I love a good story! Storytelling is an art. But there are so many books and movies out there that just don’t have good stories. I’m not talking about happy endings; I’m looking for a story that draws me in before leading me to an ending, whether happy or tragic (although I prefer happy). From an academic perspective, what makes a good story? Here are the four essential elements:
- The introduction identifies characters (the who) and describes the setting (the when and where).
- Oh no! We have a problem! That’s right; all good stories reveal conflict, whether a small personal issue or a major world conflict that affects generations.
- As a reader, once I am concerned about the problem, then I’m eager to read about the attempted solutions. Problems in stories, as in life, are often not solved on the first attempt because we try the wrong thing or we are thwarted.
- Now, what you’ve all been waiting for: the conclusion. A good story always comes to an end.
Recently in Sunday school, I taught the good story from the book of Ruth. In Ruth, readers are immediately introduced to Naomi and Ruth. Because these women are widowed and poor, their problem is evidently how to survive. Naomi tries to solve their problem by moving back to Bethlehem. Ruth tries to solve their problem by gleaning for their daily food. Naomi tries to solve their problem by sending Ruth to ask for Boaz’s protection. Boaz tries to solve their problem by confronting their closest relative to redeem them. The solution finally comes when Boaz buys Naomi’s land and marries Ruth. It’s a truly happy ending for all of them when Obed is born.
But wait! There’s more to this Bible story from Ruth, and that is what changes it from a good story to a great story!
A good story contains a descriptive introduction,
reveals a problem or conflict,
takes the reader along on every attempted solution,
and delivers a satisfying conclusion.
How can a good story become a great story? Stories should perform two additional functions to make them great: they should entertain and they should teach. Entertaining reads are pleasurable because they are well-written, and the Bible is a masterfully-crafted piece of literature that is enjoyable to read. Besides teaching the customs of the era, the book of Ruth teaches readers about hope.
You see, the final verse of the book of Ruth says, “and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.” (Ruth 4:22) This short genealogy links the little book of Ruth with God’s entire redemption plan of history. If you haven’t read the whole Bible, or you don’t know God’s redemption plan, then – SPOILER ALERT – here is the tie-in to human history. Jesse’s son David grows up to be the king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart. Through his ancestral line comes God’s promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, who saves people from their sins when they repent and believe. That’s a happy ending for you and me!
Listen to this great sermon series by Austin Duncan on the book of Ruth!
What do you think about the four essential elements of a good story: introduction, problem, attempted solution, and conclusion? Have you found other great Bible stories that entertain and teach? Will these simple points help you to write a better story?