Attributes that pertain to all stories are things such as beginning, middle, and end, characters, a plot, an author, and an intended purpose. So, why are some stories better than others? If every story consists of these components, why are we not moved by every novel we read? There are many things that distinguish bad, mediocre, good, and great stories. The function and the fundamental elements of masterpieces are quite different from just any other published book. What reasons for which do we write great stories?
To entertain, is one. Shakespeare’s works, for example, were almost all written for entertainment – to be performed for an audience. As over four centuries later these works are still being analyzed and produced, it is obvious the purpose was achieved. A second reason is impact. Some stories are written to change lives, to engender a change in view. Another purpose may be to teach, such as The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne. That novel was written to give an insight to the different sides of Nazi Germany.
When statistics and numerical facts are the tools used for shock factor during discussion of the Holocaust, so many of the real, emotional aspects are removed. The Boy In the Striped Pajamas provided a glimpse into the fictional reality that was. The three main reasons we tell great stories are to entertain, affect, and teach. This is because humans are most captivated by entertainment, most subject to emotional turmoil, and most educated when entertained, affected, and taught through words.
What better words than the great stories of humankind? All great stories are relatable. They touch hearts, and provoke thought in even the most complacent. This is because all great stories contain the raw elements of humanity. Love, pain, loss, reunion, struggle, hatred, anxiety, and loneliness are things all humans become familiar with in the first few years of life. A great story cultivates thought. If it has not changed the way you think, about any particular subject or in general, then it is not a great story.
One example of a masterpiece is Night by Elie Wiesel. This work is an account of the author’s personal experience in the Nazi Germany-operated concentration camps during World War II. It was written to record history, and to recount such a raw experience that all who read it would understand why it can never happen again – to teach the next generation that the concentration camps were not a myth, and they were worse than one could ever imagine. In 2011, the work had been translated into thirty different languages, and over six million copies of Night had been sold in the United States alone.
It is quite apparent how large an effect this book has had on the world; how many lives are forever altered by it? A second example of a great work is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This book, set in the 1930s, tells a story of a little girl named Scout and her experiences throughout her childhood. That includes how a particular case her father, a lawyer, was given affected her perception of the world around her. Her father was the attorney for a black man, Tom Robinson, who was accused of raping a white woman. The story, riveting in every way, keeps you entertained with the intriguing question of what is to happen to Tom as well as the poignancy of Scout’s narration.
It is a novel that requires you to rethink everything you’ve thought about your childhood, and that is why it is such a great story: it has the power to resonate within everyone. Some works like the Percy Jackson series, albeit well-loved, are not yet considered great. Harry Potter, for instance, is a series read by many hundreds of millions of people, and for most of those a hallmark of childhood. Whilst so many children each year begin reading and become obsessed with the universe, it is not life-changing. A brilliant story, yes, but it is not an experience that transforms how you see things. Of course, its status may change, but as of now, Harry Potter is not a great story.
There are also books like The Fault In Our Stars, which has gathered immense popularity among people of all ages, though most notably teenagers. It too, unfortunately, is not considered a great work. It is a sorrowing tale that has broken millions of hearts but it will not live on in one’s mind forever. It does not qualify among the ranks of the superb, but that is not to say it does not make a wonderful book. There can, sometimes, be a fine line between the good and the great.
There are many beautiful stories, and this has been true throughout the ages, but there are few stories that stand out as great. All great stories change your lifelong perspective. All great stories teach, entertain, or impact. Yet, the most important facet of great stories is how they envelop the time. They describe and account for the era more distinctly than possible otherwise. Great stories showcase small bits of certain times. They fascinate us when we can still relate many years, centuries, or even a millennium later. Great stories, most significantly, are timeless. The true definition of a great story is one
that lives on forever.