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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Maybe a better way to say it is, "What do you think a story is?"

Do you subscribe to Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey? Do you think a three-act structure is the way to go? Do you have you own definition that you've crafted?

What's a story and why is it good?

My most simplistic answer would be: Story is conflict. Conflict is good because it's interesting. :)
 

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The bare minimum for me is style and memorable dialogue.  That's what makes a story "good" to me, but an "excellent" story needs to bring the substance, great characters, narrative, thematic motifs, etc.  But a story can also be worth reading IMO just based on pure style and strength of writing.  Heck, a "story about nothing" and where nothing seems to happen written by Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, David Chase, Elmore Leonard, or Aaron Sorkin would entertain a lot of people just based on their personal style of writing alone.
 

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Personally I think characters make a story. Plot and conflict are great but even the best plot in the world can't save unlikeable characters.
 

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One word: Motivation.

Motivation -- as the root of the word implies -- makes things move.  I would have said conflict, as others here have pointed out, but I've seen some pretty interesting microfiction and narrative poetry or performance art which manages to be a story because of a more general kind of tension.  And to me what underlies it all is motivation -- it's usually the character's motivation, but sometimes it's the audience's motivation.  (As when you get suspense from something the audience knows but the characters don't.)

Conflict, though, is what makes it rise to a full story.

Camille
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Hmm...interesting responses.

I have to respectfully disagree, I think. A character does not make a story. Something has to happen to a character. Or better still, the character has to decide to do something. If you took my one of my favorite characters...let's say Dexter from Dexter, and just put him in a room and wrote about that for pages, that would not be a story. That would be boring.

Likewise, while I love Alan Moore (sorry, he was the only author I recognized in the list!) I love him because of how he forces his characters to make really difficult decisions, not because of his style. Or maybe that is his style. ? I think that even writers who I think are deeply stylistic like Chuck Palahniuk (I always misspell his name) are successful because they layer that style over a well-constructed story. The style is icing, not substance. Elijah may be right that there are people who truly do enjoy "stories about nothing," but I'm definitely not one of them. Actually, I can't think of one off the top of my head. Maybe the movie Slacker... but I'm not sure if that's a story, exactly. Hmm...must consider.

Overall, I think style and character are important, but they are not essential elements to a story. An engaging story can have flat characters and no style whatsoever, but still be engaging. ... The story of guy with a hook for a hand that's so often repeated in horror movies comes to mind. No characterization. No style per se. Or... Beowulf. You could argue that Beowulf and the monsters are good characters, but they're really just kind of caricatures--no real substance and the barest hints of motivation. The story is still compelling.

I'm not sure if I asked my question properly. Maybe I more specifically meant, "What is the essence of story?"

Interesting to hear everyone's thoughts!

And just read Camille's response while I was typing this one. Motivation. Love it. Also something I'd like to ponder.
 

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A good story is dependant on three things, first, the beginning needs to grab the readers attention and never let go, second, the characters have to be either likable or believable and third, the story has to be seamless. It can't be believable one moment and unbelievable the next. As I write mostly smut I try to surprise the reader without a plot, (mainly because they are short stories) "The Elevator" is a good example of that, because the reader doesn't see the ending coming. IMHO

Carl
 

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Carl246 said:
A good story is dependant on three things, first, the beginning needs to grab the readers attention and never let go, second, the characters have to be either likable or believable and third, the story has to be seamless. It can't be believable one moment and unbelievable the next. As I write mostly smut I try to surprise the reader without a plot, (mainly because they are short stories) "The Elevator" is a good example of that, because the reader doesn't see the ending coming. IMHO

Carl
Is "The Elevator" that one that was dramatized as a classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode? If so, was that a Dahl story? It had a Roald Dahl feeling. (He wrote such wonderful twisty short stories.)

Camille
 

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Characters are important, sure, but to me saying that characters are what makes a story is like saying that flour is what makes a cake. Give me a bowl of flour and I'll tell you you're missing a few key things.

Characters, conflict, action, mystery, suspense, emotion...it all plays together.

