What’s in a Story? One of many…

I’ve seen countless blogs talking about good writing, solid stories, and what makes a book worth reading. All of them offer good advice and I share as hell have learned a lot from all of them. One thing I haven’t seen, and I’m sure it’s been done, I’ve just missed when someone posts it, is talking to regular every day people. That’s right. Regular readers who don’t go into detail about character arcs, pacing or terrible use of character names. That’s not to say that we, as writers, shouldn’t pay attention to the tried and true rules that make a story work. It’s just that, sometimes, I like to be encouraged by what others say they’re looking for in a story.

So I turned to a person who’d recently started reading again after years of staying away from books. She’s become a voracious reader and is constantly starting new stories and new adventures. She also happens to be family.

My sister.

Not my sister’s glasses, nor book.

A quick background on my sister. She’s awesome. But, she was never much a reader. That is until she picked up…wait for it…Twilight. Yes, the series that almost made me stop reading brought my sister into the fold. It was actually quite amazing. She finished the books in rapid succession, especially for someone that hadn’t read in a long time. The really important thing to take away from her stumbling into ‘that’ series isn’t to make fun of her, but to make the overall point I’m trying to make in this rambling rant. My sister is now reading consistently. Almost daily she asks me if I’ve heard of ‘such and such’ series, and I really need to read a book by ‘author A’.

So, thank you Twilight for helping someone get back into reading.

Now that I’m done praising Twilight (shudder), I can get back on track.

I really wanted to know what made my sister interested in reading. What was it that grabbed her attention, drew her in, and kept her reading, almost non-stop, through an entire series? Really, I was interested in what makes any of us read what we read (if we read at all), but due to a limited amount of lifetime left on my end, I decided to start with what made her tick.

I can’t say I was overly surprised, considering what she’d started her reading journey with, but it was interesting to hear a departure from most of what my friends enjoy reading.

When we cut through the usual: descriptive but flowing writing, interesting characters, worthy challenges for our protagonist and antagonists alike, we found one thing that she kept coming back to. A romantic element, whether the driving force or a subplot intertwining two characters, was essential in her love of most stories she read (immediately eliminating my first short story, Porcelain, from her favorites pile).

I quickly looked back at the many series I’d read, and my all-time favorites seemed to be sorely lacking in this category. I found it odd that I hadn’t even given it a second thought. So, I pressed a little more. What was it about the romance angle that drew her in? Was it the emotional ties or the sexual aspects that drew her in? Did it have to be a happy ending, or could things fall apart for the two characters?

It seemed she preferred the two characters getting together, usually after a massive challenge testing the true limits of their love (although she was quick to point out that if it was done well, the characters failing to end up together was fine). She went on to explain how the tension that pushes the boundaries of the character’s relationships, and how it affected the story itself, made the overall experience that much more enjoyable. I began to see a pattern that she didn’t throw out. Almost every story she was into involved vampires of some sort, and the love between the vampire and a human (on whichever side, it didn’t seem to matter), made things all the more difficult, and thereby drove most of the stories.

To better understand what she’s trying to get at I’ve decided to give one of her stories a go. I’m currently reading A Hidden Fire to see what all the hub bub is about. She seems to love it, but I just got the warning (after a chapter into the book, of course) that it’s a chick lit book.

This should be interesting.

To all readers out there. What is the one thing that is a ‘must have’, in your opinion, to make a story worthwhile?

2 comments

  • Matthew Bancroft January 25, 2014

    Coincidence? Perhaps. The weird thing that I just realized, is that I semi-fall into the same category as your sister; used to read and just recently started to find an interest again. Another funny twist is that the book I just finished, and subsequently watched the movie (just now on netflix), is another Stephanie Meyer story, The Host.

    After watching the movie, I did as I always (try to) do and listened all the way through the credits. I like to see how the music connects to the very fresh and vivid memories that are still swimming in my mind.

    Then, out of the blue, my mind wandered to you and your endeavors. A quick Google search and here I am, reading your Blog. Crazy.

    So, my answer to your question Mr Mike, with regards to the visual story of a movie, and not just our imaginations with a book, is:

    Music.

    Music that becomes symbiotic between the story and the audience allows the depth of the emotion on the actors’ faces, the specific words spoken in a scene, and all the camera angles and editing involved to meld into a sum greater than the parts.

    As far as singling out just the story’s must-haves, I would agree with your interpretation of what your sister said. Tension. That words fits pretty well.

    Regarding Stephanie Meyer and her work, I can truly say I have not read her Twilight series nor have I watched (all) of the movies. I don’t really have a desire to either. Vampires just aren’t my thing.

    Glad to see you are well. Looking forward to checking out more of your work later.

    Matthew

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  • bonomo January 26, 2014

    Hey Matt,

    Thanks for checking out the post. And, thanks for bringing up an interesting point in music. It’s such a massive part of so many of our lives and we all forget that from time to time. it’s what can bring a scene to life in a film, or remind of a moment in our lives that meant so much in our past, or give us hope for the future. It’s a fascinating thing that you bring that up now, as I’m knee deep in sound design for Assassins and I’m realizing just how important sound is in the grand scheme of movie making.

    BTW. I know we haven’t talked in a long time. If you’re ever on FB and want to chat, hit me up. I’m always open to talk.

    Mike.

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