As an author, screenwriter and lecturer in the craft of storytelling, I am routinely engaged in evaluating stories presented to me.
Here, I am not referring to grammatical errors, faulty sentence construction, spelling mistakes—to editing. Those are all perfectly quantifiable. I am talking about the perceived worth of nebulous concepts such as “up” versus “down” endings, relevance of theme, effectiveness of writing style, and to such technical aspects as balance between character and plot.
“Evaluating stories is a difficult and partisan affair best left to the writer’s readership.”
I recently had to provide guidance in three separate areas: the appropriateness of selecting one director over another for study, evaluating a story-in-progress by an indie colleague, and asked to give a rating, out of ten, of a completed first draft of a novel.
My answer to the first request was that any director whose body of work has solicited varied opinions, and is of interest to the student, is worthy of study; to the second, that the writer finish the story before seeking the opinion of others; to the third, that I would not give a mark out of ten, but would offer my opinion as to whether I thought the story to be poor, show promise, or be ready-to-go.
This reluctance to provide a hard judgment on stories is less an indication of temerity on my part than it is a response to the changing environment of story reception. Certainly, with indie films and novels, the public is the ultimate judge of whether a story will sink or swim. I know of many instances where work has been turned down by publishers and producers only to achieve extraordinary success on amazon, or through the Internet, resulting in burgeoning writing and film making-careers.
Does this challenge the belief that some works are genuinely better than others? Not in terms of quantifiable technical aspects that are subject to sensible judgment; but it does acknowledge the proliferation of a relativism in theme and subject matter.
In a fast-changing, technologically-driven world where the boundaries of national, sexual and personal identity (and, by implication, genre), are bleeding into each other, certain aspects of a story are a lot harder to pin down, let alone, evaluate.
My advise to story tellers, therefore, is simply this: Write your stories to the best of your ability and let your readership or audience decide on whether they succeed or fail.
Evaluating stories ultimately lies in the hands of your readership or audience, especially in terms of financial success.