How-Tos – How to Write a Good Story

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The Giving Tree Book Cover

Lend me your ears (or eyes in this case) and allow me to explain on what I believe can help build a good story.

I do get a little weary of this question. One reason or another, people are adverse to doing research. I don’t blame them though. It takes a special kind of appreciation to enjoy doing research, because it is not inherently a fun task.

You can thank my dopamine problems for this article.

But the fact is that people have this misunderstanding that storytelling is just a love it/hate it thing. That if you like something, it’s automatically good. Or if you dislike something, it’s automatically bad.

Yeaaaah, that’s an interesting theory people have. So interesting that I feel like pointing out someone’s ignorance. Might as well be a Twilight fan.

I’m sure you may have heard of novelist Stephen King criticizing Stephenie Meyer’s work. “Can’t write worth a darn,” he said. However, he did compliment J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins on their respective young adult series.

But one salty Twilight fan by the handle of Kiki Alice Cullen didn’t take King’s criticism too well:

“Steven King doesn’t know what a real book was if it hit him in the face.”

*tries to stifle laughter*

Oh yeah! This man, who spent part of his childhood working his way up to being a published author and struggled with a dead-end job and alcoholism in his early adult years before making it big, doesn’t know what a real book was. And also, nice job misspelling his name. I’m sure you really stuck it to the man.

“He’s just a bloody guy who is jealous of Edward’s good looks.”

Pft ha ha ha!

…Are you serious? I know you called yourself Kiki Alice Cullen, but I hoped you didn’t think he was actually real. He’s just some character written as some hot guy. You think King was jealous of a fictional character? If the movie adaptations weren’t made, you only had your imagination to go by. You’re not making any sense here.

“King is no Gabriel Garcia Marquez so I don’t understand why he gets to say who is a good writer and who is not.”

It’s called “freedom of speech.” Does he have to be a completely different novelist to have any authority to say what he considers to be a good or bad author? Of course not. What is not to understand?

“We twilighters should send him tons of hate mail … just to show him how many twilight fans he just pissed off.”

And I’m sure he was very thrilled about that and took you seriously. Or he was probably sitting in his office, laughing his ass off because you think he’s jelly of a fictitious vampire character written to be an ideal hot guy. My, don’t we feel stupid.

I mean, sure, you can have your good and bad fans in the Harry Potter fandom. And well, that’s a normal thing. But it seems like the Twilight fanbase only ended up showing its absolute worst side. All this for a poorly written story formulated by a pretentious author.

What is pretentious about her, you ask? She thinks Twilight’s romance is better than the writings of William Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, and Jane Austen.

It’s not the fact that people hate the story makes it bad. It is the other way around. The series simply fails to be a serious romance, undone by the author’s incompetence. This goes beyond just subjectivity. Miss Meyer simply didn’t learn and apply her craft.

Oh, but to the Twilight fans? Pfffffft, Miss Meyer is a fucking genius. You’re just jelly that you’re not as talented as her, as hunky as Edward Cullen, or as delightfully bland as Bella Swan. She’s the greatest author who ever lived, you jealous pile of jelly!

Greatest romance ever? A novel starring my own ass would make a better story.

But for every story, there are people who either believe it’s well-written and others who believe the opposite. Do they necessarily know the inner mechanics of storytelling? Not always—in my case, most of my friends know nothing about the mechanics—, so how do they judge it? Based on how they like it.

And I’m here to tell you that is not all there is.

Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.

~ Ayn Rand

Storytelling is an ancient art dating back to the prehistoric era, back when cavemen drew paintings on stone walls. Though the paintings don’t show anything of particular complexity, they’re still relics of a bygone era that our ancestors had left behind.

But most ancient records didn’t remain in one piece. Among these is an epic poem known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. This little story depicts a Sumerian king in ancient Mesopotamia, of his quest for glory and immortality. This is often considered to be the first great work of literature. A short, but interesting, read.

