Let’s stop writing half-hearted stories.
I recently rewatched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I’m currently rereading the books as well. It struck me towards the end of Return of the King: Why don’t people tell stories like this anymore?
Obviously, Tolkien was a genius and poured his life and soul into Middle Earth. There may never be another author like him, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy contains elements that all writers are capable of executing. The issue is that in this day and age it’s so easy to create and get your work out there that oftentimes the most “famous” and “promoted” stories aren’t the best ones. We are constantly bombarded with this half-hearted storytelling.
Personally, I write to tell a story that matters. Don’t you? Here, I believe, are the most important elements to consider when writing our stories!
Bottom line, if your readers can’t connect to your characters, they’re not going to care about anything in that story of yours. One example of how powerful characters are is the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series, specifically the original trilogy. The plot of the first movie is fantastic. The second one is okay. The third one is all over the place. But why do I watch them all anyway and still love them? It is, of course, because I love Jack, Will, and Elizabeth!
Now I’m not saying it’s fine to have a terrible plot as long as you have good characters. What I am saying is I’d argue that characters are the single most important element when writing a story. This means you need to have a variety of characters because your readers/watchers/listeners will be diverse. If they can’t find at least one quality or goal in one of your characters that they identify with, they won’t enjoy your story. Many people will put down the book and never pick it back up again. I know I’ve done it, and it takes a lot for me to stop reading a book! It doesn’t matter what type of person you are, either—too many authors make the mistake of only including their own qualities in their characters. This is where imagination comes in. Think about all the different people you know. Make a list of character traits based on friends, family, coworkers, etc. and use them to create memorable and likable characters!
2. Good vs. Evil
There’s a lot of stuff out there right now about “there is no good and evil, everyone is a little of both!” I see the point, but the truth is that an ultimate good and an ultimate evil do exist. This is why we crave to see that age-old battle physically represented in a story. We don’t want to see evil win, nor do we want to see the hero shrug and say, “It doesn’t really matter who wins.”
We want to know that good always conquers evil, no matter the odds. Yes, there will be mistakes and losses, but in the end there will be peace.
And to connect it back to the first element, this means there needs to be at least one “good” main character who’s not wishy-washy in what they believe. Take Agatha Christie’s detective Poirot for example. Christie’s mysteries are full of people with skewed versions of morality, even some people who are technically “good guys!” But always, without fail, you know what’s right because of Poirot. His beliefs may be challenged to the extreme (see Murder on the Orient Express), but that’s what we want to see. Will he judge for himself what is good and what is evil? Will he do the right thing? Yes, always! Or, if he makes a mistake, he recognises it and learns from it.
3. A Suitable Ending
Obviously endings are going to vary greatly depending on the story, but you need to see your story through to the end. It’s almost become a trend nowadays for stories to have great beginnings and terrible endings that massively cheapen the impact of the narrative as a whole.
If the ending isn’t satisfying, it ruins the entire story, no matter how many books or movies it encompasses. Sure, main characters can die, everyone can live happily ever after, or anything in between. But you need to consider how it will close your story as a whole. Are the characters fulfilled? Have they met their goals, or died trying? Did good crush evil and bring harmony, even for just a moment? (Notice how the first two elements come back here!)
I’ll use the Divergent trilogy as an example here. I really enjoyed the first and second books. The third was okay, but not enough to ruin the entire series…until the ending. Gosh, I could scream forever about it! I’ll save the ranting for later, but essentially the ending was just a lazy way out of an actual conclusion that made no sense for the narrative or the characters.
And consider this: even though that ending made up probably 1% of the trilogy, it ruined the entire thing for me. I’ve never reread the books, as much as I liked the first two. When someone even mentions Divergent, my first thought is disappointment.
My point is that the ending is extremely important and needs to be very seriously considered!
And those, my friends, are what I believe are the top three keys to good and memorable storytelling. I challenge you to think of stories you know and use them as good and bad examples of these elements.
Of course you need a good, sound plot and lots of other things to make a good story, but these are just the three main things. Almost everything else you need will stem from these elements!
As always, happy writing!