“For a story to be exceptional, it needs an original plot,” says a book reviewer, non-verbatim, for a book I completely forgot, but that which I will never forget as I have taken note of that same phrase in a Google Keep note.
And to which I reply, absolute poppycock.
Since last year, I’ve been trying to reframe all these pre-built notions of what makes a great story. It’s like doing demolition for a broken down mansion and building in its place something perhaps simpler but with a sturdier foundation.
Now what are these notions, you may ask? (Or not, but I’ll still tell you.)
A great story needs a unique or original plot
Again, I’m referring to the above forgotten book reviewer here. But I am also talking about raving reviews of hit media.
You know them. Those rare gems appear at most once a year. They become critically acclaimed and are being hailed as the Best Film/Anime/TV Series/Book of their time.
And I’m not going to deny it. A unique or original plot can be a huge plus to a story. Some franchises even rely on their having refreshing storylines. And people are drawn to them, for the simple fact that it has “never been done before.” I am also one of those people, by the way.
But if your story deal breaker is that it isn’t something new, I feel like you’re missing tons of great stories that aren’t necessarily unique. Which is a shame, if you ask me.
It has depth and meaning
I am honestly, wholeheartedly sick and tired of seeing these types of critiques. And the thing is, the ones getting trashed for not being deep or meaningful are often genres and shows that are made with specific elements and factors in mind. Where depth and meaning are usually secondary.
People saying ish like,
“Romcoms are awful because they aren’t meaningful.” Or “Slice of life anime and manga will always be inferior to shows with actual structured storylines,” or “Teen shows are so cringey and cheesy.”
Has it ever occurred to you that they’re not trying to win Oscars??? (Or whatever highly esteemed award-giving body they have in their particular industry.)
Romcoms typically target straight, cishet hopeless romantics looking for feel-good happily-ever-afters.
Slice of life anime and manga are made to be like everyday life which, surprise surprise, does not have story structure.
Teen shows are for the young adults in the midst of puberty!
And sure there are some works that would stand out for not being stereotypical romcom or slice of life or teen shows. Some even become highly acclaimed. Like when anime used to be undermined in the western entertainment industry, and then Spirited Away won an Oscar.
Which brings me to the third notion that…
A great story must not have trashy tropes
*slams hands on wooden table*
Look. I could get on with a story or show getting praised for being refreshing or different.
More than ten years ago, high fantasy series are all elves and wizards and going on an exciting adventure. Then Game of Thrones reached mainstream media and suddenly writers of the genre are more courageous in writing and pitching stories of similar vibe. The same could be said with anime, specifically shounen anime (those targeted for young boys), after Attack on Titan became a global hit. And remember Young Adult books pre-Hunger Games?
These stories changed the way people consume their respective genres. Perhaps it’s because they either do not exhibit stereotypical tropes or go against those tropes altogether. But that does not necessarily mean having tropes are bad. It doesn’t mean that a great story is one without tropes.
And besides, when did we treating genre tropes like moldy cheese???
On shame and joy
I feel like all the above mentioned are the Three Commandments of Percy the Pretentious. (Whoever he is.)
I mean… unique plot, depth, meaning and devoid of tropes?
That’s definitely Percy the Pretentious’s entire criteria of what a great story should be.
I should know.
Growing up, I was fed this idea that you must only consume quality media – stories that are unique, has depth and meaning, and no tropes. Anything otherwise is not worth your time.
And so, I became accustomed to defending the media I consume. Armed and ready with a list of reasons why a story is so good. To aid me in this defense, I’d throw in phrases like “compelling characters” or “unexpected plot twists” or “soft villain boys with well-built redemption arcs”. Like a well-prepared attorney, convincing the jury that the defendant is not guilty.
But here’s what I recently learned.
Why should I be guilty?
Why must I or anyone else be ashamed of liking the things they like?
So I enjoy romcoms, even though it’s predictable and unrealistic. And I love slice of life anime knowing full well there’s no end goal in sight. (I mean, not like One Piece is anywhere near its own goal *cough cough*) And teen shows… are not really my cup of tea anymore. But someone out there – often, surprise surprise again, their target demographics – probably like them.
We have got to stop shaming each other for the harmless* things that bring us joy, dammit.
*Emphasizing on harmless here, because some people have seriously scary dangerous interests and I do not condone serial killers and other harmful interests. Only people who love true crime, which is vastly different.
A story needs not an original plot nor depth nor meaning to be great.
They can have one or more of that, sure. But they can have none and still be great. Whether it be because of its mind-boggling plot or its light-hearted format or the accurate rep of your identity or the tragic characters. A great story is simply one that you wholeheartedly enjoyed. One that, once you’ve reached its end, you think so strongly:
“Ah yes. That was a good experience.”
And isn’t that more fun and much much more better?