Comics Creators

How do you judge a story?

What are the criteria that you use when judging a story? Also how do you weigh them in comparison to one another?
For me it is:
1- Originality.
2- Well written characters.
3- Pacing of the story events.
There are other criteria but I personally don’t care that much for them.


It’s got to have insight. I don’t care if the story’s been told a million times (when you get down to it, they all have), if the writer has nothing new to say, the story means nothing. If it means nothing to the writer, to the character, it means nothing to me. I just don’t care for routine storytelling. The storytelling also has to justify itself. If it turns in a direction that’s false to what preceded it, I get turned off. If it becomes an exercise in just looking cool, then it’s not for me. I crave substance. Otherwise I just don’t see the point.


For me, the best stories are about ideas. That’s why I read SF instead of watching soap operas. While I like well-written characters, unless the character is doing something that makes me think, I’m much less likely to be interested. I can read an entire novel about an amazing idea even if it’s got non-existent characterisation. A novel about amazingly detailed and well-formed characters doing mundane things? Zzzzzzzzz… (If I want to hear about people doing mundane things, I have friends and family for that :slight_smile: ).


When the character’s actions are either entertaining (fun or dramatic) or make sense.
And I don’t mean that last bit in some sort of pedantic way. The rest of the story can be nonsense or gibberish, but as long as the moving parts of it are engaging and can be traced back to base, emotional, and archetypal elements - then I can be really sold into it.

And usually some sort of hyper-reality is preferred.


Revelation of the human condition. A story has to tell me something about people’s inner workings, and they need to enable the reader to feel some connection, some strand of empathy that vibrates in unison with something in our own head. It doesn’t need to be sympathy for some character, it can equally be repulsion.


Depends on length a bit as well. I can live with a short story or novel (or GN) or a not overly long movie in a dark desperate world with dour and vindictive characters who don’t like each other, but I won’t stick with that for an entire television season or ongoing comic book. There has to be an attractive element to it if it’s going to go on for a while. Primarily and strong sense of humor helps.

Primarily, it’s the ability to distract that matters most. Stories aren’t really helpful for dealing with the real world directly, but they do have the ability to distract a person from the real world and provide some healthy vicarious emotional satisfaction and release. So - like a kind of drug - stories promoting healthy neurology in the brain - especially if you are seeing a movie or something with other people - is something you can carry out of the experience and that is indirectly helpful just living.


Does it make me feel?
Does it make me think?


I think people want different things from stories, which is why there’s so many different types.

There’s simple dramatic stories, where a character is put ina difficult situation and you root for their resolution.

There’s human insight stories where the story says something about our nature.

There’s big idea stories which are less about the characters and more about the imagination.

There’s teaching stories which are really about providing some for of education.

There’s adventure stories which are simply about a good old rollercoaster of a time.

And there’s probably lots more than I can’t think of.

The best stories I believe have a mix of these genres, and the unsatisfying stories are the ones that simply focus on aspect. And that’s ultimately how we judge stories. We want a dramatic rollercoaster in a big idea setting that shows us complex characters preserving while teaching us something about ourselves.

Surprisingly for all the different types of stories, we’re nearly universal on what’s great. It’s a bit like food I suppose - everyone has a different favorite food, but we can all agree when we taste something really fantastic.

I should add that I prefer drama myself. That’s why my list of top TV shows and movies are pretty diverse. I’m a sucker for the rollercoaster adventure though. Something like Curse of the Black Pearl, where the story never lets up but instead build up to a big end conflict and satisfying resolution. That structure for storytelling really is a nice distillation of the science & math of storytelling.


If I do not learn something (which includes deeper and/or broader insight into what I do know) then it’s a waste of time. Or, it leads me to materiel that does the same. For instance, Game of Thrones is mostly based on the War of the Roses, and that’s a period of history I’m weak in (despite Bill Shakespeare desperately trying to help). Why? I need to adjust my Time Telescope to get to the most understandable level of magnification. I need to see army movements and terrain as well as the scheming in the cabal.

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Another question regards how someone can tell if it is a good story. What would the standard be? Some stories can adhere to all the elements of a genre, have terrific writing or production value, deliver strong insights into the inner lives and external nature of its characters and themes… and still fail to move or even turn away the person who would be most likely to find it entertaining.

For me that would be THOR RAGNAROK. It was a movie that I was primed to enjoy. I’ve loved the director’s other work, I’m into cosmic adventure and comedy, and I’m really into Norse Mythology. However, I really did not like THOR and downright did not like THOR 2. Nevertheless, I went in wanting to enjoy THOR 3 and it didn’t do anything for me.

Also, there are cases where such a film or novel finds an audience long after it was first produced - such as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

I think there will always be that unknowable element that connects someone to a story that you’ll only know it’s there when you see it, and it won’t be something you can define later.


I hate to be pedantic but there’s a difference between a story and a movie/tv show/book. Not all of them are really about telling a story so much as they might just be about having fun set pieces linked together by a plot that’s mostly beside the point, if any at all.

So as far as stories go, I pretty much am always captivated by downward spirals, though they have to be tempered with momentary successes and feelings of hope (GoT, sons of anarchy), otherwise they can fall into the trap of being like The Jungle, which is just a horseshit book that’s so over the top in the never ending misery of its protagonist that I couldn’t take it seriously.


This is the heart of it. Feelings first. Always first. Excitement. Anxiety. Fear. Triumph. Joy. Wonder.

And then the thoughts. If I am still thinking about the story hours and days later, that’s a good sign.


I think I probably prioritize different things depending on the type of story. With Sci-Fi ideas/originality are very important. With a coming of age story, rich characters that I can connect with are super important. In an adventure story I probably want fun characters and good pacing/structure over other things. Largely I want the story to have a certain internal logic and I hate when characters make stupid choices simply as a device to further the plot.


With your criteria in mind I thought Sicario was a great story with original takes on old hat. The scene when all the agents are crossing the border brought to mind the Ronin car chase in contrast. Because at the end of the scene where they cross I thought - Holy shit that was a great 20 minute car chase! The cinematography, compositions and pacing are insanely masterful. Arrival and Blade Runner was great, same Director. The writer went to do Hell or High Water, excellent but lesser. I wonder if they’ll get the same vitality in Sicario 2 without the original director.

I like stories that reward for watching or reading a series with an investment of my sustained attention in an extended cast by giving you a finale that rakes the emotional spectrum in one episode. They do it a few times in Breaking Bad. The most recent one I experienced was Downton Abby S2E9.

Comics: The Wake comes to mind and more recently (for me) Dan Schaffer White.

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I’m not generally worried about Sicario 2. The whole point of the first one was how Emily Blunt responded to what was happening, and that’s Denis Villeneuve’s specialty. The second one presumably is all about Brolin and Del Toro, and whether or not this movie will agree with Blunt’s assessment, or if the movie is going to actually be cheering them on. I guess we’ll see.

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I thought Emily might make a counter move in the second, oh well. But I wonder who will represent the discerning onlooker.

They won’t, but I wish them luck anyway.

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Roger Deakins