Thursday, May 22, 2014

Godzilla vs. Story

People went out in droves to see the new epic battle of Godzilla and his revamped foes. Me included. I had mild expectations, thinking it would be on the caliber of Pacific Rim or Battleship, not anything too deep, but fun. And didn't the preview make it look scary and visually awesome? But what I encountered was a strange battle of my mind instead, with a lot of "huh?" and "what?" rolling around my brain. I felt as if I was watching a series of events explained by The General or The Scientist who somehow, miraculously knew #AllTheThings. While the man who knew nothing was somehow, miraculously always in the wrong place at the wrong time. As well as his wife and child, later on. 

This is, in my opinion, a fatal flaw that I see in a lot of stories lately, and makes it difficult for me to connect in any real way. The shock and awe becomes the Implausible, with little or no explanation. I can handle one coincidence, maybe two, but continuous such events stretch my patience. 

In our stories, as we read or write, we expect several foundational elements to the structure. If those elements are missing, the story itself falls flat. Here's three core things I, personally, find important. 

1. Motive (or Why Edward Doesn't Eat People): Random won't cut it. If it's unexplained or stretches credulity a reader won't be able to relate. Edward doesn't eat people because he fears for his soul. We as the reader know this—he won't stop telling Bella all about it. So, we get it. We may not like it, but we get it. ;)

2. Pacing (or Why Hobbits Talk About Food): Don't run me ragged. Let me pause and soak in the world and the characters every now and then. Let the story be about more than go, go, go. Frodo isn't running head-long to Mordor, he and Sam and Golem have moments of oddity and whimsy on the dark journey to break up the monotony. Pippin and Merry love to obsess over their pipes. We see them and we get to know them, we don't just scream our whole way to the end.

3. Expectations Met (or Why Harry Potter Had To Die): We need to know what's coming and see it coming along the way. BUT even when it hits us, we should have an element of surprise. This is probably the most difficult thing to accomplish. However, when it's done, and done well, it raises the story from satisfying to Epic. The stories of Harry became larger and larger with each installment, until the journey, the world, and the characters were truly personal. This created an effect that culminated in the last battle, where we all knew that it could not end well. STILL, we also knew it would all be okay. And in the end, it was so. Satisfying adventure, becomes Epic Experience. 

Now, obviously, these are just the things I look for personally in a story. I am finding more, however, that these things are thinner and thinner in the Hollywood writer's tool box. I know sensational sells but isn't the art of weaving a tale also worth a gander every now and then? It's true, there is nothing new under the sun, but our book shelves and box offices are screaming for a fresh look at Story once more. 

Rachel A. Marks is a writer and artist and mother of four. You can read more about her and her work on her website: 


  1. Rachel, I love this article on three elements that are necessary for a good story! Like you, I have a really hard time buying into a story if it isn't set up well.

  2. Rach, I don't know how I missed this article. Really good! I agree with you so much. Movies, and books in their wake, are becoming all about go, go, go. I end up feeling exhausted and not particularly caring, just glad it's over. That's not a great way to feel at the end of a story!