What makes a story?

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Blue Sky
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What makes a story?

#1 Post by Blue Sky » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:08 pm

What, in your opinion, makes a story shine? Is it the plot, the characters, the prose, or something else? And on that note, do you think a story can still hold that special magic if its plot is subpar but the characters are gold? I know this topic is a common one, but I'm genuinely curious about this community's opinion. :) Any thoughts?

Also, what do you think makes a good character? Do they necessarily have to relatable to the reader? Discuss.

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Re: What makes a story?

#2 Post by musical74 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:29 pm

For me, there HAS to be some sort of plot. Your characters can be golden, but if there is no plot, or a weak plot, I'll pass on it. On the flip side of that, the characters do have to have at least SOME flair. If the plot is wondrous but all the main characters are ho hum and boring...well, I'll probably get somewhat far because of the plot, but if I just don't give a rip about the characters at all, it's going to be one of the *tried it, hated it because of (lack of characters/lack of plot)...I think the plot can be a little iffy if the characters are solid :)

Regarding characters themselves - I like my characters to be human. By that, I mean they have doubts, question themselves, yet at the same time be capable and be able to do things. When a character is always gung ho and *nothing ever fazes me!* I'm likely thinking *gimme a break, far too unrealistic*, but also if the character is exceptionally needy and can't seem to do much of anything, it's *grow a spine already!!*. Good example of this, Terra if Final Fantasy 6 STARTS OFF pretty darn needy and questioning herself, yet as the game progresses she starts feeling more confident and accepting of her skills - goingf so far as to pretty much crush Phunbaba without any help needed. For me a character needs to have both *good* and *bad* points for me to relate to a character. =)
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Re: What makes a story?

#3 Post by papillon » Thu Feb 04, 2010 7:59 am

Some people like slice-of-life. I'm one who'll get bored if there's no plot.

Snow Sakura got only one playthrough from me so far because I found it a bit dull. The characters were fun to hang out with, but it went on and on and on with nothing much really happening.

Casual Romance Club, I never got through it at all because there was ABSOLUTELY no plot as far as I could tell, just 'flirt vaguely with one girl at a time and maybe eventually get to go on a date'

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Re: What makes a story?

#4 Post by Nikolai » Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:14 am

Blue Sky wrote:What, in your opinion, makes a story shine? Is it the plot, the characters, the prose, or something else?
I don't think it's as simple as a single element. What makes for a good story, in my opinion, is the degree to which I feel compelled to think about its implications after I've finished it (or even just put it away for a while). I think that's less dependent on which storytelling elements are done well, and more dependent on whether or not it has storytelling elements that are done well.

No story is going to hit the three classic components of a story (plot, setting, and characters) perfectly for me. That's unrealistic. What's the storyteller going to do -- read my mind? That said, though, if there is a deficiency in one area, it had better make up the difference in some other spot. I'll put up with a less-than-stellar plot if the characters are ones I really want to identify with, for example, as you point out. (One of my favorite stories is still the original War of the Worlds -- even though the character development is somewhat secondary, and the setting doesn't do much unless you're familiar with the geography of London, the plot is so absolutely solid as to make subsequent attempts to cover the subject look like pale imitations.)

When it comes to movies -- and, increasingly, visual novels -- I can forgive a lot if the characters are driving the plot along, and they're genuinely engaging. Unfortunately, for most movies, the plot drives the characters instead. Of course, if that plot is going to be character-driven, it has to have decent tension; the climax has to be a climax for a reason!
Blue Sky wrote:Also, what do you think makes a good character? Do they necessarily have to relatable to the reader? Discuss.
Absolutely! If I can't understand a character's motivations, for example, why would I root for her to get what she wants? If I don't like her personality, why would I enjoy reading about her?

If a character is completely inscrutable -- and there's a fine line between inscrutable and intriguing, I grant you -- it's hard for me not to feel like the author's just wasting my time.

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Re: What makes a story?

#5 Post by bobbk » Tue Feb 09, 2010 8:42 am

Everyone is pretty much right, you do need plot, story, etc..

But the most important element to a story is conflict.

People are complex, we want things, we desire things, and we hate things. We wake up every day fighting for something new and find ourselves in the middle of dramas and situations we can change the outcome of.

Give your characters needs, ambitions, loves and hates. Give them conflict, and you find a story worth telling.

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Re: What makes a story?

#6 Post by JinzouTamashii » Tue Feb 09, 2010 8:47 am

An adult-proof, impossible pill bottle to open.

It's an enigma! LOL.
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Re: What makes a story?

