We all love stories. It's what makes us human. Without stories, we don't have meaning. Stories give us a way of drawing lines around the things surrounding us, helping us to navigate our world, and to define ourselves.
When we think of stories in terms of entertainment or indulgence, however, we have ideas about what makes a "good" story. This is always subjective - what is entertaining to one might be trite or tiresome to another. But are there elements of a story that make it universally satisfying?
Accessibility: Some stories can be intriguing if they are foreign - mysterious, bizarre worlds that tempt us with their exoticism. But if a story is too obscure, we as readers are unable to relate, to access the meaning. We need characters we can understand, plot developments we can believe, and settings that are, in some way, familiar, even if they are in another solar system.
Uniqueness: On the other hand, we also need to feel like we are hearing something new. Cinderella has already been done, but what if she is a he, and instead of a fairy godmother he has a gnome living in his tool shed, and instead of a ball he wants to participate in the local garden show but his awful stepmother has snipped all his prize pansies? OK, maybe not satisfying, but just because a million stories have been told doesn't mean a million more aren't out there to be told. Tweak your characters, your setting, your story, so that elements of the familiar become unexpected.
Catharsis: Readers, or listeners, want to be moved. Changed. They want to come away from a story feeling like they have shared something - emotions, ideas - that give them a new perspective and, in essence, purify them. Our lives get painful, sterile, stagnant, small. We need stories to pull us out of our world and into a larger universe. We want characters to face their fears, overcome obstacles, make us believe in things, or remind us that sometimes things don't work out, but at least we're not alone. We all suffer. Stories let us suffer together.
What gives you satisfaction in a story?