In my personal opinion, naturally. YMMV. If this were in any way authoritative, it would have been carved in stone by a finger of flame.

But I have been pondering, of late, the sort of things I like to read and watch, and I find myself mulling over some commonalities. There seem to be four recurring characteristics that mark a piece of fiction for me as enjoyable, memorable, and (if it’s in serial form) worthy of further attention. None of these by itself is either necessary or sufficient to make a story effective, but the presence of at least two of them is usually enough to pique my curiosity, and the presence of three or four almost guarantees that I’ll become a fan.

What are these oh-so-crucial characteristics?…

1) A well-balanced ensemble cast

It’s not that a good story can’t focus on the experiences or viewpoint of a single central character, but an ensemble of characters that can play off of one another, representing varying attitudes and emotional reactions to situations, adds extra layers of depth. This is particularly important in serial fiction, such as television or comics, where a single viewpoint character—no matter how charismatic—tends to constrain story possibilities and too often leads to creative stagnation. (Witness James Bond. Witness Superman.) 

Even when there’s nominally a single “star,” in many cases an ensemble evolves as a creative necessity and winds up being critical to a concept’s long-term success. Among my personal favorites, examples range over thematic territory as widely varied as M*A*S*H, WKRP in Cincinnati, The West Wing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Lost

2) A cumulative mythos

One of the things that’s always fascinated me about science fiction, in particular, is the potential for “worldbuilding,” but it’s not actually limited to that genre. As even a cursory glance at my site dedicated to DC Comics history will show, I enjoy sinking my teeth into the kind of rich, complex fictional reality that an author (or authors) can only build up over time. Yes, I love continuity!

Outside of comics, Lost and Buffy again spring to mind as excellent examples of thoughtful worldbuilding, as do shows like Star Trek and (even more) Babylon 5… but this is a characteristic often found in prose as well. The Sherlock Holmes canon has kept generations of fans dedicated to exploring the minutiae of the Victorian world Conan Doyle created. For Tolkien, the actual story in Lord of the Rings was merely a brief glimpse of the history he’d conceived for Middle-Earth. Elaborate worldbuilding is an essential element of many of the best works of Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven and countless other SF writers, as well as of John LeCarre’s classic “George Smiley” espionage novels. One could even look at the classics and make the same argument about, say, Jane Austen or Mark Twain or Charles Dickens:  although “realistic,” still the world the characters inhabit itself often emerges as a character in the story.

Conversely, one of my main complaints about much contemporary literary fiction is that it merely assumes the world the reader (or, more accurately, the writer) lives in as the setting. It is taken for granted, its history, technology, culture, politics and more left unelaborated and unexplored.

3) Intelligent exploration of moral/philosophical questions

Surely this is what all fiction is about, right?

Sadly, that’s too seldom the case. A great many authors—including many mystery, SF, and other genre authors, for whom I make no apologies—begin and end the creative process with plot alone. Granted, a clever and coherent plot is itself an accomplishment that seems beyond some writers (especially when it comes to conclusions, where Hollywood seems to have taught the lesson that the dramatic closure of a dénoument is superfluous so long as there’s an action-packed climax), but it’s no substitute for thematic content. Sadly, this is lost on some audiences as well:  it’s commonplace to run across the argument “I just want to be entertained, I don’t want to have to think,” as if the two activities could be separated.

“Good vs. evil” or “love conquers all” are not really themes, nor is anything else so simple and one-sided. To be truly memorable, truly moving, a story needs to be both emotionally and intellectually engaging. All the examples I’ve named so far manage to do this, at least at their best, most ambitious moments. They place their characters in situations that unearth and confront social inequities, personal moral shortcomings, cultural conflicts, ethical quandaries.

The modern Battlestar Galactica, while it’s godawful at worldbuilding, makes up for that with superbly thought-provoking themes—allegories of our own political turmoil. Alan Moore’s Watchmen (and to a lesser extent the film based on it) is virtually constructed out of such penetrating questions, timeless yet timely:  individual vs. collective good, strict principles vs. flexibility, violence and its excesses, ends justifying means, the corruptions of power, honesty vs. subterfuge, and many more—with few clear-cut answers. The film Casablanca has left viewers arguing over its climactic scene for decades because it uses the backdrop of war, not as a source for battles like so many lesser works, but as a fulcrum on which to balance romantic love against social responsibility.

4) Irreverent humor

This may be the trickiest criterion, as it’s very much in the eye of the beholder. I’m not talking about lowbrow stuff here, the humor of bodily functions or personal embarrassment. (I can’t stand the work of the Farrelly brothers, for instance.) I’m talking about humor that pokes at cultural conventions, that challenges social mores, that’s based on ironic juxtapositions, that uses absurd situations to generate wry insights. M*A*S*H and WKRP, again, regularly did this, as does the work of TV writers like Joss Whedon (Buffy and otherwise) and Aaron Sorkin. Mark Twain was perhaps the all-time master of this. Novelist Douglas Adams had a rare talent as well, and among current writers Jasper Fforde stands out in my mind, with his inimitable, uncategorizable (and hilarious) “Thursday Next” series.

This is what I’ve arrived at so far. There may be more criteria; there may be more nuances to the ones already described; but I’m not writing a book here. I’m just thinking out loud… or in print, at least. Just scratching the surface.

