What makes a good story great? It’s a question I’m sure many budding writers ask themselves, and as far as I’m concerned there’s no real answer. A good story can be attributed to many different factors: a unique, gripping plot, interesting characters, witty dialogue, incredible world-building, any of these combined with good writing (i.e. something a step up from fanfiction) is likely to produce a strong and memorable story.
That said, there are many good stories out there – and by story I don’t just mean a book or novel, I’m talking movies, television shows, plays, anything that tells a story – but for me, there’s one very key element that makes a good story a great one: tears.
As a side note, I really should point out that I’m a total sap and it doesn’t take much for something to get me crying (my sister and I cried at the end of Trainwreck…Trainwreck!) from happy endings to tragic deaths I’m an easy target. Which might defeat the point of this post a little…moving on…
Any story that manages to move me to tears (happy or sad) instantly ranks higher than one that doesn’t. It makes a good story great. This criteria of course doesn’t always apply, some stories don’t have any intention of making the audience cry and so it would be ridiculous to suggest that these stories aren’t as good as the tear-triggering ones.
For example; the film ‘The Incredibles’ doesn’t make me cry, it doesn’t want me to cry, that’s not the movie’s aim. Compare that to the movie A.I, the first time I watched this film was in school and half the class were sobbing at the abandonment of the robo kid, I on the other hand was the definition of heartless, not a tear to be seen. The problem here was that there was a definite attempt made by the film to tug at the heart-strings and evoke some emotion and in my opinion it failed. Big time. Which explains why A.I is not on my list of favourite films but the Incredibles is.
Some people think it’s crazy that I cry watching films or reading books, and I’ve had some genuine looks of concern in the cinema at times. What a lot of people don’t realise is I’m not sad (Titanic aside) I know Mulan is a fictional character and that she didn’t save all of China but the story and characters have gotten me so invested that I can’t help but feel a surge of emotion when the Emperor and the whole of the Imperial City bow down to her. (Hey! No judging) I’m pretty sure if I’d been on the creative team at Disney that was involved in creating Mulan (ha! I wish!) I’d be fist-pumping at the sight of a viewer being moved to tears at that ending. From my own experience it’s a great feeling as a writer to see someone react to something you’ve written in the exact way you’d hoped.
My sister is my go-to person when it comes to reading drafts of work I’ve written (seriously she deserves some sort of award) and I recently sent her a draft of a prologue I’d written for a film script. (More on this in the future) In my head this was the first 10-15 minutes of my Oscar winning biopic (coming to a cinema near you in…um…) and a character defining moment for my young heroine as she suffers the death of her mother. It was, as mentioned, a first draft and I actually thought it was a bit hammy in places, the final scene of the prologue doesn’t even have dialogue, I’m talking gestures and pure acting here folks! Which is why I was blown away when my sister cried at the end of the prologue!! Yes, it was meant to be sad and yes I’d hoped for some sort of ‘awww’ but tears on a first draft are like finding a fiver on the floor: totally unexpected and something to feel smug about.
So if you’re a writer and want to know if your writing is veering towards the ‘good’ or ‘great’ end of the spectrum get someone to read an emotional scene of yours and let their tear-ducts be the judges.