But like all trades and arts, storytelling improved over time. Centuries of authors pioneered the art of storytelling, discovering new techniques that help communicate our ideas better.

It is like when you learn about painting, you can experiment with different brush strokes and diluting paint with water to achieve a desired hue. The technique, or the execution, matters. It matters a lot.

But lately, I’ve been encountering people who undermine the power of the technique. In the case of creative writing, this technique is often referred to as the “craft.” They believe that ANYONE can easily master storytelling and can become the next bestselling author.

And this is where I draw the line. Here are my points on why this is false.

  • Being a published author does not mean you are a competent one. Just look at Stephenie Meyer. She thinks stuffing in as many adverbs and said bookisms in her writing as possible will spice things up. It doesn’t. It’s a sign that she’s too lazy to use better nouns and verbs.
  • If you publish a novel that ends up becoming a bestseller, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. It only means it’s popular.
  • A publishing business is still a business by the end of the day. The people don’t have to care whether you’re selling a well-crafted story or not. They just want to know if it’ll rake in more money. This goes the same for agents and authors who are only in creative writing to sell a product, not genuinely create a good one.
  • A true artist does things his or her way, regardless of what the public wants. This goes against what people in business and marketing want though. If the artist has no means of giving good publicity for his or her work, then there is no guarantee that the artist will gain a decent amount of recognition for the hard work.

I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.

~ J. K. Rowling

I would also like to point out that this also applies to writing scripts, screenplays, video game storylines, and storyboards. Though they are different methods, the core storytelling mechanics are still there.

Artists may have to murder their own darlings in order to pay rent though. That is understandable, but I put my earnest respect to those who still try to maintain their works as they were instead of lowering their standards to pander to the lowest common denominator they can find.

I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.

~ Jack London

And it is those kinds of storytellers that I believe to have earned their fortune and fame. They told the stories that they wanted to tell, instead of letting people who don’t know any better tell them how to write a story.

Michael Bay
But then there’s THIS asshole.

Movie director Michael Bay is clearly not in the business to tell good stories. No, he is all for the money. He knows he’ll make more money than he can count, regardless of how atrocious his movies turned out to be. This is another case of when stories are measured by popularity, instead of actual substance.

Yeah, Mr. Bay can create a “fun” flick. But “good?” Hell no. His goal is to mass produce box office hits.

I can’t say I blame the man for sitting on his ass and let the moolah roll in. But it is certainly not good publicity when you are especially known for being lazy and not bothering to improve your ability to manage your own screenplay. I would dare say it’s unethical and crooked. Many people work and study harder to make the best of things, but they don’t even come close to making this much money or break even at the very least.

But does Bay care? Fuck no. Just read this quote from him:

“They love to hate, and I don’t care; let them hate. They’re still going to see the movie! I think it’s good to get a little tension. Very good. I used to get bothered by it. But I think it’s good to get the dialogue going. It makes me think, and it keeps me on my toes, so it’s good.”

…Okay. Let me contradict him a bit. People normally don’t hate just for the sake of hating or to jump onto a bandwagon.

Justin Bieber's prison photo
Unless you’re this asshole, in which case he does end up as rotten as he was made out to be.

Especially in the case of Michael Bay, people hate his movies because they are legitimately bad. All this man really has up his sleeve is his “BOOM EXPLOSION” special effects, but even those get tired out after a while. Otherwise, his storytelling, dialogue, and acting directions are god awful.

It’s almost as if saying “hard work” and “patience” don’t truly mean much, but “cheating” is the way to go. Michael Bay is like that one kid in school who gives such a colorful, over-the-top speech in his class that his classmates are laughing their asses off and the teacher decides to give him a freebie, even though you know he is half-assing it the entire way.

But wait! I liked some of Michael Bay’s movies, even though I know he’s a total hack!

And that is fine. If you can make the distinction between what is “good” and what is “popular,” you can still enjoy the “popular” as a guilty pleasure.