Still, examining the way these factors interact offers up some valuable insight (at least to me) about what I find enjoyable, about how tastes can be classified, and arguably about what makes fiction work in general. There’s an underlying logic—it’s not merely arbitrary—that I enjoy LeCarré over, say, Tom Clancy; that I like Big Bang Theory but not 30 Rock; that I prefer Star Trek to Star Wars; that I like Lost but not CSI; indeed that I’m drawn to SF as a genre.

I’m anxious to see what comments people may have, of course.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
83 Responses to “Four key ingredients of good fiction”
  1. Tamie says:

    I just could not keep without saying thankyou in the base
    of my heart, after reading this great blog!

  2. Nice site ! Thank you !

  3. I am basically impressed with this blog and that I desired
    to take some time to many thanks from the bottom of my
    heart!

  4. It is not too easy to find useful material nowadays, but this undoubtedly qualifies together.
    Leaving satisfied and can truly come back quickly!

  5. self improve says:

    I recently couldn’t leave without saying thankyou in the base of my heart after scanning this
    website that is great!

  6. It’s not too no problem finding useful material but this surely qualifies together.
    Making content and will definitely comeback soon!

  7. I just couldn’t leave without saying thankyou in the underside
    of my heart after looking over this brilliant website!

  8. read this says:

    I am now not certain where you are getting your information, however good topic.

    I must spend a while learning much more or working out more.
    Thank you for wonderful info I was looking for this
    info for my mission.

  9. It is not so no problem finding material that is valuable but this undoubtedly
    qualifies as you. Causing can definitely comeback shortly and content!

  10. Just desire to say your article is as amazing.

    The clearness in your post is simply cool and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject.

    Well with your permission allow me to grab your RSS
    feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please
    continue the rewarding work.

  11. I conceive this site has very good indited subject material articles.

  12. Mckenzie says:

    Thanks for the good writeup. It in reality used to be
    a entertainment account it. Look complex to more brought agreeable
    from you! However, how can we be in contact?

  13. Garfield says:

    You completed some good points there. I did a search on the matter and found a good number of persons will consent
    with your blog.

  14. Zelda says:

    Loving the information on this website, you have done outstanding job on the posts.

  15. Torsten says:

    This is a good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very accurate information? Appreciate your sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  16. Ashley says:

    Hi there, You have performed an excellent job.
    I will definitely digg it and individually suggest to my friends.
    I’m sure they’ll be benefited from this website.

  17. hello!,I love your writing so so much! share we keep in touch more approximately your article
    on AOL? I need an expert on this space to unravel my problem.
    Maybe that’s you! Looking forward to peer you.

  18. Katja says:

    I think that everything posted made a ton of sense.
    But, think about this, suppose you added a little content?
    I ain’t saying your information is not good, but suppose you
    added a title to maybe grab a person’s attention? I mean SmartRemarks » Four key
    ingredients of good fiction is a little boring. You
    might look at Yahoo’s home page and watch how they create article headlines to grab viewers
    to click. You might add a related video or a picture
    or two to grab people interested about what you’ve written. Just my opinion, it might make your blog a little bit more
    interesting.

  19. Maisie says:

    Hello to all, the contents present at this web page are really awesome
    for people knowledge, well, keep up the good work fellows.

  20. rahwyd.cn says:

    I’d incessantly want to be update on new posts on this internet site, saved to
    favorites!

  21. Regularly review those search queries are based.
    To increase the selling of the business owners who do something scholarships
    not invest time into optimizing their websites so that with credit cards they can use these variables, they design specific websites.

    Talented SEO Consultants can both improve site optimization, Google analytics.

    If you are only to entice the searcher to click on the search
    results you find. Make it easy for search engine rankings in Google.
    There are millions of site optimization, when obtaining inbound links to your
    website, follow the basic understanding, the revenue you receive.

  22. It’s nearly impossible to find educated people in this particular topic, but
    you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  23. Dead pent content, Really enjoyed studying.

  24. Bonnie says:

    I saw a lot of website but I conceive this one has got something special in it.

  25. Paragraph writing is also a excitement, if you be acquainted with then you can write otherwise it is complicated
    to write.

  26. Thank you so much for giving everyone an extraordinarily marvellous chance to read from here.

    It really is very superb and full of a good time for me personally and my office friends to search
    your site at the least three times weekly to study the latest stuff you have.
    And lastly, we are actually satisfied for the remarkable techniques you
    give. Selected two areas in this post are absolutely the most beneficial we have all had.

  27. It’s so difficult to find material that is important nowadays, but
    this definitely qualifies as one. Departing
    certainly will certainly keep coming back shortly and satisfied!

  28. more info says:

    This is really interesting, You are a very professional blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and stay up for looking for extra of
    your wonderful post. Also, I have shared your website in my
    social networks!

  29. jmei.pw says:

    Excellent items from you, man. I’ve take into account your stuff prior to and you
    are just too fantastic. I actually like what you’ve received
    here, really like what you are stating and
    the way during which you are saying it. You’re
    making it enjoyable and you continue to care for to keep it sensible.
    I cant wait to learn much more from you. This is actually a wonderful website.

  30. Whoa! I am definitely clicked with by this blog and I can claim nothing less than I
    love it!

  31. Jenna says:

    After reading this amazing blog I just could not keep without saying
    thankyou from the underside of my heart!

  32. I just could not leave without saying thanks
    in the bottom of my heart, after looking over this great blog!

  33. Spectacular! That you do not come by data such
    as this simply and that I am pleased! Keep it up
    people!

  34.  
Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*

Comments links could be nofollow free.


SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline