Stories play big part in our lives. They inundate our culture in more ways than we can count. The most obvious would be TV and movies. Both are big business and most of us would agree that we couldn't live without the two. If not TV and movies, then comic books, music, novels and fairy tales. Stories have been around for a long time. They're part of being human. But for something that has been around for ages, you think we would understand how stories work. What makes a good story great? It's not that hard to figure out when you think about it.
I'm not educated enough to explain how the brain physically processes a story. I can barely know how my stomach could digest my last meal. I don't need to know. All I need are the general principles to have a reasonably healthy good life. The same for stories. If you think about the obvious, good storytelling isn't that hard to figure out. However, I will warn you. The more detailed the explanation you're after, the harder it will become. Again, that's not easy to figure out why too. Stories have to do with people and people can be hard to figure out.
Here are four basic criteria to look for in a good story:
The story gets your full attention. You know that it's a good story when once it starts, you get hooked on it and stay hooked on it until the end of the story. If it's a book, movie or commercial, as soon as you see a fellow human being doing this or that, you stay transfixed because it's interesting to you.
The story provides a vivid experience. As time goes by and you remain interested, you start to have a vicarious experience through the characters. Something about what's going allows you to feel something as the series of events play out.
The story leaves behind a strong memory. A couple of hour to a couple of weeks is probably the average amount of time we spend on a story. If it got your attention and gave you an experience, then you probably will remember it, possibly for the rest of your life.
The story makes you want to talk about it. Stories are events that can't be kept hidden. They need to come out. People want to talk about it. Something happened, to another human being, and it's worth sharing because you have to. It's just too big to keep it under wraps. (The writers feels the same way.)
Although a good story is hard to figure out mechanically, the general principles are usually the same. When you get someone's attention, draw them into the story, give them an experience, then they'll have a lasting memory to share with others. Which is what the DARPA study found out years ago when they studied storytelling and the brain.