“Hold it! You still haven’t explained what makes a good story!”

And that is a rather open-ended question itself.

There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.

~ Ernest Hemingway

But I will explain to the best of my ability.


So first off, the established elements of fiction are:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Theme
  • Style

Want to know which ones require some thought and technique? ALL OF THEM. Like an artist, the author must make use of the tools available to her. Relying on just a couple of tools is not going to be enough in most cases.

 

Characters

The Characters are the actors of your story. Most stories operate by having at least one protagonist and at least one antagonist. It is to be expected that the two come into conflict with each other, whether physical or psychological. There is also a cast of supporting characters; deuteragonist (the second most important character), tritagonist (the third most important character), other major characters, minor characters, etc.

But there is no “one formula” that will help you make a great character. Every great character is different: in appearance, personality, traits/quirks, actions/reactions, ethical/moral code, etc. A lot of variables to consider. But for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into too much detail on them.

All emotion is involuntary when genuine.

~ Mark Twain

A flat character is one defined by a specific trait and lacks depth in other categories, further cemented by a lack of change to the character throughout the story. Though they are not quite stock characters—which only have one dimension—, we may still not know much about them or don’t get too deeply involved in the events of the story.

Characters like these can serve their purpose to move the story forward. But keep in mind that if you can easily imagine yourself in the shoes of these characters (outright usurping their roles), then they are transparent enough to be nothing more than an “avatar” type of character. For stories that highly rely on character interactions, these types of characters are typically poor choices since they display anything of little interest. But for characters specially built for you to roleplay as, they fill in their roles quite well.

However, a round character is one defined by a unique combination of traits and undergo changes throughout the story—for better or worse for that character. In other words, this character “has layers.”

It is much harder for you to put yourself in these characters’ shoes, because they are like real people. They stand out because their traits and actions help them so. These are the kinds of characters you want to interact with throughout the story, because they always seem to bring about something new about themselves as the story progresses.

Almost like talking to a real person. Huh.

One way to help yourself find a good character is ask yourself this: Do I care about this character?

And this makes a major difference. A character can be likable, which most people would prefer. However, she doesn’t need to be likable to be a good character. Despite that, do the readers/viewers still care about her?

If the answer is “yes,” then you at least have some subconscious validation to go by.

Walter "Heisenberg" White from Breaking Bad
I am the one who knocks!

Let’s take Walter White from Breaking Bad for example.

Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who is deeply unsatisfied with his life. After discovering that he has terminal lung cancer, he enters a mid-life crisis and feels like he has accomplished little in his lifetime. So before he dies, he wants to leave behind a large sum of money to his family. The quickest way he can think of is using his expertise in chemistry to manufacture the best crystal meth possible, but doing so would make him into a criminal and getting involved in violent drug rings. Despite the dangers involved, Walt stands up to the task and adopts the persona “Heisenberg.” Throughout the series though, he is becoming more self-centered, cunning, ruthless, and egotistical. Not only is he conflicted about his close encounters in the drug trade, he is also conflicted by his own family.

Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad
BITCH!

Now let’s take a look at Walt’s foil: Jesse Pinkman.

Jesse is a high school dropout who works as a meth dealer. He is a cocky, mouthy, and an arrogant teen who is trying to make it big in the underground drug business. Unlike Walt, he is street-wise. One of his most surprising traits is just how well he treats little children, especially his little brother, and gets upset when a child becomes involved in his dangerous line of work. However, he himself has a tendency of getting himself into bigger troubles and is disorganized with his work. He and Walt hesitantly become partners. While they have managed to conduct successful drug trades together, they are also at each other’s throats frequently.

And despite this, we care both about these characters.

By the end of the day, Walt is a loyal man who only wants to keep his family secure should he pass away, even if it means breaking his family’s trust and sacrificing everything he has to save them.