And I'm sure there's a lot more I've not said. It's late. :D

Vicki
 

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Stakes! What's at stake? The more that's at stake (believably) the more interesting the story. Also, it can help define a character, because to know what's at stake, you have to know what your character cares about.

A cop has to catch a bank robber who steals $1,000 ... not so much at stake for anyone.

He has to catch a bank robber who steals $1,000,000. Better.

The bank robber also stole his wife. Interesting!

Or the robber killed the cop's wife in the heist, and the cop has to choose between the job--catching the robber--or becoming a vigilante. Also interesting.

And/Or. If he fails to catch the robber he'll be fired by his boss.

And/Or. The banker was in on the heist of his own bank as part of insurance fraud, and if the cop can expose him, the banker's death grip on the town will finally come to an end.
 

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I believe Aristotle named "plot" as the first of the seven rules of storytelling...which I think is true if we're talking about what makes a story "good". But for the essence of what a story is, I like the above idea of motivation or motive. I think conflict follows motive.
 

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Sex and glittery vampires. Or the longing for sex and glittery vampires. Or Pirates/ninjas and glittery vampires. Pampires.


I can't think of one thing or a set of things. The book simply needs to take me away for a while and make me feel like investing more time with the characters or story.
 

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Hmmm I look for the following, hot babes, machine guns, serial killers, witty side-kicks.

If I can't get that then I want all the stuff that Victorine said.
 

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daringnovelist said:
Is "The Elevator" that one that was dramatized as a classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode? If so, was that a Dahl story? It had a Roald Dahl feeling. (He wrote such wonderful twisty short stories.)

Camille
I should've been clearer when I said that, as it was one of my own short stories I was referring too. Sorry.

Carl
 

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valeriec80 said:
I'm not sure if I asked my question properly. Maybe I more specifically meant, "What is the essence of story?"
Well what you're asking is thesis worthy so I just don't think it can be summed up easily. There are so many elements that make the essence of a story but each independent of each other means nothing. I guess that what I'm getting at with character. Plot is great but if you don't have characters I care about, who care what happens. For me there has to be a connection. On the other hand, great characters without a good plot are just meaningless drivel. It's a symbiotic relationship.
 

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cecilia_writer said:
Plot is what makes it a story at all - whether it's good or not depends on a mix of other aspects - writing style, character development, conflict etc etc. And of course, the opinion of the reader!
Here I disagree, I like a good plot the same as anyone but it doesn't have to contain a mind blowing plot to be a good read. True Blood is a good example of that, it hasn't got a plot to speak of but it makes for great TV. I might be alone on this one though. lol

Carl
 

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What makes a story good is structure.

What makes a story great is all the other stuff: character, mood, style, tone...

What's good story structure?

"Somebody wants something and has a hard time getting it."

David
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I like the bit about stakes. Definitely important.

As for True Blood not having a plot, I'm a little confused about that... Maybe you mean True Blood has too many plots? Or too many character threads roaming about for it to make cohesive sense? For instance, this season we've got Bill trying to stop the witches from hurting the vampires, Sookie discovering she may have feelings for Eric, Eric coping with his lack of understanding about his former life, the red headed chick who's name I can't remember trying to fix what's wrong with her baby, Tara coming to terms with her past, etc, etc. The fact that it's soap-opera-y doesn't mean it doesn't have a plot. Right? Or, maybe I don't understand what you meant at all.  ???

Structure is also very important. And we could say that a good plot is well-structured. So that's another interesting point. I'm also on board with the "somebody wants something and has a hard time getting it." I do notice, however, that I write a lot of stories which are antagonist driven. In other words, the somebody who wants something is the bad guy, and my protagonists are mostly spending the story on their toes trying to stop the bad guy from getting want he wants. It makes for hellish blurb writing, in my opinion, when your main character is like, "I want my life to go back to normal, but this guy named Iago keeps trying to convince me my wife's cheating on me." Doesn't sound very compelling, you know?

Finally, maybe it is thesis worthy... I doubt you could come to a completely definitive answer. Mostly, I suppose, I was curious if other people thought about this kind of thing like I do. I'm also the kind of person who doesn't let the idea that there might not be a definitive answer stop me from puzzling over it. :)

 
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