When it comes to any form of Media the core component, the Holy Grail or quest of the writer is simply a Good Story. It's the missing ingredient to many films that dazzle with special effects but leave you empty when it comes to thirsting for a victory or having empathy with the characters who you felt had no demon to conquer or soul to save. In the music industry they're fighting to find new melodies but even the lyrics are in need of a good story that says more than "Baby, Baby, Baby!"
If you're looking to write a movie script, novel or make your song lyrics more than a syrupy sick commercial jingle then you need to find the essence of story. A really good yarn making consists of four core tenets – the “4 Es”: We can talk about the character backgrounds, the story arc and the pacing but underneath all of that you need to EEEEs into the minds of the people who just sat down around the campfire to hear a good tale.
Am I transported? When I read your story will I leave my world or just look out the window of mine? Entertainment brings in the shutters of our everyday experience in order that the theatre lights can dim the periphery world and focus us on what the storyteller wishes to reveal. The voice, the set, the emotional journey are all meant to amuse and divert. We may feel emotions that toss and heave but the experience should be like that of a roller coaster. I was scared, I was exhilarated but in the end I want to do it all over again. Take me away from the monotony of my everyday ride to work and capture me as a slave for your camel train or let me discover treasure in the wilderness that only a hot air balloon could see. Touch my heart strings and not just to tune them but to pluck and strum at a pace that is in line with the heart beat of your story.
How does the story foster participation with the reader? Have you asked yourself whether your story is simply enticing window shopping or has the reader stepped into your world with their heart open like a shopper's wallet. One of the greatest critiques of modern literature is that it talks at the reader rather than inviting them to become part of the story. Think about the renaissance of the Super Hero movies. The quintessential magnet for every 10 year-old boy is they want to 'be' the hero. As you write ask yourself 'who would I want to be' in this plot? And don't leave that thought. Ask who you would not like to be for life or money. Take a moment and see if there is room in your writing for a reader to answer your questions, delivery your solutions and save the day. Or at least a chapter. The crime novel of the whodunit genre has been where the audience has enjoyed the deepest engagement. Better than a crossword puzzle there are not one by five solutions. The part I play is not one of a simple minded spectator but the personal assistant to the great Hercule Poirot.
Light has an amazing characteristic. It reveals perspective. In writing our story we should ask what light it casts for the reader. What nuances and attributes of life will the reader absorb giving them an opportunity for change of thought. Will I be confronted by the reflection of my life to the extent I am willing to ask myself hard questions, uncomfortable questions. Do I see you, my life or the world beyond the sea any differently than when the story began? This is the juncture at which we as writers ask "Whats the point?" Remember the reader will not be willing to ask themselves before they hear the voices of your characters face their own epiphany. So walk a mile in the moccasins of your characters and see how they face the conflict and triumph of your plot. What do the participants of your stories learn and perhaps teach others in the process of their journey? How does the story make you feel about yourself, your culture or your environment? If you aren't changed in some capacity by the writing experience then will the reader be?
Some may feel that including 'Experience' in this set of essential story elements is a duplication of the 'Experience' factor. The key difference here is that Engagement takes place as we live through the story where as Experience lives outside of the walls of the story's tale. Some of the most popular stories evoke an experience beyond the pages of a book or the walls of the cinema. Some bring together socially conscious tribes where others participate in character centric revelry. Trekkies, LoTR aficionados and Harry Potter fanatics have one thing in common. They experience the story. It began with engagement and then through the embedded storyline of the imagination a tribal mentality lived on. To a certain extent this final element is a by-product of the success of the other three but it takes an imagining to ask whether someone would be willing to live out our story to know it has that potential. Sure it was helped in the experience by costume and fan fiction but the experience mulitplies the impact of story.
As you write your next story, take the time to ask whether you have covered these four elements. As you dreamed about this story you will have already thought through the characters. The theme is in place with a setting that now needs your words to paint its backdrop. Remember that no plot is complete without a sense of struggle or conflict. Triumph comes when victors overcome.
Leave a comment after this post on how important you feel these points are. Do they only apply to the saga of a fiction novel or does the story in the paper or on the evening news need the same ingredients for a quality story sized meal.