And while Jesse has made a lot of bad choices in his life, we still stick up for him because he is still human. He is certainly not rotten to the core, as demonstrated by his compassion for children and his utter horror at people dying. He has no family to support him and he often surrounds himself with friends or “allies” with questionable motives; however, Walt ends up filling the role of a dysfunctional and even doting father figure.

And this is only ONE of the things that made Breaking Bad such an enjoyable series.

Alex Delarge from A Clockwork Orange
Pleasant evening, my little droogs.

However, you don’t need to root for the heroes. Sometimes, your protagonist is a villain.

Take Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange, for example. He is a vicious young thug who would assault the homeless, break into people’s homes and rape the women, and attack his rivals without warning. He is by no means a “good person,” but the irony of the movie is that we somehow end up caring for him.

Despite his affinity for his principle of “ultraviolence,” he is also a cultured man with a love for classical music, especially pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven.

But eventually, Alex gets betrayed by his own “friends” and is subsequently captured by the police. What really pushes us into wondering what happens to him is the famous Ludovico Technique portion.

He is subjected to a torturous experiment that ultimately causes sickness in him whenever he views violent scenes or listens to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The moment when he screams and tells the doctors to stop the experiment is when we realize that such an intelligent and violent man is past his breaking point. That something like this is something you wouldn’t even wish on your worst enemies.

And Alex seems to be nothing more than a tool for doctors and political figures to claim that he has been “cured.” Because of the dystopian nature of the entire movie, it makes people question whether Alex himself is the real villain or is just another victim created by society.

A good character is someone that we can relate to. Someone we legitimately care for and possesses layers of personality.

 

Plot

The Plot is the sequence of events that occur in the story. When you take plot in mind, you may also think of the story’s structure. Perhaps the three-act structure: the beginning, middle, and end.

You may also consider exposition, which is just a fancy word for “background information.” You need to provide some exposition to add context your story so that your audience understands what is going on. However, there is a catch.

If you provide too little exposition, you risk losing your audience to confusion. If you provide too much exposition, you risk losing your audience to boredom. To prevent the latter, avoid giving walls of exposition only when the story actually warrants it. For example, putting a giant wall at the beginning of your story can easily ruin a perfectly good plot.

Ever heard of “show, don’t tell?” Exposition is the “telling” part. Your best bet is to give it in small chunks instead of large walls. Action is the “showing” part. Have characters actually do something most of the time instead of talking about what they are doing.

For the most part, the sequence of events will be in chronological order. Sometimes, it is not so.

A competently written plot is one that keeps upping the ante and may even become larger than life. However, it is also like a giant minefield that can cause the entire story to collapse. If you accidentally step on one mine, it creates a hole in the ground. A plot hole.

Is it possible for one mine to set off other mines in the area? Oh, yeah. Definitely. And no storyteller who wants to create serious work would want that.

Peter Jackson’s adaptations of the Lord of the Rings trilogy know how to keep things interesting by making each new conflict bigger than the last.

The Fellowship of the Ring contains a series of skirmishes, ending with a large one at the end which results in taking the life of a major character.

The Two Towers involves sneaking into enemy territory and an enormous battle towards the end.

The Return of the King comes full circle, building up to a giant climactic battle that would determine the fate of mankind. As such, the villains bring out their deadliest tricks and weapons to make life so much harder for the protagonists.

Plot isn’t just about an order of scenes. It is also an order of conflicts. Conflict brings tension. Tension brings interest.

The movie Pulp Fiction is an anthology of short stories told in an out-of-order sequence. While the events are related and take place in the same setting with the same characters, each new short story is more tense than the last.

However, you also have a movie like Memento. This movie is told mostly in flashbacks, in reverse chronological order. Each new flashback reveals an important part of the mystery. The idea is to set up a red herring character, or a type of character meant to mislead the audience into thinking this character plays a specific part in the story. This make for a good twist towards the end of the movie.

