Initially, what I thought made a story great was its plot. It was the most basic understanding of a story as a reader or as a viewer, depending on the medium of consumption–textual or audio/visual. It is a promising dimension to judge a movie, or a book, or a short story. But, of course, things are never as simple as they seem.
After spending an average of 40 hours a week for a bulk of 15 months reading extensively and trying to engineer words into artistic and critically sound sentences, I can appreciate a story in higher dimensions. After genuinely attempting to write a story and exploring multiple genres of work, it provides innate happiness to savor an aesthetic choice of an author from the array of alternatives.
A secret that most storytellers know is, stories are like humans, same skeleton different genetics, same underlying anatomy but different personalities. Joseph Campbell in his book, The hero with a thousand faces, discusses these similarities in our stories, by dissecting the myths from different cultures, that originated continents across and centuries apart.
Most of the screenplays and majority of novels follows a three acts convention that starts with a thesis, followed by an antithesis, then concludes with the synthesis of the idea. In his book, Save the Cat, Blake Synder introduces us to beats and when to hit them in a 110 minutes screenplay. These beats are emotional junctions that a story should pass through on its journey to resolution.
Understanding that the stories do have a skeleton makes the craft even more elegant. Once you start to observe a story beyond its plot, you discover the effort that goes into forming the basics, how a story introduces itself, and how it reveals itself, the first sentence, the following scenes, the compositions, the transitions, they all come together to form the personality of a story. While the plot of the story, its spine, keeps it from collapsing.