What do you look for in a story?

In keeping with our family tradition, we went to the movies Christmas night. All of us were dying to see Les Miserables … okay maybe not ALL of us were looking forward to a musical … but it was my year to choose. After we bought the popcorn, I worried 160 minutes of actors bursting into song might send my family over the edge. But I didn’t need to fret for long. The power of Victor Hugo’s epic tale of an underdog’s journey to redemption captured our attention from the gritty chain-gang overature. By the victorious finale, all of us were swiping tears. Days later I’m still contemplating the extraordinary mettle of the hero Jean Valjean.

Has a story ever moved you so much you couldn’t forget it?

Here are FIVE story elements that move me:

1.  Big themes like love, mercy, justice, freedom, redemption.

2. Reluctant heroes struggling with their moral compass or a problem bigger than themselves.

3. Adventure that sweeps me into worlds I will only get to visit in my mind.

4. Humor.

5. And finally, romance. Who doesn’t long to love?

When I’m launching modern characters into ancient adventures, I work to incorporate these elements into my stories.

What do you look for in a good story? Escape? Adventure? Mindless fluff? I’d love to hear from you, dear readers.

About lynnegentry

Wife. Mother. Writer. Acting Coach. Director of Dallas International Performing Arts Academy.
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14 Responses to What do you look for in a story?

  1. Jan says:

    I knew nothing about the story, but loved every minute of the movie. What grabbed me most? Well, the redemptive theme… but also the heroism. Fantine and Marius and, of course, Valjean. But even Javert was heroic in his own “Captain Ahab-ish” way. How different from our culture, driven by comfort and expediency.

  2. Kim Gilson says:

    The older I get, the more I read to escape. I want to laugh, go on an adventure, or revel in romance. I want characters who are real, but I don’t particularly want their circumstances to be real. I guess ideally, my books would have no stress, conflict, or worries, but I think those are called “tweets,” and are limited to 140 characters. The important thing for me is that the struggles in the book ultimately result in good, whether it be victory, justice, or personal growth. It’s the people behind the stories that capture my attention. Give me new friends, heroes, or regular people who face their struggles with courage. I guess in the process of escaping my own life, I still want to feel more empowered to deal with my struggles when I finish the book. Just don’t make those struggles too violent, depressing, or hopeless because then it’s not an “escape.”

    • lynnegentry says:

      Kim, I like to see the good guys win too. I agree, that the characters have to grab you. We watched another movie over the holidays and I couldn’t wait for it to be over because I didn’t CARE about the character. I’m curious as to what makes you “care” about a character.

  3. Janice Olson says:

    I haven’t seen the latest, but loved the non-musical with Liam Neesom. I can imagine the musical would be wonderful. Thanks, I enjoyed your blog & trailer.

  4. Julie Garmon says:

    I want to laugh and cry–and I usually cry at really happy times. I want to be changed. I want to live through my favorite character as she falls in love….fights her battles…overcomes challenges.

    Love this post! Brilliant!! xoxoxo

  5. lyndieb says:

    Two movies which completely overwhelmed me emotionally were I Never Sang For My Father and The Turning Point. I saw both in the 70’s when I was in my 20’s – they both deal with parent/adult child relationships-apprecations.

    On another hand are 2 historical movies (history within my lifetime) All the Presidents Men and Apollo 13. Even though I knew the details and outcomes, I sat on the edge of my chair by the drama unfolding.

    Oh there are so many other elements which attract me, but these were over the top reactions.

    Evidently I like real life drama where people must choose if they are going to do the right thing.

    • lynnegentry says:

      Lyndie, I agree – you can’t overlook the relationships…no matter what genre. Doing the right thing is something each of us face every day. Thanks for stopping by, Lyndie.

  6. Cathy says:

    I agree with all your elements and I love seeing a happy ending to a struggle. I think a really great story is one that draws me in and makes me wonder if I could cope as well as the hero when there is not a happy ending. I like seeing the redemption that comes through failure and think that good illustrations of “all things work together for good” are important. All things may not necessarily work together for the hero’s good, but the angst, tragedy or other complication faced by our hero helps someone else in the story (or when it gives me an “aha” moment of my own). I want real character development too. I want enough backstory to help understand the characters choices but I don’t need multiple flashbacks of the same scene or same detail over and over. Love your posts and have to say I’m jealous of family movie time!

    • lynnegentry says:

      Cathy, powerful stories do cause us to contemplate how we would hold up under similar circumstances. In our lives we often wonder if all things really do work together for our good, especially when it doesn’t seem like it. I want to be a writer who inspires those “aha moments.” Thanks for stopping by, Cathy.

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