Why crime stories are the purest form of story telling
As someone who has never published a novel, a short story or even took part in a creative writing class, I am extremely confident in saying that the current state of narrative analysis is bad and all the online pop culture critics are wrong.
Stories consist of static stuff and changing stuff, and people nowadays seem to think that the changing stuff like arcs and character development are what makes a story interesting. They are completely wrong of course.
This unfortunate misunderstanding is especially destructive in sequels. There are so many stories today that establish an interesting world and present a fun and emotional journey with some kind of resolution at the end. But when authors want to continue their story in a sequel, all they can think of is to undo that resolution: The villain that was just defeated returns, the treasure that was just captured is lost, and the ever-so-perfect relationship breaks apart again, just so that the protagonist has something to do. This is not just lazy, it also retroactively lessens the impact of the initial resolution. We can’t have nice things in these stories.
This is also very different from how stories have been told in the past. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, One Thousand and One Nights, Journey to the West, or the stories that are told at family gatherings are all episodic, very light on characterization, stuffed to the brim with tropes, and, most importantly, told again and again.
Of course there still needs to be a rhythm of suspense and release, but it is more of a necessity. It doesn’t even have to be grounded in the story itself. Since the readers (or listeners) already know what is coming, either because your story is so tropy or because they have heard it before, you can create suspense simply by dragging out the story beats. You already know that Goku will beat Freezer at some point. But will it be in this episode or the next one?
Another great way of artificially injecting suspense into a story is to add a crime. I will use the Donna Leon novels as an example: They tell the story of Guido Brunetti, a police detective in Venice. There are extensive descriptions of him walking the historic streets, having dinner with his family, drinking a glass of wine, or meeting with a roaster of recurring characters. It is nice.
Each novel also has some crime that needs to be solved. So each novel introduces new characters that are specific to that case and that might have some form of arc or development. But the protagonist and recurring characters typically stay static with very little development.
With this format, Leon has already created 32 novels. Readers can just spend some time in this world and with these people. And it never gets boring because the crime provides the necessary suspense.
I believe this is the secret why crime stories (and hospital series for similar reasons) are so popular: They have an external source of suspense so that the main characters and world in general can remain relatively static, with positive relationships and sustained success. They can be cozy.
Of course, your definition of what makes a story “good” can vary. Those are not necessarily stories that will make you change your view. No one will start a riot because of a Donna Leon novel. Since these stories need to keep their worlds static, they are also inherently conservative.
If you want to describe social change, you need to focus on the changing stuff. But sometimes you want to describe a positive vision instead, and then it is completely valid and probably even better to concentrate on the static stuff and use an external source of suspense.