Stories that stay with you

Jake Joy

Jake Joy | April 15, 2024

Stories that stay with you

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Last time, I spoke about stories that stay with you – or more accurately, the ones that don’t.

This month, I want to take some time to unpick what makes a good story. One that lives in your psyche days, even years, after the final page has been turned.

I think it’s fair to say that any writer worthy of the name aims for this lofty goal. I know I would love a reader to say to me, “Hey, that story you wrote. I’m still not over it.” I want one of my tales to live rent-free in someone’s head long after the ‘end’ has been reached.

But how do you do that?

Fantastic question, other me.

My humble opinion is that people are drawn to people. You can have the most exciting plot, set in the most vibrant world a person can imagine, but if the characters aren’t likable or interesting enough, there’s very little reason to follow them on their journey. I think of all the stories that have taken up residence in my head over the years and one commonality runs through them all: Amazing Characters.

I spoke, last time, of my love for Final Fantasy 7. The story told by that video game wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the cast of characters being who they are. Cloud – the brooding ex-SOLDIER with a confused past, Barrett – the explosive rebel leader with a guilt-ridden conscience, Cid – the former pilot with dreams of one day going into space…

All these characters are real, I mean, not in the strictest sense of the word but you get what I mean. They have goals, fears, flaws. They are alive.

Many of the games, books, and movies that I have not finished in the past have had a lack of good characters.

*Disclaimer. The views head are the views of Jake and not, in fact, empirical facts. *

Watch Dogs’ Aiden Pearce was a boring, grey, uninspiring man. I put the controller down after only three or four hours of gameplay. I just couldn’t listen to his flat depressing monologues any longer. Driven by a desire to see his niece’s killer brought to justice, you’d think he’d be an interesting fellow. Not so much.

The Long Earth’s Joshua Valiente was just so bland and impossible to connect with. I finished the first book but couldn’t bring myself to read another four novels featuring him. Described on his wiki entry as ‘antisocial but with an altruistic nature’. He was just too antisocial to be likeable.

Galadriel in The Rings of Power was boringly good at everything. She had no flaws; unless you count being a humourless -Redacted-, and often solved problems easily. I couldn’t watch past episode 3.

I think the key to writing a story people will remember is to create characters that live on in other people’s heads. Real people, with hopes and dreams, with flaws and issues, with virtues and vices, and set them free in the world you created.

Then see what they do.

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