#7 Post by Tsundere Lightning » Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:42 pm

I much prefer character studies and otherwise strongly character-driven work to other kinds of stories. (There are other good kinds of stories: concept driven and plot driven come to mind - but I tend to dislike them and am bad at writing them myself.) Simply plotted, but with characters that are vivid and vibrant and real. The early Harry Potter books come to mind. So does Mobile Suit Gundam, particularly 08th MS Team (where the heroes had mass-produced, relatively weak mechs rather than the Win Button that was the prototype Gundam - as a result, their tactical decisions became a characterization tool!)

I tend to like genre fiction - historical drama, westerns, science fiction, fantasy - because the storytelling and plotting tends to be pedestrian and transparent, so the characterization and description has to jump to the fore.

By contrast, contemporary fiction can afford to be more experimental, because we pretty much know what the modern world is like. (Come to that, because the Screw With The Familiar rule doesn't apply in contemporary fiction set in a very different culture, I tend to like stories about a Westerner adapting to a new culture.)
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Re: What makes a story?

#8 Post by Headache » Tue Apr 13, 2010 9:37 am

Ture... Like Death Note - when L dies, 90% of my friends stopped watching the show. Proves how strong a character can influence the watchers/readers, even if he is fictional.

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Re: What makes a story?

#9 Post by Dark » Tue Apr 13, 2010 3:07 pm

For me, it's how well the work conveys a message to the viewer. Even if it has a very small plot, the overall emotions, depth, and tone of the message that leave the readers thinking is what's the most important. Character development and conflict is definitely a must, however it's nice to have many themes entwined in a work.

Like others have said, the final message and idea that it leaves the viewer all culminates from the aspects of the story. Though message may be important, other things must fit in order for it to work.
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Re: What makes a story?

#10 Post by flowerthief » Thu Apr 15, 2010 3:06 am

And on that note, do you think a story can still hold that special magic if its plot is subpar but the characters are gold?
If we're talking about VNs I should think so. The characters are the main draw for VN audiences, are they not? When you look at sites that introduce commercial VNs it's common for them to devote a paragraph to telling you what the plot in the game is about, a paragraph to telling you what the gameplay system is, and most of the rest is devoted to showing you the characters.

It doesn't have to be that way for your game, but mediums tends to play to their strength. If that medium is still sprites overlaid on still backgrounds in 2D, it's harder to convey a plot the way a moving picture so effortlessly can. You mostly have to do it with text, which is cumbersome. However, you can show different expressions of a character by changing the face graphic...

I think that gaming in general is being influenced a lot by the medium of film. In film, plot and setting get more attention than characterization. It's playing to its strength too. Good characterization takes time to develop but film only has about 2 hours to work with. Games, like TV dramas, don't have such a limitation so there is an opportunity to fill the craving for characterization that a lot of people have. The biggest strength of an interactive medium, though, is interactivity.
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Re: What makes a story?

#11 Post by Jake » Thu Apr 15, 2010 4:51 am

flowerthief wrote:
And on that note, do you think a story can still hold that special magic if its plot is subpar but the characters are gold?
If we're talking about VNs I should think so. The characters are the main draw for VN audiences, are they not?
Not for this audience, no. I read stories for... well, the story.

I think it depends on the kind of 'VN' you're talking about. If you mean a stats-building dating sim, then... I guess so, yeah, characters are probably more important than anything else, and engaging characters can probably hold one's attention far more than plot in that medium. But if you're talking about a VN with a story from beginning to end, as in most-of-what-you-see-finished-on-this-forum, Higurashi, Tsukihime or whatever, then I'd say the story is the most important part, and good characters plus terrible story equals mediocre-at-best result. Characters are important to a good story, but they are not the be-all and end-all of a successful story VN, and a decent plot is still quite, quite necessary for any "special magic", at least for me.
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Re: What makes a story?

#12 Post by number473 » Thu Apr 15, 2010 5:35 am

flowerthief wrote:Good characterization takes time to develop but film only has about 2 hours to work with.
If you can so it in a short story, then you can do it in a 2 hour movie. Interestingly, if you want to see some good characterization in movies, then watch some romantic comedies. It consists simply of creating some interesting characters, figuring the setting they should be in, and then pasting that over the generic skeleton plot.

I'd say that if either the characters or plot are too bad, they will drag the whole story down. Provided either is just competently done, it leaves you free to concentrate on the other as much as you like. There is actually story in dating sim type games, but it mostly consists of the back-story of the various characters, or their present troubles.
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Re: What makes a story?