Wherever you see, a lot of good stories follow a structure. You may consider the plot structure to be formulaic, but it is also just the very basic framework of the story. Many authors and screenwriters do a bit of planning ahead so that they’ll understand how the story will work out better.

 

Setting

The Setting is the time and place of the story. I consider this element to be less important because the story is ultimately a retelling of a character’s journey. But when done well, it definitely has a welcome place in the story. But under no circumstance should it outshine the character and plot.

The setting is just the backdrop. The background. To make it work, it shouldn’t be the thing that stands out the most.

And this is why I have problems with books like these.

Metro 2033 Book Cover
Not as exciting as it looks on the cover…

If you care more about your world building than your story, then you might as well publish an encyclopedia instead of a “novel.”

However, the setting does need more elaboration in cases of fantasy and science fiction. Because you’re making your own mythology, you do need to have a universal set of rules in place for your story. Again, exposition is important for this sort of thing.

We all know “magic” doesn’t exist in real-life but it exists in the Harry Potter series or the Dungeons & Dragons games. And both explained their own magic system well enough, so it felt like a common thing in those universes.

Historical fiction is also a big contender. In the likes of the Assassin’s Creed games, the actual setting is pretty much the defining premise of the whole series. You can visit places like the Third Crusade era Syria, Renaissance era Italy, Colonial era in Boston and New York, and the piracy era in the Caribbean. You can LIVE those eras.

But in the long run, some fans of the games recognize that the settings can sometimes outshine the characters and the plot. This is why the characters Connor in Assassin’s Creed III or Desmond Miles throughout the series got so much flack, because their personalities are not interesting enough for some players to listen to their stories. It is also the reason why Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed II and the extended sequels is one of the most popular characters of the franchise, because people actually care for him and his story.

 

Theme

The Giving Tree Book Cover

The Theme is a subtle message hiding somewhere, sometimes referred to as the “moral of the story.” This is probably the least important element in fiction, because a story doesn’t need a theme to be good. But just like a well made setting, a theme can build up a story’s potency. You may even call it a “spice.”

Your favorite children’s books do this all the time.

In Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, anyone can take more from Mother Nature than give back, leading to a dark and depressing future.

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree can be interpreted in different ways. The book could be about a relationship between a selfless mother and a demanding son. It could be like The Lorax, showing Man taking more from Mother Nature than giving back. It could be about God showering his blessings to Man until there is no more.

Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish is a story about a fish who learns that sharing his beautiful scales with other sea creatures make them happy, becoming a generous fish in the process. However, a darker interpretation could also be about the fish having to sacrifice his own individuality by making every other creature the “same”, in order to be accepted by them.

Now let’s move on to a more adult story.

To Kill a Mockingbird Book Cover

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved American novels of all time. The book is a shot at racial inequality, portraying the disgusting behaviors of bigots and a young girl learning about just how cruel and judgmental the world could be. Her father is an attorney hired to defend a black man in court, fighting to the best of his ability to defend this man’s innocence in a time period where black people were disrespected on a daily basis. Despite the overwhelming evidence proving the defendant’s innocence, the justice system fails and the defendant is later executed unjustly. And for a child to learn this harsh truth, you can tell this story goes beyond what it intends to do.

How do you write themes well? To begin with, the actions of your characters ought to coincide with the theme you’re going for. Atticus Finch, the defense attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird, puts up with jeering from his racist critics. And despite that, he never backs down and puts all his effort in helping an innocent black man just as he would in helping an innocent white man. He is a man who firmly believes in fairness and justice, and he has the scars to prove it.

A well written theme can also stir the emotions of the reader/viewer. How shocked are you when Tom Robinson, the defendant, receives the guilty verdict and is murdered from trying to escape from prison—for him, a fate worse than death? This is how a theme can really stick to a reader, because tugging at the reader’s heartstrings is what helps make a story more memorable.

But sometimes, you can convey your themes badly. Again, back to THIS mess.

