance that fall under these general umbrella categories.  There are lots of ways a weakness in one area can be compensated in another area.  Great characters, for example, can disguise thin plots, and clever plots can disguise thin characters.  But a really good story has as few weaknesses as possible, and shouldn’t rely on one strong area (such as character) to shore up a weak area (like plot).

So those are the thoughts of my writer’s hamster brain.  The hamster has now run out of energy (apologies for the hamster’s fatigue this week; real life has been rough), so I’ll end this entry and pick something to actually pick apart next time.  And there are so many choices…

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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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