It starts with a hook that catches your attention and plants some interest. It’s a fast story that starts without any but the necessary elements, and the background is added along the way, unfolding like the scenery from a train window. Understanding of the characters is explained by their behavior and interactions more than directly, like a picture that reveals more than words can say. There are good and bad characters and the story is more than a narrative, it bursts, builds, blows down, backs up, and balloons to an unforeseen bewildering ending. All things makes sense, even with surprises, twists and turns rising and falling. It is set in a beautiful place that is very interesting itself. The characters are likeable, at least the good ones and there are none, like Dr. Smith, from “Lost in Space”, who bring angst and bitterness to the story. This is a story that is interesting like a ride in the mountains where the views are limited then suddenly open to breathtaking vistas and you wonder what is around the next pass.
This story is full of love, emotion, desire, caution and uncertainty. It is not about things that happen like death, treasure hunting, exploration, war, murder, getting rich, fame or survival against the elements. It transcends these events, even though some of these have made good stories. Surprises may be nice, but in the end there needs to be satisfaction, completion and achievement of meaningfulness and purpose. Purpose and meaning can be had without completion, but they are essential, otherwise – so what.
A good story must be believable such that work, striving, yearning, and desire are included, like grass on the ground, it is there unless you’re in the desert, on the beach or solid rock. In the real world many things are going on at the same time, action, events, as well as the things that initiate them. It can trigger suspense to talk about one thing, then jump to another, but that is a device. Real interest is the thought one has while subconsciously considering the connections that exist between all relevant things in a story. Characters have intentions which are usually deemed good, but they are not usually. Intent is just a notion in our mind that has little or no substance. They are figments of our imagination and shadows that have a malleable form. On the contrary, motives drive action irrespective of intentions and may move counter to emotions or even values. Motives are forces with momentum that can be disguised by a myriad of things that bring change. When a story reveals a characters intent and motives, it adds depth and dimension to the tale.
Fact and fiction, cause and effect, intent and motive, science and art, justice and fairness, these are elements tangentially related. They may be 180 degrees opposed as well as 5 degrees divergent, that’s how they bring color to the tale. From a distance these fixed positions can be confused because perspective varies our perception, but it is nonetheless important. When we see differing perspectives in a story it makes us think, like solving a riddle. It must have one true meaning, but many possibilities make it a challenge. You don’t put down a story that has engaged your mind, even if you take a break, it goes with you.
There are tricks or short cuts that can be used to produce an effect, I’ve called them devices. There are too many to describe, for example, a game with one interesting scenario can be made into a whole world of differing scenes to play out the same game. Each scene will have the same satisfaction found in the base game, but it is merely repetition. Rubbing one spot may feel good enough to repeat, but after a while it can irritate. These devices have inherent risks as nothing really great is built of devices. A good story will only use a device if there is no other way to reach a place the story must take the reader.
If you knew the plot anyone could recount it in outline summary fashion, so it’s just the ground upon which our building is erected. Describing the setting is like this, you see it and relate that which is seen. A story is a picture, or many, plot and setting are two lines that stretch across the tale to give understanding, they may be narrow, wide, dark or light depending on dictates of the scene. In a drawing some lines only provide shadow, so they are not precise, but shadows give the sense of depth, thus great stories have some imperfection and use it for a purpose.
Then, I realized not everyone will like this story, no matter what. It’s amazing to have given such thought before coming to this realization. Thats how a good story will captivate your attention and carry us over the briars and thickets of reality. But before that, I thought the best stories, true or not, are a reflection of a portion of the character of God. Trying to include too much would be confusion, like trying to summarize the history of the world. Still, every living soul relates to God on some level, if only in fear or even those who hold him a grudge, that’s it – unbelievers simply begrudge God, the person. I think the worst sort of grudge anyone could hold is – He is God and I am not. It’s absolutely true in every respect, but they just don’t like it. So, every aspect and true perspective of God is delightful, interesting, heart piercing, and profound. We’re drawn to God by God, such that when we have all experienced death, in all its various forms, (for this world is full of death, though we look away from it), the earth itself will die and death will then be ended, so that life can spring forth everlasting. What an ending worthy of God, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22: 17).