Metro 2033 Book Cover
Don’t judge a book by its cover, kids.

It’s one thing to discuss your themes in the text. It’s another to beat the reader in the head and shove them down the reader’s throat.

Even when some critics consider Ayn Rand to be preachy at times, she can still at least tell an entertaining story in between the lines. I love Atlas Shrugged because Miss Rand managed to create an interesting conflict between flawed characters. No one is necessarily good or bad, but their clashing motives and ideals can lead them to do bad things.

This is how a competent author can still shine through, even when people question the choices she makes in her writings.

However, the Metro 2033 novel is a grim reminder to me that some authors value the world-building over character and plot. And THAT can make the slowest read for a fictional story ever.

Neon Genesis Evangelion Logo

But then there are those themes that hold no purpose other than aesthetic value. A manga/anime series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion had already generated some controversy and people still debated to this day whether it was a legitimately good series or not. Iconic? Yes. Legitimately well written? Mixed opinions.

I, myself, believe this show is worth watching at least once. But is it really as 2deep4u as some fans of the show claimed to be? Personally, I didn’t think so. The religious symbolism is obvious enough, but why is it important to what Shinji Ikari was doing to begin with? Sure, you could claim Neon Genesis Evangelion is a show about a teenage boy battling depression, but what is his role in the whole Adam and Eve analogy? What is up with the Oedipal complex and the sexual theories of Sigmund Freud?

Assistant director Kazuya Tsurumaki said that they originally used Christian themes and symbolism only to give the project a unique edge against other giant robot shows, that there is no Christian meaning to the series and that it was not meant to be controversial (although it was). Anno has said that Eva is susceptible to multiple interpretations. Hiroki Sato, head of Gainax’s PR department, has made similar statements, as has Toshio Okada.

Controversy controversy controversy. And one that hasn’t been put to bed yet.

 

Style

And finally, the Style. To me, there is no more subjective element in fiction than style. But needless to say, it is still important to get right.

This element takes some careful time and planning because any little change can output a completely different story. The style can consist of many things, such as the language used, the narrator, the tone the story is written in, etc.

This portion also includes your literary tools, such as metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, personification, alliteration, and much more.

How different would F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby would be if it were told from the point of view of Jay Gatsby instead of the deuteragonist Nick Carraway? What if it were narrated by the villain of the book, Tom Buchanan? We would get some very different results.

So why did Fitzgerald pick Nick? Well, for one thing, Jay Gatsby—as interesting of a character he is—would make an unreliable narrator. The love he had for Daisy Buchanan drove him to do bad and even stupid things, such as illegitimately acquiring his wealth in a vain attempt to impress her. And the whole time, he is unaware that Daisy Buchanan is driven by wealth, social status, and greed. Even when Daisy doesn’t actually love her husband, she chose wealth over Jay’s earnest advances towards her. And this ends up leading Jay Gatsby to a tragedy.

Nick Carraway is a confidant to Jay Gatsby. Despite Nick learning of his friend’s shady deals in the past, he still views Jay Gatsby as a good person and a martyr of the current times. And his disgust towards how the self-absorbed society quickly forgets about Gatsby after his death is made clear in the ending.

And while this is a stylistic choice, it really helps breathe life into the story.

While I am speaking from the viewpoint of written prose, there are also distinct “styles” in movies and video games. This can range from the actual cinematography to how you interact with NPCs in video games.

Director Stanley Kubrick is known for his experimental usage of camera angles, presenting an oddly claustrophobic and dizzying tone in his movies.

Director Steven Spielberg loves to manipulate bright light sources to add a more dramatic edge to his scenes.

Director Michael Bay loves explody special effects and hot girls.


And this ends my little crash course. While it is not necessary to make sure ALL of the elements are exceptionally well done, they are powerful tools that help make a story better. How potent you want each element to be is up to you.

There is a reason why your high school English classes teach you this stuff. Because they work.

