What Makes A Good Story?

Who doesn’t love a good story? We are drawn into some tales, so much that we feel we can’t turn away. We can’t put the book down. We are mesmerized.

What is it that grips us so? Is it a likable character, or characters, who draw us into their own stories—almost as if they were our own—or does a compelling story grab our attention, whether or not we find depth and humanness in the characters who play it out?

Lots of Books

I really don’t know. I feel could be swayed either way.

My kids love a good story. We will often read “chapter books” together just before bedtime. We’ve read some great stories like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Gentle Ben, and we just finished off The Jungle Book (the real stories by Rudyard Kipling, not the Disney-fied versions) and The Black Stallion. Next up is C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia!

But they pretty quickly recognize a story that is missing “something”. (We would not recommend Irma and Jerry, by George Selden, though we loved The Cricket In Times Square!) The most interesting part was that we began Kipling’s Jungle Books after giving up on Irma & Jerry midway through, and within mere paragraphs all four listeners were hooked (as was the Reader!) by the tale Kipling spun.

On the other side of the coin, the oldest two boys and I tried—and tried, and tried—to read Dickens’ Great Expectations together, until after months of trying, we finally put it down and have never returned. While the story has some interesting, likable characters, we would say the plot was not only not compelling, it was perhaps entirely nonexistent?

What is it that is either present or lacking in a story that compels or repels the reader?

I am a reader. I am also a writer.

I am currently enjoying the process of writing out a story that has been very well-received. The plot is not very original, I don’t think, though there are plenty of cliff-hangers and interesting adventures. The strength of this story does seem to be its cast of likable characters. The reader (and even the writer!) want to know what happens to these characters. We are rooting for the “good guys” and against the “bad guys”.

The story that I am writing was originally told over a series of nights at bedtime. It was perhaps a couple weeks. Maybe slightly more. The kids love the stories that I tell, and they especially love the ones that I make up with them as the main characters!

We need to identify with the story. That’s important.

Does that mean the characters are the most important part of a “good” story? Or can a strong, interesting story overcome less interesting individuals who are playing it out?

I’d really love to hear from you, Dear Reader. What do you prefer? What prevents you from putting down your book? When real life demands you pull yourself away, do the characters, or their story remain in your thoughts. Do you find that you miss them, or wonder what will happen to them?

Or is it both?

These are the questions that I currently ponder as I enjoy the characters and stories of books read and written.

Now, I must return to my book… 🙂

Mortimer The Frog

Several years ago, I thought I’d try my hand at writing a few children’s tales. I had some ideas and just went for it. Some were your typical light and fluffy kid fare, others were more moral-of-the-story kind of tales, and also a bit lengthy.

Then there was Mortimer The Frog.

I just remembered these stories this week, and then read it to our two youngest tonight before bed. They actually really enjoyed it (though they wished there were pictures to go along with it). It kept their attention, and I loved hearing their thoughts after it was over 🙂

So, making its public debut here at GregsHead.net … Mortimer The Frog:

Mortimer The Frog

On a day like this, the bog is the best place to be. Everything is so quiet and still, all that you hear are the tiny bugs flying lazily from place to place before they land right in a hungry frog’s belly. Yes, the life of a frog is really quite good.

But sometimes, even the best frogs make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes hurt! That’s what happened to Mortimer. We’ll call him Mort, for short.

Mortimer was the oldest of three little froglets. He had a younger Brother Frog and a younger Sister Frog. They all lived in the bog together, enjoying the quiet and eating as many bugs as they could catch with their nice long tongues.

But Mort felt like he wanted to do more. He liked his life with his Mom Frog and his Dad Frog, and his Brother and Sister Frogs, but sometimes he wished his Mom Frog or his Dad Frog wouldn’t always tell him what not to do. They always had something to say to him like, “Mort, don’t jump on those flowers!” or, “Mort, don’t go too far from the bog!” or, “Watch out, Mort! That is a slippery log!”

Mort got tired of always listening to his Mom Frog and his Dad Frog. He was tired of being a good example for his baby Brother and Sister Frogs. So one day, he decided to see what would happen if he didn’t listen to what his Mom Frog had said.

“Don’t go past that log over there, Mort. You need to stay on this side of the log in the bog.”

All Mort could think about after his Mom Frog said that was what might be on the other side of that log? What could it be that worried his Mom Frog so? It couldn’t be that bad, now could it?

When Mom Frog was tending to the other froglets, Mort took a chance and hopped as quietly as he could over to the log.

Flop-Plop. Flop-Plop.

It was a big log. It was covered with slippery moss. It was even hollow to explore on the end. It looked like a lot of fun to Mort! What could be so dangerous?

So Mort poked his head in the log and found some delicious looking bugs crawling around. With a few swift shots of his tongue, he found himself a nice afternoon snack! This was the life! Out on his own, doing what he wanted, eating bugs no one else knew about… what more could a young frog want?

After he had explored every nook and cranny of that hollowed out log, he hopped outside again and thought, “I wonder what is on the other side of this log? It couldn’t be the bad now, could it?”

Once again, he decided that his Mom Frog must be thinking about something else. This all seems so good and so fun! He knew she loved him, so she would want him to have fun. “She just didn’t know that the log was perfectly fine!” Mort thought, “There’s no danger here! I’ll hop around the other side and tell her all about it when I get back! She’ll be so happy for all the fun that I have had!”

So on he hopped. Past the corner of the hollowed out log. Past the confines of their quaint little bog. No one there, just Mortimer Frog.

Just then he heard a strange voice say, “Hellooo there! What a surprise to see such a nice young frog on this side of the log outside of the bog!”

When Mort turned around, he saw a big friendly snake, wearing a grin.

“My Mom Frog told me I shouldn’t go out here, but it seemed to me to be not only safe, but great fun as well! And I know my Mom Frog wants me to have fun…” Mort said it almost as though he was convincing himself that he was right.

“Oh yessss,” came the happy snake’s reply. “Mom Frogs sometimes just don’t know what’s on the other side of the log outside the bog. If they knew, they would definitely want their young frogs to be out here having fun! That’s what we do on this side of the log!”

“I can see! I have had so many delicious bugs, and explored places I never knew were there! What a great day!”

“And all because you decided for yourself, and went your own way, instead of listening to your Mom Frog, and what she had to say,” offered the sly snake.

“Why don’t you come over here and let me show you some more fun things on this side of the log?” invited the still grinning snake.

“Sure!” said Mort. He was so excited about his adventures on his own, he wasn’t even thinking at all about what his Mom Frog had warned about going past the log outside the bog.

The snake went down the hill a bit, past another log, “It’s not far now,” he said, and stopped at the edge of a big rock.

“Come over here, there’s something I want to show you.” said the snake, with his wide, scaly grin.

Mort happily hopped to the edge of the rock. He was so free! His choices were his own! His Mom Frog and Dad Frog would be so proud when he got home!

But as Mort reached the edge of that rock past the log that was outside the bog, he learned the reason his Mom Frog had said, “Don’t go past that log over there, Mort. You need to stay on this side of the log in the bog.”

Mort did not know what his Mom Frog had known. Outside the bog, on the other side of the log, are the snakes. Snakes who eat frogs.

The snake still wore his grin, as he slithered away. He had a belly full of Frog that day. That sly snake was mighty happy the day that Mortimer Frog decided to do things his way!