Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Tag Archives: plays

What Makes a Good Story?

I have had a very busy year.

A rough estimate would suggest that I have seen over 110 plays in the past 12 months. In a way, it has been fantastic: I have been exposed to so many differing types of stories through the medium of the theatre. In another way, it has been a chore. Most of the shows have been perfectly acceptable pieces of theatre, with a few true “stand-out” pieces. And the elements of those stand-out pieces vary. In some instance, it was the direction, and in others it was design that made it stand above the rest. In yet others, it was the performance – the skill and craft of the actors involved. And in precious few, it was the story – the elegance and execution of a perfectly crafted script.

That definitely gets me thinking: What is it that makes a “good” story so hard to tell?

We can and do spend countless hours trying to understand and master structure. We struggle to perfect the rhythm and the pacing of the piece, and we try to create compelling characters. We throw them into interesting worlds with challenging, believable conflicts, and we hope and pray that we will succeed, that someone will be moved by our work.

So why is it that we so often come short?

I do not have the answers.

I am still learning this myself, and while I have theories, I cannot claim to have true knowledge as to what makes a good story. Indeed, when I read, watch, or experience what I would describe as a “good” story, I often find it challenging to explain why. I find myself saying that it touched me, moved me, excited me, or surprised me. In other instances, it inspired me, sparked something in my imagination that took me to another place, that caused my own ideas to multiply and grow. All good things, but definitely not tangible – and certainly not universal.

The elements of a good story are something I am exceptionally curious about. I do my best to read other people’s take on the subject in an effort to understand what it is, what that magical trick might be, that allows a storyteller to weave a tale that will have an impact.

So I wonder: Can we ever truly master the elements of a good story? Do good stories exist that defy the logic, the “formula,” as it were? And when that happens, why does it happen?

Is it voice? Artistry? A certainĀ je ne sais quoi?

The curiosity lingers.

But we are curious beings, so I can only conclude that this is a good thing.

Have you read any articles that have given you an “ah-ha!” moment when it comes to what makes a good story? What resources have played important roles in the development of your craft? What are some examples of good stories that defy the logic, as it were? Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to hear them!

Quick Update

Hi friends,

I apologize for being a little MIA lately. I’ve been busy teaching at the college, seeing a ton of local theatre (I’ve pretty much caught all but a few professional shows playing in Calgary this season, and let me tell you – it’s a lot. I’ve seen over 50 productions since September), and trying to get a handle on work for next year. I’ve also been recovering from a couple of colds and a bout of salmonella poisoning. Very not fun.

I’ve also been watching a lot of television – Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Secret Circle, and re-runs of old episodes of Charmed. It might seem like a lot of slacking off, but in a way it is also research – watching how stories are being put together, how the protagonists and antagonists are defined and developed, and how the conflict unfolds.

And lately, I started picking up books again, too. I don’t read books near as much as I would like to.. it seems like they’re reserved for when I go on holidays, and unfortunately when you’re a professional actor and writer, you can’t really afford to holiday very often. But I’ve been reading The Hunger Games, and I wish I had written this book. I certainly understand the mass appeal, and I am thrilled that it’s a part of the canon.

Regarding my manuscript:

I have received a couple of e-mails back from agents who are interested in my query, but are hesitant to request a partial read of the manuscript due to the size of the book. It is currently sitting at 140,000 words. If you take a gander at my last post, you’ll see that the book was originally 198,000 words long and received some massive cuts. The target for fantasy is 90-120,000 words, and this is what the agents are wanting to see. More of them are suggesting I cut it down to 120k – or preferably 110k – words before they’ll take a peek.

I am also still waiting to hear from the NY literary agent who received the first 110 pages of IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DAWN on January 6th. I am tempted to follow up, to see what he’s thinking, but I’m not ready to rush it just yet.

And I am starting to think about plays again, too. Perhaps it’s time I tackle one of the projects that has been on the back burner to experience a change of pace. To be determined, I guess.

In the meantime, it’s hot yoga and 10km (or 6 miles, for you non-metric types) runs as the city struggles to shed winter and embrace summer.

Have you read any good books (or plays) lately? What’s on your night stand? What are the top television shows that grab your eye? I’d love to hear what you’re up to these days, so please feel free to comment below.