This week: What Makes a Great StoryEdited by: Joywitch and her black cat
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”There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.”
"You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.”
"If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all."
Hello, I am Joywitch and her black cat , this week's drama editor. This issue focuses on writing stories that leave a lasting effect for decades.
Welcome to the Drama newsletter
You must have read, like me, many tips, tricks, and hacks for writing a really good story that will leave a lasting impression on the reader and, hopefully, it will stick around for ages. As good-natured and sincere these tips and tricks are, they may end up being no more than surface paint to hide the blemishes and cracks underneath.
Some of these maybe, “First, write a great premise,“ or “That first sentence: Start with a bang,” or “Edit till you fall off your chair,” and others like them. These are all very good advices, that’s for sure, but there’s more to great writing than just easing the wrinkles.
Then, surely, we all need to master the story-writing basics, but why not take it one more step forward!
Thus, let’s look at some great writings that have survived longer than their own time to delight their readers.
“According to an ancient Sardinian legend, the bodies of those who are born on Christmas Eve will never dissolve into dust but are preserved until the end of time.
Now this was the natural subject of conversation in the house of the rich peasant Diddinu Frau, called Zio (uncle) Diddinu. His daughter’s fiancé, Predu Tasca, raised the objection:
“But for what purpose? To what use is our body to us when we are dead?”
From the beginning of a short story While the East Wind Blows(1905) by Grazia Deledda who won the Nobel Prize in 1926.
Since a great story may involve great happenings, like a world war, human misery, and possibly a timeless event, this story plays with the idea of Christmas and eternity. It is attention getting and also a bit daring.
“His pauper assistants arranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered to each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table, and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
"Please, sir, I want some more." The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralyzed with wonder; the boys with fear.
"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice…
From Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
This story is timeless because it offers human suffering, and in hungry children yet. The high stakes rule is at work, also, with Oliver daring to ask for more food. Thus, it has an emotional appeal to the readers as well as pointing out a possible historical fact.
“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.”
From The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe.
Here we read the beginning of a short story by highlighting a conflict. It is a man-to-man conflict as well as being an internal conflict. As we all know, a story without a strong conflict cannot stay around for very long.
“The sky held scattered clouds; at that instant the sun came out from behind one and a shaft of light hit him.
His clothes vanished. He stood before them, a golden youth, clothed only in beauty—beauty that made Jubal's heart ache, thinking that Michelangelo in his ancient years would have climbed down from his high scaffolding to record it for generations unborn. Mike said gently, "Look at me. I am a son of man."
From Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
In this scene, the character--who was born on Mars but has come to earth--steps outside of the hotel knowing he’ll be a martyr of an angry mob.
As in Heinlein's above story-excerpt, another idea is the credibility of the story. The fiction can plunge everyday characters into extraordinary situations without ever losing the reality of their underlying humanity. The credibility lies mostly in those two last words: “underlying humanity.”
These excerpts point to the fact that a great story involves, usually, great events or at least, events that are meaningful to the readers; it has originality in the sense that whatever the plot, the idea driving the plot is new and attention-getting; its characters and action deal with high stakes, while appealing to the audience in an emotional way; its conflict is clear cut and recognizable. Most of all, the happenings and characters, as far-out as they may be, are credible because they present an underlying humanity in them.
May all our stories become immortal!
Until next time!
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This Issue's Tip: To build up the atmosphere or mood--be it disdain, fear, terror, excitement, depression, confusion, etc.--make sure to point out how characters and circumstances are affected.
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