I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.

~ Roald Dahl

Some people hate reading because it’s “too much work.” To speak of my personal experience, I used to hate reading as a kid because why work for a story when there is a television sitting in front of me?

But as I grew older, I realized that books are a good way to entertain and inform yourself just as any other medium. I confess that the first big series of books I ever completed was the Harry Potter series.

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.

~ Mark Twain

And of course, to truly understand what is “good” from “bad,” you have to regularly go through a story and analyze it. To understand what is a good book, you need to read good books. To understand what is a good movie, you need to watch good movies. To understand what is a good video game story, you need to play plenty of video games that center on a strong story.

It’s just common sense.

To master entertainment is to master controlling a person’s attention. It can be used as a psychological tool, to give people new insights or change their current opinions.

However, it is also very easy to desensitize a person to a point where that person can tell apart what is good or what is bad. When you constantly have junk food for the mind brought to you by Michael Bay or horribly delivered morals by Stephenie Meyer, you’re cheating yourself out of good stories. Not only that, but receiving the wrong messages can instill the wrong morals.

This is why it’s important to even get kid’s shows right. You may not think about it, but young kids do need to be exposed to good stories. They are impressionable, so they are less likely to make critical judgments and focus more on visuals and emotions.

When I reviewed the Pokémon movies, I made it pretty clear that I liked them better when I was a little kid. But as I aged, I found that the movies hadn’t aged particularly well. They’re a guilty pleasure for me, at best.

But when compared to another childhood movie of mine, Toy Story, I realized that the movie was ingenious. Not only was the CGI ahead of its time and looks fun and colorful, the story was well done. Toy Story had given characters dilemmas that even adults can relate to.

Woody was once a jealous toy because his owner paid less attention over him and gave more to Buzz Lightyear. While somewhat arrogant, Woody wasn’t a bad person. Someone else just turned his world upside down, but he still cared enough to make sure Buzz doesn’t put himself into harm’s way.

Buzz, on the other hand, didn’t see himself as a toy but as the character Buzz Lightyear himself. While Buzz was initially oblivious to this, it was later that he found out that he was nothing more than a toy and felt like his life had no purpose afterward.

Again, these are concepts that even adults can sympathize with. Toy Story aged considerably well, seeing as how it’s about 20 years old!

…By god, the nostalgia makes me feel old.

You don’t need to preach intelligence into your stories. You can just have your characters learn and make the right decisions, and kids will pick up on that. This is not to say they can’t watch stupid, mindless entertainment. They can, but moderation ought to be exercised.

And the next time someone tells me, “It doesn’t matter if this is stupid. It’s made for kids and they don’t care. They’ll watch any shit we throw at them anyway,” I’m going to force them to read this.

 

I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.

~ Roald Dahl

Despite what I have explained so far, a good story doesn’t always equal “enjoyment.” While learning techniques of good storytelling CAN increase your chances of entertaining more people, it is not the ultimate deciding point of whether a person will enjoy a certain story or not.

I would say the movie Hanna is competently plotted in some places to say the least and it is enjoyed by critics. However, I haven’t enjoyed the movie because it feels like it takes too much time to get its point across while following a rather shallow main protagonist. It is one of those highly rated movies that I don’t consider to be as enjoyable as I hoped it would be.

But that’s just the way it is for me. Perhaps I am not the right audience for the movie or something about it just ends up with a misfire.

It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinions that makes horse races.

~ Mark Twain

To judge what is good and bad is already a tough call. Criticism isn’t entirely a subjective skill, but it still needs to contain both objective and subjective points to truly stand. I view the objective as the “science” and the subjective as the “art.” And every critic is going to have a different take on things.

And if there is no difference of opinion, the world would be an exceptionally boring place. After all, different takes are what fire up discussions.

But despite this, I love good stories that are both competently written and speak to me. And for the amount of time I put into this article, I hope you will gain an appreciation too.

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