It is common for us to refer to books we read, movies and TV shows we watch, and whatever it is we do with news, in terms of consumption. But is that accurate? PBS Ideas Channel has an interesting video on this topic.
I like the idea of decoding as an explanation for how we interact with media. It certainly offers a better explanation for how some people will interpret something completely differently than if they were to merely consume it. Decoding also makes me feel much better about writing violent stories, and that is the important thing here: justifying stuff I already like.
Recently a YouTuber discussed what makes for a good story, based upon three important pillars: pictures, feelings, and ideas. Or as he put it:
Hello and welcome to another instalment of “X lectures you on matters he himself knows nothing about”.
Like with everything that has a simple explanation (and even some complicated ones), I think the response to these sorts of posited arguments is “I think you’ll find it is a little bit more complicated than that.” But this one was funny, so points for effort.
A lot has been written on how to tell good stories. Seriously, every second creative person in history has a list of rules or advice. So here is a list of seven things that make for good stories, because seven is more than three, and it was on the first page of my Google search:
A central premise.
Strong three-dimensional characters who change over time.
A confined space — often referred to as a crucible.
A protagonist who is on some sort of quest.
An antagonist of some sort bent on stopping the hero.
An arch in everything — everything is getting better or worse.
And perhaps most important — Conflict. (Source: from Inducing Reality: The Holy Grail of Storytelling by Ken “frobber” Ramsley)
I think Ramsley’s explanation is more of a traditional checklist of things you need in your storytelling. X’s, in contrast, is a more generalist feel of where a story sits on one of those trinity diagrams. Neither, in my opinion, is right. And as a creative person, I’m now going to make a list of rules and advice….
Joking. Joking. Because I don’t think it works like that. I think that what makes a story good is the execution of the various story elements, done at the right time, finding the right audience, and being interesting enough to be remembered.
As an example, Star Wars is regarded as good, despite containing clunky dialogue, wooden acting, and passable directing. Why is it good? Because it hits all the story elements of the hero’s journey, it was one of the first space operas that hit the baby boomer generation and their kids, and had cool ideas like light sabres, space battles, The Force, and merchandising before that was really a big thing, to be remembered.
I’ve previously discussed how the luck factor of being a good story works. One example I cited was of Moby Dick and how it became good literature by accident/chance. Essentially one person dug it up, liked it, wrote favourably on it, and the rest is history. Shakespeare is in a similar boat, as his works were collected posthumously by 5 fans (750 copies, 250 surviving). These are examples of how finding the right audience is important, and how timing may not coincide with when something is made. How many other potentially good works were lost because they didn’t have an advocate who chanced upon them?
Of course, that’s just my thoughts. It’s probably more complicated than that.
Edit: When I originally posted this discussion on what makes a story good, I linked to a video by a YouTuber. Via Twitter I have learnt that this YouTuber sexually abused his former partner. Please take a moment to read her story in the links.
This isn’t behaviour any of us should condone, nor support. In this instance, I was sharing his video and promoting his profile – hence why his user name and video have been removed from this post. I was wrong to tacitly support abuse in this way. By not standing against abuse you might as well be condoning it.
If you have ever spent any time in the comments sections anywhere on the internet, you will be aware that people’s grammar and spelling sucks. Sometimes it appears to be laziness. Sometimes the content makes it clear the person slept through their English and Science classes. And other times that is just how that person “communicates”.
But it isn’t isolated to the internet. The borderline illiterate retired football player who is now a TV personality. The weather presenter whose qualifications start and end with how white their teeth are. The cut and paster reporter who now relishes the fact that their company’s sub-editors were laid off. We seem to be surrounded by lazy or solecistic people.
This is a problem.
How can we effectively communicate in the marketplace of ideas if we can’t utilise proper grammar and spelling? Are we really going to wade through a 3000 word rebuttal argument that lacks paragraphs and capitalisation at the start of a sentence – seriously, try to not respond with “Would it kill you to use paragraphs?” How good will our comprehension of the points be if we struggle to understand what is written, let alone what is meant?
Now grammar isn’t as “proper” as we’d like to think. There is no reason to chastise someone for using literally in place of figuratively when the intention was for hyperbole. But damn you to spend an eternity watching Suicide Squad in a theatre full of people talking on their phones if you use theory when you mean hypothesis.
Language evolves over time. Generally language has become more concise and simplified to aid in communication. For example, if you read Robinson Crusoe in 1719, you may have noticed a few differences to the current version. Such as the title. Could you image the latest thriller using this snappy title?
The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pirates.
Don’t worry, the novel is still boring laborious to read. In fact, just read the original title, saves you reading the whole book.
So being a Grammar Nazi* isn’t really the goal. But demanding that ourselves and others try to communicate clearly is a worthwhile goal. Because how am I to know if I agree with DeadMeatSlab45’s points about immigration unless I’m able to parse them through the all caps and intemperate use of exclamation points? It’s time to be legible.
I look forward to spotting my grammar and spelling errors after this post is published.