#13 Post by iAsobu » Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:14 am

Originality and diversity contribute. The story, setting, and characters need to be unique. And many of the characters need to be different. Emotion is good, too. Plus don't forget humor. The game the World Ends with You is a good example. The story is very original and interesting, the characters have all sorts of different shining personalities and emotions and are easy to become attached to, while having lots of amusing humor. (I cried at the ending, you know.)
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Re: What makes a story?

#14 Post by unknown5 » Fri Apr 23, 2010 7:00 am

Headache wrote:Ture... Like Death Note - when L dies, 90% of my friends stopped watching the show. Proves how strong a character can influence the watchers/readers, even if he is fictional.
WHAT L DIES??? j/k not a Kira fan so there was a dropoff for me too.

depends.

just off the top of my head, i think Poe thought the purpose of a short story was to achieve a "singular effect" or sumthin (i forget) and that all of the parts of the story should work towards that goal. so i suppose this could apply to VN's in the same way - characters / images / music / story / pace / dialogue / etc.

does it add to the "effect" that i want to achieve - the response i want to elicit within the mind of the viewer? does it detract or flop around like a useless appendage doing nothing special (kinda like filler episodes)? does it just sit there because it fills up space? does it just do nothing or repeat things that were already said before? or maybe repeat things again to no purpose? unless it's for a purpose? or not? does it? huh? wuh? (i've lost track of what my original point was ...)

if so, perhaps you could you tweak it so that it develops the character more? or add a subtle hint of foreshadowing to the plot? sometimes some really neat stuff comes out of tweaking things ... and stuff ... and things. (word power ftw!)

'course that's just an ideal, where everything - every line, period, comma, pixel, note, etc. - has a specific purpose and reason for being there. not saying you should go out of your way to do it - lest it all become too contrived, but keep it in the back of your mind. maybe that or just tell Poe to f- off with his stupid poems about the bells bells bells bells ring-a-long-ding dingy-dingy bells bells bells bells ...

i'm not a writer, so whaddo i know? hehehe

(no seriously, L DIES???? i thought he'd come back from the grave attached to a heart-lung machine at the end of the series to defeat kira =P)

edit: meh, forgot to mention that best thing to do for a useless appendage (adjective, sentence, paragraph, chapter, book???) is to cut it off. if you hate throwing it away, then cut 'n paste into idea bin. if it's really good, it will find a way back into the story or into a different one, i suppose ... dunno
Last edited by unknown5 on Mon Apr 26, 2010 6:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What makes a story?

#15 Post by pkt » Fri Apr 23, 2010 7:57 pm

This might sound bad but I haven't really played many VN's and most of which I don't finish. This may be because I'm a character designer first and foremost as well but here goes. The few story based games I play are either Sonic games or games where it doesn't much matter. I usually skip the story but pay attention to the characters development. I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion so much so because of the evolution of Shinji, Rei, Asuka and the rest. They evolved to fit the need of their world or else it was over for them. I loved Star Ocean 3 because they developed the characters around the story. It was like they all seemed to fit well. Their actions had to fit into their personalities too.

Personally I usually make my stories one character at a time. Like I'll start out with a character and think about a fun situation for them to be in and as for the rest in that story they have roles which serve to enhance either the main character [supporting cast] the world [npcs] or plot [antagonist]. The antagonist is usually one of the last things I think up because I want to create an ideal and sort of shatter it or reshape it.

The thing is I don't take time for VN's because I practically hate reading fiction. I'll read and write it on occasion but yeah. Give me something that is a few characters who grow and evolve and a decent easy to follow plot and I'm sold. I don't want a story that practically begs you to pay attention to every detail or your lost and I don't like ones which spoon feed the plot to you at a slow pace. Something fast but explains itself pretty much. Maybe this will help.

Guy goes home to regret that his life is so boring. Ends up finding something that he doesn't recognize and brings it to be appraised and sold when it turns out it's a priceless artifact with uptapped magical potential but practically worthless due to the condition. He meets someone who wants it for some unknown reason. He runs into a gang of people that thinks it will sell well and want to steal it when the person who wanted it earlier helps him and tells him about it. He trains to use it's power so people won't try to rob or kill him due to the danger it's caused him. More people hear of it and come for him. He gains more allies which each have similar artifacts or motivations and they come together to solve the mysteries of the artifact when one of them turns their back on them and runs off with half of the artifacts leaving part of the team defenseless. The mysterious person shows up again and helps them fight their new found antagonist and they fight. The heroes are nearly beaten but at the last moment using up the life force the mysterious stranger unlocks the relics full power the main guy takes the remaining power into one attack and saves the day. Peace is restored and the artifacts are destroyed so no one can use them for evil. The main character reflects and looks back thinks how thankful he was of his "boring" life.

Someone feel free to use that one. Credit me if you want though.
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