Spill the tea: what drives a good story?

After reading This is the Most Over-Hyped Drama Ever – My ID Is Gangnam Beauty at hallyureviews, it got me thinking about what really drives a good story. Characters? Cast? Chemistry? Plot? Humour?

Everyone has different tastes and what they look for in a good story. But, are there must-haves for a story to work or is it strictly based on personal interests?

For me, I could never get into Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (also known as Goblin). I tried watching it twice. The first time I watched it was when it was still a recent release. The second time was a few years later. I didn’t even make it halfway through before dropping it both times.

Goblin’s backstory was interesting, yet I wasn’t invested in the characters or their relationships. The plot was also mediocre.

For anyone who doesn’t know how big Goblin was, the show received critical acclaim and won numerous awards in South Korea. The show also received a lot of love around the world.

Another example is Sweet Home. I loved the beginning but ended up dropping it halfway through. I had questions about Sweet Home’s narrative, which ultimately ruined the experience.

Sweet Home trended on Netflix’s top 10 for many countries. I believe it was the first South-Korean show to trend in the United States on Netflix.

On the contrary, I was part of the hype for Alice in Borderland. I loved the characters, the pacing, and the dark plot.

Alice in Borderland trended on Netflix’s top 10 in many countries. I’m sure some people aren’t into it for their own reasons, but this was one of the best shows I’ve watched in a while.

This brings me back to elements that drive a good story. For me, I look for characters, pacing, and logic. Let me go into more detail about each of these.

I enjoy characters with distinctive personalities. Arisu from Alice in Borderland is empathetic, and this really shows through his actions as the show progressed. Chishiya from Alice in Borderland is the mysterious and manipulative character, which again shows through his actions, especially when he betrays Arisu for his own gain.

Arisu’s biggest character development came in the beginning. His character became rather static as the show progressed, which didn’t take away my enjoyment. Perhaps it was because the plot was progressing at a great pace, revealing something but giving us more questions simultaneously.

As I get older, pacing has become a huge factor in what I look for. Depending on the plot and focus of the story, are questions getting answered promptly? Are they even answered at all? This was a turn-off for me in Sweet Home. There wasn’t enough world-building or explanations as to why things are a certain way. How do people get infected? Why are some people hybrids? How did the world become like this in the first place?

In Alice in Borderland, each episode was a step closer to the truth. You find out how the games are categorized, the supposed game masters, motivations for survival from the main characters. Season one does not answer all of the questions, but the ending is a clear setup for season two. However, at least the first half of the questions do get cleared up nicely.

What I mean by logic is this: do things make sense? I’ll use Goblin and Sweet Home as an example. Goblin, the character, has supposedly lived for hundreds or thousands of years. He’s been through a war, and you’re telling me that he can’t handle a teenager. I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if the female lead was older rather than a high school student. The show felt like a teenager trying to be an adult.

In Sweet Home, the main character is half-human and half-monster. He meets another hybrid who is part of a team that takes the main character’s allies hostage. The two have a conversation on the roof, and somehow the evil hybrid convinces the main character to turn against his friends. These friends have fought with the main character from the beginning, and they rarely showed any signs of turning against him. It was just so sudden that it felt like it was placed for the sake of conflict.

In Alice in Borderland, everyone’s motivations for survival are different. You know this because the show gives these explanations screen time, so you know why there was a giant massacre at the end and why some people are so heartless.

Though, there was one scene that I didn’t understand. Shibuki, a character introduced early on, suddenly stopped struggling to get free and ended up dying along with Arisu’s friends. She was a headstrong character. It was surprising and strange that she would just give up her life like that for people she knew for like 2-3 days.

Characters and plot go together. You could have an amazing plot, but with lacklustre characters, the plot will go down fast. But, with interesting characters, there’s hope for a lacklustre plot. There are tons of stories with a very generic plot, but the characters make it fun and worth watching. Sports animes would be an example. They all have a very similar premise with the same goals and development. Sports aside, they’re all different in their own ways.

Now, after my rant, what are the storytelling elements do you look for in a story? Do you think there are any must-haves for a story to be enjoyable?

2 thoughts on “Spill the tea: what drives a good story?

  1. Wow, Annie! First of all, thank you? I can’t believe something I wrote inspired you to do your own plot post! It is ridiculous how I was reading this and just nodding along?

    I have to agree with you on all counts. I barely drop shows, I suppose I love to suffer through the pain but I also sometimes just suffer through them for the sake of it. So like you I did not enjoy Goblin but I finished it. I really hated that the female lead was a teen and how hyped it was. Seeing her in a school uniform every time made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t have cared less about the Goblin. The show for me was carried by Sungjae and Lee Dong Wook. They both delivered astounding acting and had me involved in their storylines.

    As for Sweet Home, I agree as well. The show made zero sense and answered no questions, which the WebToon does btw. I have no idea why they thought they needed to set it up for a second season when the Webtoon ended right there? They haven’t explored half of the plots nor give us backstories for most of the characters. I did not understand half of what was going on. As you might remember I also said it wastes its potential.

    And now last but not least. Alice in Borderland was GREAT I love getting backstories like this and getting to know what drives characters! The entire setup and world-building made so much sense, unlike Sweet Home!

    So yes, I am one of those people who need good world-building to really get involved in a show or book for that matter. I’ll still suffer through a horrible plot though if there are characters I like. What makes anything almost unwatchable is a lackluster plot and awful characters… I can’t get through those at all. I need at least something to enjoy. I am huge on chemistry if any of the other parts are missing no world-building but great chemistry? I am here for it I’ll watch the most ridiculous dramatic thing for that.

    Man… I just really wish they didn’t do Sweet Home so badly….


    1. This ended up in my spam comments, so I didn’t see it until today when I went through them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Great minds think alike, haha.

      I hope Sweet Home will get some justice in season two. I totally agree that season one was just a waste of its potential. I skipped to the very end of Sweet Home, and I saw that they’re out of that apartment now. Since most of the season one just revolved around that apartment, hopefully, we’ll get more world-building, since that setting really limited a lot of what they could do. But if it’s just the same old gore and meaningless killing, then there’s no excuse. A lacklustre plot and awful characters is a recipe for disaster. I’m looking at you, Prison School.

      I also agree on great chemistry. I read a lot of comments that they didn’t think Arisu (Yamazaki Kento) and Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya) from Alice in Borderland had chemistry. And I was like: Wait, what?

      Liked by 1 person

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