The 2 Crucial Elements of a Legendary Story
There are two kinds of stories — the ones we are engaged with till the last page, and the ones we are engaged with for a lifetime.
While every writer wishes to fall in the latter category, most don’t realize that it is not always rainbows and unicorns. Your writing could, in fact, be so horrible that it causes the reader to cringe even after many years. I certainly do so every time I am reminded of the Fifty Shades of Grey. That kind of a “lifetime” is definitely not something you would want.
What is it then that makes an extraordinary story?
While there are many things that go into the pot for that to happen, the two most essential ingredients are —
1. A compelling mystery
2. An incredible life lesson
Let us analyze each in more detail.
The Reason Why Your Story Will Fail Without a Compelling Mystery
No one likes a lame story with lame characters and lame plots. People like stories that are well done. And it isn’t easy to accomplish that.
The mark of a well done story lies in its ability to compel you to read just one more page before it’s time for bed.
It lies in its ability to keep you on your toes, guessing what’s going to happen next, and then delivering a solid punch of surprise in the end that becomes the perfect answer when you read the book a second time.
A compelling story creates an all-consuming “why?” in your mind. And it doesn’t leave it at one why. It creates many, so that when one is solved during the course of the book (to satiate your curiosity a little and stop you from freaking out), it can keep cashing in on the suspense by baiting you with more.
Compelling stories never drop the ball. That is what makes them extraordinarily memorable. But on their own they cannot create an epic.
Adding Life Lessons is not Preachy
Human beings did not develop an incredible brain to squander away their days as mindless beasts. That’s why books that are truly memorable are the ones that cater to our intelligence.
While the word “intelligence” can mean a lot of different things to different people, in the context of an extraordinary story, intelligent storytelling is something that enables the reader to grow and become better.
Good books simply entertain you for a while. Great books help you change your life.
While accomplishing this in non-fiction is easy because readers pick them up expecting to learn something new and life-changing, it isn’t so with fiction.
When we pick up fiction, we always go in with completely different expectations.
Fiction is the perfect getaway vehicle for an escapist. We can lose ourselves in the skin of the characters for a while, engage in the high-stakes drama of the world, and pretend to have an extraordinary life when reality becomes too unbearably mundane.
Unfortunately, these expectations are created by our baser self, and that’s why when we read fiction that has a philosophical bend, or outright teaches a moral, we are turned off by the “preachiness”.
Does that mean you should leave out life lessons if readers are simply going in for a metaphorical mindgasm?
If you are simply in this business to make some easy money, I hear Mills & Boons has plenty of opportunities, but if you are in this to leave a mark on the world, then life lessons are paramount for your story’s success. You just need to do it subtly.
Don’t believe me? The Harry Potter series is an excellent example —
By condensing seven grueling years of Harry’s life in seven books, J. K. Rowling taught us how to grow up. She taught us about friendship, about inequality, about racism, about the consequences of greed, and more. She taught us that love is the greatest power in the world. Pure and simple.
But did she do it by throwing in phony dialogues and creating unnecessary scenes? Absolutely not.
These lessons were weaved into the lives of the characters, in the setting of the world, in the dialogues, and in the very essence of the story. It was done so cleverly that it satisfied our escapist expectations and also satisfied our human need to learn and grow (even if we imbibed that unwarily).
The Harry Potter series is an epic. I will not forget it till the day I die. Does your story have the same capacity of a lifetime?
The Secret to Writing Extraordinary Fiction
Good stories excite you for a while. Great stories excite you for a lifetime. But you cannot hope to achieve the latter without considerable amount of work. And frankly, both these elements require a lot of thought and deliberation.
To write compelling fiction, you need to calculate and strategize like George R. R. Martin and Dan Brown.
To write epics that teach the world something, you need to engage with the world and find your truth.
That’s why writing fiction is not a short trip to the stationery aisle. It is the long haul for the rest of your life.
Do you have what it takes?
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