The Difference Between a Great Story and a Shitty Story

“…is often really tiny.” So speaketh Charlie Jane Anders, TVWriter™’s favorite writer on the interweb who doesn’t write specifically for us. *sigh*

See what we did here?

See what we did here?

by Charlie Jane Anders

Hollywood people often say that it’s a miracle there are any good movies at all. Because so much can go wrong, and so many random things have to go right, for a movie to avoid being a hopeless disaster. I can believe this, because in general the difference between the good and bad versions of the same story is often razor-thin.

This is kind of a depressing thing to realize, because you would kind of hope that it would be easy to tell if a story is going to work or not. Like, either your soufflé rose or it didn’t, right? And you ought to be able to tell if a story is “clicking” or if it’s just kind of a mess, because the pieces either fit together neatly or they don’t.

For sure, part of becoming a successful writer or creator is developing a really good sense of when your own work isn’t hitting its potential. This is something you get through a lot of trial and error, by throwing yourself at the wall 100 times until you learn to see the wall coming. I wrote 100 awful short stories until I learned how to write a pretty good one.

But also, writers are really good at spinning bullshit and convincing you that their made-up story actually happened—and that means that bullshitting yourself is an occupational hazard. It’s easy to bullshit yourself that you’ve made two pieces fit together when there’s actually a really awkward gap.

And this is the part that drives me nuts, both as an aspiring creative writer and as a consumer of media: It doesn’t take much to make a story totally fall apart. I mean, most stories can survive having the occasional dumb scene or the occasional cringe-worthy moment. But a story relies on the readers (or audience) choosing to go along for the ride, and the moment you’re not creating a ride worth going on, they’re gone.

It’s easy to see why telling stories and casting magic spells are so often compared or conflated in fantasy stories—because telling a good story is very much like casting a spell. You’re creating another reality and trying to immerse people in it, and you’re hoping to make it so compelling that people “forget” it’s not real. (Almost like a trance.)…

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