Over the course of my writing career I’ve struggled with what it is that makes a good story. Since writing is so subjective, it’s a given that there will always be someone or groups of people who won’t like your story. I used to think that in order to have a successful book, it had to be well-written. But not all books that are well written make an impact. And not all books that are badly written will tank.
Take Stephanie Meyer and her Twilight series. It was a resounding success in both the book and movie realm. But ask any regular writer about how well the Twilight series books are written and you’d get an answer that is certainly not a ten star review.
So, how did the Twilight series get so popular? The tone of the books, a forbidden love that goes beyond the norms along with the cost this love has on each character along the way, is alluring. Every character is perfectly flawed and appealing in their own way. Twilight had story with a capital S.
I was just discussing this with another writer the other day as we were dissecting Twilight. We came to the conclusion that Meyers had the knack for keeping the reader hooked and wanting to turn the page to find out what was going to happen next. The audience became attached each time something happened to keep those lovebirds apart. Readers were rooting for Team Edward or Team Jacob. Whether you liked or read Twilight or not, this series had an emotional investment we all want to have between our characters and story and the reader.
Andrew Stanton, a Pixar writer and producer, shared what made Pixar’s stories so good in his The Clues to a Great Story . In his TED talk, Andrew shared the points to focus on in creating a resounding story.
- Make Me Care. You have to care about the characters right away. What is happening that makes you identify or have empathy for this character? Is the character suffering an injustice? Is the character thrown into a new situation that is difficult or emotional and you automatically want to root for them? Is there a secret that is intriguing and needs to be figured out? All of these make us care for the character immediately.
- Take Me With You. Give the reader a promise, a problem that will make the story worth reading. Is it the promise of adventure? Is the character fighting to overcome something? Is it revenge? What is it that the reader is going to expect to find in the pages?
- Be Intentional. There has to be motivation for the character. Is the character searching for love or acceptance? Do they require vengeance against some force that wronged them? Are they working to overcome a difficult past? Each character has to have a reason for being in the story.
- Let Me Like You. Your characters have to be likable. This is the part I struggle with because I tend to be black and white, especially when it comes to my villains. But every evil character thinks they are the hero in their own story. Let us like them for some reason, to at least understand what motivates them to do what they do. An evil queen must have been a sweet girl once. Let’s see what makes them vulnerable so we understand their despicable actions.
- Delight Me. Charm your audience. Get them on your character’s side. Make them cheer for the hero who counters the death spell and turns the rabid wizard into a slug, who’s then swallowed by the shark they’ve been mind-controlling. Let’s sigh with relief when the protagonist finds the decree that saves hundreds of innocent lives in the kingdom. Let’s feel it when the hero kisses the heroine when the town is saved from a gun-slinging bad guy.
We may not read or love vampires like in the Twilight books, but we can learn how to create beloved characters who are placed in a dire situation that the readers stick with until the resonating end.
It’s all about story with a capital S.