Ingredients for a good story

Battlestar Galactica

The oldest form of creating an experience is storytelling. Stories can be small or create whole worlds. They work directly on the consciousness. They transcend you to an experience that is more than just words.

I always tend to lose myself in a good movie or story. In my mind I become the protagonist/main character and live the whole experience in my mind. Sometimes it is so strong that I think I am in the story afterwards. For example you think you have superhuman powers or can time travel in this normal world. This is very strange if you’ve just watched/read/played some absurd story. I can easily become addicted to a good story and have to watch it untill the end. Stories can really trigger my emotions. They are very powerful.

Below are some basic ingredients of what I think makes up a great story in whatever medium. (Web, print, brand, movie, book, music, building etc)

Real characters

Many stories are told with stereotypes. Stereotypes are types of people that are created by the collective consciousness. They are predictable and very superficial. For a longer story to succeed you have to create real characters. Characters that have flaws like any of us and have unique quirks that define him or her. A hero can’t always succeed and bad guys must have a deeper motivation. The world is not black and white. Every character should be understandable why (s)he thinks what (s)he thinks and does what (s)he does. You have to be able to identify yourself in the characters.

Mystery

Mystery is a very powerful tool for a storyteller because it triggers the imagination of the experiencer. The imagination always makes it more compelling for the experiencer than any preconceived idea could do. You have to leave some gaps with some small clues for him/her to fill in.

A mystery can keep you addicted because you want to know what lies there in the dark. What is it?!? Who has done it?!? It is about building on a question and leaking the answer in small dosages. About building an almost drug like story addicition. And every mystery solved has to create a bigger mystery.

It is a matter of trust between storyteller and experiencer. There is not much that can beat ones imagination because it is always one step ahead of you.

Rhythm

Like music you have to follow a certain rhythm in your story. You have to carefully build layers along the way and let the experiencer lose him/herself in the rhythm. Like in music there are some timings in which the experiencer expects a certain reveal or change. Know what the rhythm of your medium is and play with it. Compare storytelling to a good classical or trance piece of music.

Questions

A good story triggers more questions than answers. It creates new insights in yourself or the world. With each story you gain something and with something gained you get more questions.

Battlestar Galactica

Anticipation

To create followers for your story you have to create an anticipation of what is to come. Something you build upon while telling the story. Anticipation is again something that triggers the imagination of the experiencer. (S)He anticipates what is to come by using his/her own past real life or story experiences. There is a danger of ending in a boring road and the real tricky part is fulfilling the anticipation of all your experiencers. To find a route that is more compelling than what was anticipated creates a very good wow moment for the audience.

Surprise

In longer stories you have to change your basic story elements once in a while to shed new lights on your characters and world. Once in a while you have to shake up the experience. Kick the experiencer to the ground and set him/her back to a fresh start of anticipation. To turn a part or everything upside down. To create a storm with big consequences. The unexpected. You can’t tell stories from the same perspective forever.

Depth

With your story you create a whole world. This world has its own rules that differ from the real world to make your story more compelling. Hint to those differences by subtle details that are not told but are present. It can be something in the background that can be discovered by the fine experiencers. If seen it creates the illusion in the imagination that this world exists. It enriches the experience and makes it worthwhile to experience it a second time. Those very small details can tell very long stories in a matter of seconds. All with the power of imagination.

Contrast

The mind needs contrasts. You have to balance the ugly with the beautiful, the fast with the slow. Contrast makes the original richer and more valuable. You only know what something is when you know the opposite. Contrasts are the basis of a good story. A contrast tells the story.

Climax

A good story ends in a climax. Where everything unravels, where questions are answered, some mysteries are solved and where everything is reset. The climax pays off some of the anticipation of the experiencer. It makes him satisfied or just longing for more. The climax could become a crescendo overdrive of what was building before, a shock of something unexpected that was behind the story or a anticlimax where suddenly nothing matters anymore. A good story is like sex, foreplay, building anticipation and fun, and then the orgasmic end or sometimes just nothing.

Battlestar Galactica

The End

Well stories are all about imagination. It plays around with your preconceived ideas, your concept of the world, your awareness. Stories enrich and deepen you. Good stories ascend you spiritually. Stories are omnipresent everywhere. Without stories our world is only a collection of atoms and molecules that react with each other.

Pictures are taken from one of my favorite series Battlestar Galactica.