18 June 2012

What Makes a Great Story?

My earliest memory is of a book.  I would have been about three or four as I remember my brother being in his pushchair.  A couple of years ago I mentioned this to my mother and described the book.  It was taller and narrower than average, and had eight small square pictures on each page - two across and four down, each with a sentence or two under the picture.  My mother said it sounded very like 'The Robber Foxes', which had been my favourite book as a toddler, and the one I always wanted my dad to read at bedtime.

What makes a great story?

For me the magic ingredient is that I need to care.  Care about the protagonist, and what happens to them.  I've started books that didn't make me care, but I don't usually finish them.  What is the point of reading to the end if I don't care whether the character lives or dies.

A character must have something that draws me in.  I don't mean they have to be the best at everything, that can be a real turn-off, but there must be something in their character that compels me to keep reading.  I don't have to agree with their choices, but I do need to understand what drives them and makes them act as they do.

Another thing I hate is when every little thing is pointed out to me, several times.  I can work things out myself from clues dropped enticingly along the way, and when I do, it pulls me deeper into the story.  

I listened to a good TED talk recently by Andrew Stanton (writer behind Toy Story, WALL-E).  He talks about giving people 2 + 2 and not 4 which is a great way of describing it. 

One of the things I learned as a trainer is that if you have an important piece of information, a statistic etc. that you want people to remember, then make them work for it. Don't drop it into the presentation among a lot of other information - ask them to guess the percentge of people who were…. Or the amount of…

We are far more likely to remember it, or become involved in the story when we are using our problem solving skills, and when we are involved with characters we care about.

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