What makes a "good" story?
In her book Literary Folkloristics and the Personal Narrative, Sandra Stahl describes why we know that we have interesting stories to tell: we interact with stories all the time. Through the stories we encounter in movies, books and other forms of media, we can see themes that resonate with our own personal experiences, and when they align we think, “okay that thing that just happened to me is a good story.” Without even realizing it, we inherently piece apart the patterns in the stories that we’re told and the entertainment that we consume.
I find this to be both somewhat intuitive, but also very fascinating. When we lead story development workshops and ask people to identify common themes in other people's personal stories, they’re able to do it without much prompting at all. This ability is ingrained in us, whether we realize it or not, from the stories that we see and hear on a day-to-day basis.
This is also why people believe that they don’t have stories worth telling, because they may not have super dramatic, over-the-top things happen to them, like what happens in the entertainment we consume.
Recently, I learned that Dr. Jacqueline Baron and Dr. Susan Bluck (who leads the Life Story Lab at the University of Florida), have published initial findings that show that we can actually look at stories from an objective lens. They have researched and published a tool called the Story Quality Index. They took personal and fictional stories and shared them with people of different ages and genders. These study participants were asked what they thought of these stories, and the result shows that the Story Quality Index is a tool that can be used to demonstrate what people think of as a “good story.”
What this shows is that we, as humans, have a natural predisposition towards stories. We inherently know what makes a good story. Unfortunately, if we aren’t careful, we can reflect the stories that we come across in movies and books and say “my life isn’t as exciting as that, so I don’t have a story.” People have told this to me before. It isn’t true.