What is Story? The Essentials

What is Story?

What is story?

It feels like an easy answer until you have to actually answer. It’s, you know, STORY.

Is story the same thing as plot?

No.

But we’ll get to that a little later.

The essential definition of story

Merriam-Webster defines story as:

2a: an account of incidents or events

b: a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question

c: anecdote; especially an amusing one

3a: a fictional narrative shorter than a novel; specifically: short story

b: the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work

An account of incidents or events.

Let’s assume this is the definition of story. So any account of incidents or events is a story? I can go along with that definition from a layman’s perspective, but as a professional storyteller, that’s not very helpful. Whose account of incidents or events are we listening? The

So any account of incidents or events is a story? I can go along with that definition from a layman’s perspective, but as a professional storyteller, that’s not very helpful. Whose account of incidents or events are we listening? The

Whose account of incidents or events are we listening? The cat’s? The Prime Minister’s? Yours? Mine? And which incidents or events are we telling? Can we skip any? Do they need to be in any order or can we skip around?

Do they need to be in any order or can we skip around?

I’m pretty sure the story of my cat’s life, beginning at the moment of her kitty-conception, her squirming birth, her sibling snuggles, being carried by the nape of her neck, the first time she kicked sand over her excrement, every lick of her tongue as she bathes her front left paw, well, it doesn’t make for riveting storytelling for most people.

But for some writers, this is the definition of story they use when they sit down to write their stories. I see these stories in my slushpile all the time.

Editors reject these stories quickly.

Let’s reject this definition.

A statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question.

Now we’re confining our story to the facts relevant to the situation in question.

We’re cutting out Fluffy’s whisker grooming, litter box habits, and kibble-snacking, and sticking to the moment when she saves the universe from aliens and resolves her internal conflict over betraying her owner.

Except we’re not.

Because we’re only dealing with facts.

Yes, you can write a story and only state the bare facts of what happens and doesn’t occur in a story.

We call that a very shallow point-of-view.

Instead of being deep inside your main character’s mind and emotions, the reader is left outside, unable to know what the character is thinking or feeling. The reader can only observe actions and guess at any motivations. Fact-only stories are the reading equivalent of stereo instructions.

Not a story either.

An amusing anecdote.

Setting aside that not all stories are humorous, what’s wrong with an anecdote being a story?

I like a good anecdote as much as the next person.

An anecdote doesn’t have a fully resolved character arc.

Sometimes an anecdote doesn’t even have a beginning, middle, and end. There’s no real progression from the beginning to the end. Yes, there is often some problem that is overcome, and this is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough to hold a reader’s attention for long.

Can you imagine a novel-length anecdote? Did you cringe? Exactly.

Did you cringe? Exactly.

A fictional narrative shorter than a novel; specifically a short story.

I wouldn’t like to be the person who informs George R.R. Martin that his novels don’t have a story. I’m pretty sure he’d have something to say about the intricate storyline of Game of Thrones.

Understandably, this definition is a classification system based on length, not story in the way we mean here. Length is how we differentiate story from

Length is how we differentiate story from novel from novella from novelette and so on.

The intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work.

Are story and plot the same thing?

If story and plot are interchangeable, why do we have different names for them?

Why don’t we call ourselves plot-tellers?

Story and plot are two separate and distinct things.

When you learn the difference as a writer, your work will jump to an entirely different level. Your ability to critique and review other works will be clearer. So this is the point in the lecture where you might need to get your cup of coffee because this is important.

Let me repeat:

Story and plot are not the same things.

Plot is the way the writer chooses to move her characters through specific events in time.

So what in the world is STORY?

Story is a structured master-event composed of smaller events that show a sweeping change carrying a character from an opening condition to an absolute and irreversible end condition.

In the following lessons, we’ll talk more about the structure of story, the smaller events that make up the overarching storyline itself, and the requirements for change.

We’ll also touch on the different kinds of story structure. But for now, for this course, this is the definition of

But for now, for this course, this is the definition of story we’ll be using.

Have a question? Ask me in the forum.

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