The S.P.I.N.E. of Every Good Story

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We know that stories exist because humans use them to learn from each other- they’re a teaching tool we use to pass knowledge and ideas between ourselves. Therefore, it will come as no shock to anyone that audiences must get something from a story to enjoy it. However, not every audience member wants the same thing, and not every good story offers the same things to its audience. That said, for a story to be successful with an audience, they must get at least one of five things (and preferably more than one) from a story, which can be remembered simply by the acronym S.P.I.N.E..

Skills – If a story teaches the audience how to do something, whether it’s growing plants, judging wine, star-ship tactical combat, solving crossword puzzles, or how to get a good night’s sleep, then the audience will consider that story interesting.

Perspective – If a story offers a new way of seeing the world, or conversely, confirms or supports the way the audience already sees the world, then they will likely consider it interesting. In our lives, we only really know our own points of view, and stories let us see the world as others see it, that’s one of the wonderful parts about experiencing a story. On the flipside, we naturally want our own views of the world to be the correct ones, and stories that back up those views will resonate with an audience that wants those views to be true. (This might sound sinister to some, but most popular stories have a version of this buried inside them which acts as a comfort to the audience – “good will always triumph over evil”, “if you work hard you will succeed in life”, “there’s someone out there for everyone”, “there’s justice in this world”, etc.)

Information – If a story offers the audience knowledge about a subject they’re not familiar with, they will consider it interesting. This is different from Skills in that it isn’t teaching the audience how to do something, but giving them information about a topic or topics. This can be history, culture, fashion, sports, nature, geophysics, religion, and everything in between. If the audience is interested in this topic, or made to be interested in it by the presentation of the story, then they’ll stick with it.

Novelty – If the story offers the audience something new or that they haven’t seen before, they will consider it interesting. This can be any aspect of the story from way its told (character, plot, setting, style, structure, etc) to the content (skills, perspective, information) that is new to the audience. Give them something they don’t know, they haven’t seen done, or they haven’t seen done this way, and they’ll be on board.

Emotion – If a story can make the audience feel something, then they will find it interesting. (Although not always enjoyable.) All good stories should make the audience feel something at some point, and certain kinds of stories are even built around producing specific kinds of emotion. (Horror, Thriller, Romance, Erotica, Comedy, Tragedy, etc) If you can elicit emotions from your audience, and its emotions they want to feel ), then they’ll stick with it.

Not every story will contain all five of these things, nor all five things in the same ratios, but if you want an audience to think of a story as being “good” you’ll probably want to think about which ones your story is offering and in what ways. Obviously, not all stories teach the audience how to do something, but most do offer some new information. Similarly, not every audience wants novelty, or at least a lot of it, as sometimes a familiar story gives them comfort and new things can sometimes be challenging.

The key is that the more you’re aware of these elements, and how you’re using them, the better your story can be because you can control and shape them to get the results you want as opposed to just guessing how to satisfy your audience.

Rob