Once upon a time…
That’s how most stories start. They tell you that during a period set in a real or fictional time something happened. During this situation in time, characters interact with one another, have dialogue, and deal with the situation going on. The specifics may vary from tale to tale, but stories need to tell their audience just that: a story.
Sometimes, the problem is that people forget to actually tell a story when trying to tell a story.
Right now, I’m watching the season five opener of the Netflix show Orange is the New Black, and I’m bored out of my mind. Every single plot for every single character just feels overdone and yet underwhelming. The characters have become paper thin versions of the way they were when the story I barely watched the fourth season of the show based, loosely I want to add, on a memoir of the same name. It started out with a clear protagonist, a fictionalized version of the original author, as she gets put into prison on a ten year old drug trafficking charge. Once incarcerated, the main character meets a host of other women who have well-rounded personalities and heart wrenching backgrounds that were compelling and helped me as an audience member want to binge watch as much as possible.
This is called narrative.
A story is not a story without some sort of a narrative structure. Without at least the skeletal bones of a plot, the story is just a random assortment of cognitive mental thoughts. While the timeline can vary, there should be some sort of structure to differentiate It’s as simple as asking a story to tell who, what, where, when, and why, but not all stories remember to do that.
The problem with the later seasons of Orange is the New Black is that, even before the (SPOILER ALERT) prison riot, the show has just turned into blind chaos. It doesn’t even seem like they’re trying to tell a story. The show has just literally and figuratively lost any sort of structure.
Still, it’s not even enough to just have a narrative structure to tell a story, at least not if you want to tell a good one.
Stories, like anything else in life, can range in quality. Turn on your television and scroll through the channels or thumb through the pages of a random book in a bookstore, there are no shortages of stories, but most of them are either bland, subpar structures or recycled old stories. We either compose the same story over and over again or repeat what we already have written.
We have to learn to become better story tellers. It is not hard to a story. It’s just extremely hard to compose one worthy an audience.
So, how do we tell a good story then?
Different writers will argue different things that are essential to good writing, but there isn’t a clear answer. All I can offer anyone, as an amateur and beginner storyteller myself, is to be honest. Tell a clear narrative. Make well-rounded characters. Have your stories go somewhere.
We need to be better storytellers.