Why does this act of storytelling work so well? According to Brad Phillips in The 6 traits of great storytelling—in one adorable video, it meets Dan and Chip Heath’s six critical traits that make stories memorable:

  • Simple. A boy. An idea. Some boxes. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
    Unexpected. This video had at least four unexpected things: An unusually creative boy; a video maker who accidentally stumbled upon the boy’s arcade; a flash mob; and Caine’s surprise at the flash mob. Even though the video’s title (“9-year-old’s DIY cardboard arcade gets flashmobbed”) gave away a lot of the premise, it didn’t matter. We wanted to see how the unexpected played out.
  • Concrete. There’s one moment that stuck with me more than any other: Caine manually feeding prize tickets through a hole in the box. If there’s a second moment I remember, it’s the claw machine. If there’s a third, it’s the calculator he used to track legitimate “Fun Pass” users. All three of those details are concrete, and the story was more effective for its total absence of abstractions.
  • Credible. Totally. Not a single false note.
  • Emotional. Before my wife showed me the video, she sheepishly admitted that it had made her cry. I mildly teased her. Then I watched it and teared up, as well. It felt deeply satisfying to see the boy’s industriousness rewarded. And the father’s pride in his son’s achievement? How wonderful to see a struggling businessman in East L.A. enjoy such rich satisfaction.
  • Stories. Back to the first “S:” a boy, an idea, some boxes. Stories can’t get stripped down much further, proving that good stories don’t require complexities to work.

Maybe this is the same as (5), but we respond more to stories in which we can identify with the characters, put ourselves in their shoes. No, I’m not saying this rules out fantasy [Heaven forfend], but the most fantastic situations have to be met with a recognisably human response, or they’ll leave us cold. I recently read a piece about Breaking Bad , The author didn’t know why he was interested since all the characters left him cold. It came down to the plot — each plot is an intricate puzzle, an intellectual exercise. His motivation for watching was to see how it could be resolved. That’s unusual. We want, I think, our humanity.

Another thing we want is a happy ending.