Stories need memorable characters.
Imagine a conflicted alien scientist who had to help virtually sterilize another violent race, but he likes to sing Gilbert and Sullivan. There's a mercenary from that same violent race who is forced into leadership over his world. An operative for a pro-human extremist group was genetically designed from the ground up. A prisoner on a convict ship that was experimented on by said group is also on your team.
Stories also need conflict. The characters mentioned above are rich with conflict potential, and it doesn't disappoint.
Oh yeah, the main character has to save the galaxy as well.
With high stakes, plenty of suspense, intriguing characters, and a well-crafted story, it sounds like a winner of a book, doesn't it?
The only problem is that it is not a book.
Writers need to recognize what works from a story standpoint in anything they see. Certainly lots of reading is the primary way to accomplish that, but having a keen eye during TV shows and movies can help as well.
How about video games?
Gaming is a medium that may not get recognized for good writing like a quality book or an exciting movie.
However, there's a company that has its reputation based on engaging characters, moral dilemnas, and plots with twists and suspense galore. It's called BioWare, and the funny thing is it was founded by two doctors.
The story I was describing is the Mass Effect trilogy. Number 3 just came out and sucked up all of my free time (and even some non-free time) last week. It has the requisite shooting aliens and whatnot, but what keeps me coming back is the story and seeing what will happen. The consequences in the third game are dire as the aliens have fully invaded the galaxy, and there are sacrifices characters have to make to help Commander Sheperd (your character) fight them off.
Mass Effect is also like a great Choose Your Own Adventure story, as you get to direct how the main character will do things. I enjoyed those books as a child growing up, but there's more that can be done with the cinematics of a video game.
So this is a geeky writing post. Yes, I'm enjoying blasting the bad guys. However, I'm so invested in the characters and storyline I almost take it personally. "THIS bullet is for Ashley, and this one is for the boy on the evacuation shuttle you shot down..."
The take home point? Watch for good writing wherever you are, and see what you can learn from it. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a performance to watch.