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Thread: Topic Tuesday #7: What is a Story?

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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Topic Tuesday #7: What is a Story?

    We have told stories to entertain and to learn from each other even before the first cave paintings. It’s been said that our brains are hard-wired for using stories to learn—that telling stories is how we relate to each other, share experiences, and draw out emotion. We know stories and we tell them to ourselves, our families, our friends, and our co-workers every day.

    What to you is the difference between the narration of sequential events and a story?

    What makes a story a story?
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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    *crickets*

    Does this topic seem too basic, too "well, duh" in some way? It isn't; and I never promised easy questions, anyway. I've spent a bit over six decades frantically hitchhiking from one book to another as though their worlds would end tomorrow and I'd miss out on experiencing those worlds. I visit SYW quite a bit, too. We have so many new writers and young writers—even as young as thirteen—who need someone to teach them the elements of story: those elements that transform "this happened, then this happened, then that happened" into an engaging story. You can do this; I know you can.
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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    I always think of this bit from E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel:

    A story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence — it simply tells us what happened and in what order. It is the time sequence which turns a random collection of episodes into a story. But chronological sequence is a very primitive feature and it can have only one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next. The only skill of a storyteller is their ability to wield the weapon of suspense, making the audience eager to discover the next event in the sequence.
    This emphasis on chronological sequence is a difference from real life. Our real lives also unfold through time but have the added feature that some experiences have greater value and meaning than others. Value has no role in a story, which is concerned with the life in time rather than the life by values. And because human lives measured by time consist of nothing more than the business of getting old, a story cannot sincerely lead to any conclusion but the grave.

    The basis of a novel is a story — the narration of events in the order they happened — but storytelling alone can never produce a great novel. The simple chronological narrative of War and Peace only manages to achieve some kind of greatness because it has extended over space as well as time, and the sense of space until it terrifies us is exhilarating, and leaves behind it an effect like music. After one has read War and Peace for a bit, great chords begin to sound, and we cannot exactly say what struck them. They come from the immense area of Russia, over which episodes and characters have been scattered, from the sum-total of bridges and frozen rivers, forests, roads, gardens, fields, which accumulate grandeur and sonority after we have passed them.
    Last edited by AW Admin; 01-18-2017 at 09:14 PM.

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    Making Einstein cry since 1994 Maggie Maxwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    *crickets*

    Does this topic seem too basic, too "well, duh" in some way? It isn't; and I never promised easy questions, anyway. I've spent a bit over six decades frantically hitchhiking from one book to another as though their worlds would end tomorrow and I'd miss out on experiencing those worlds. I visit SYW quite a bit, too. We have so many new writers and young writers—even as young as thirteen—who need someone to teach them the elements of story: those elements that transform "this happened, then this happened, then that happened" into an engaging story. You can do this; I know you can.
    The difficulty I'm having is that everything I think of, every element that makes me think "story," I can think of examples that don't fit. Characters? It's possible to make a story without one. Purpose, an end, a goal? No, not necessarily. It doesn't need length, or width, or depth. In fact, the only universal constant that I can think that makes a story a story is this: Is there someone, somewhere in the world, that is or will be entertained by it?
    Last edited by Maggie Maxwell; 01-18-2017 at 09:41 PM.
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    Emerging Anew tjwriter's Avatar
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    The magical weave of a story makes it different from a narration.

    I really don't know how to explain it better than that. The art of storytelling is a unique substance all its own.

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    practical experience, FTW buzhidao's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    *crickets*

    Does this topic seem too basic, too "well, duh" in some way?
    Quite the opposite, for me. I just don't know the answer, or even what my opinion of something approaching an answer is, really.

    The question is too hard.

    You can do this; I know you can.
    Uhmmmmmmm...

    I guess, to me, a story is a narration of some conflict, or a series of conflicts held together by theme, and the arc that surrounds it--the beginning, the conflict itself, the micro-conflicts that fold into it, the consequences, how it is resolved, or not resolved; what changes as a result. Or doesn't.

    ...? Is that a start?

    I have no idea if that works or not. Likely I have overlooked something obvious. But it's a shot. :p

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW buzhidao's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie Maxwell View Post
    The difficulty I'm having is that everything I think of, every element that makes me think "story," I can think of examples that don't fit. Characters? It's possible to make a story without one. Purpose, an end, a goal? No, not necessarily. It doesn't need length, or width, or depth. In fact, the only universal constant that I can think that makes a story a story is this: Is there someone, somewhere in the world, this is or will be entertained by it?
    Ooh. This is a better answer than mine... :p

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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie Maxwell View Post
    The difficulty I'm having is that everything I think of, every element that makes me think "story," I can think of examples that don't fit. Characters? It's possible to make a story without one. Purpose, an end, a goal? No, not necessarily. It doesn't need length, or width, or depth. In fact, the only universal constant that I can think that makes a story a story is this: Is there someone, somewhere in the world, this is or will be entertained by it?
    Ah, you're right, Maggie; it doesn't have anything to do with length, but depth and breadth? What makes a story entertaining, in your view?

    Quote Originally Posted by buzhidao View Post
    Quite the opposite, for me. I just don't know the answer, or even what my opinion of something approaching an answer is, really.

    The question is too hard.



    Uhmmmmmmm...

    I guess, to me, a story is a narration of some conflict, or a series of conflicts held together by theme, and the arc that surrounds it--the beginning, the conflict itself, the micro-conflicts that fold into it, the consequences, how it is resolved, or not resolved; what changes as a result. Or doesn't.

    ...? Is that a start?

    I have no idea if that works or not. Likely I have overlooked something obvious. But it's a shot. :p
    It's a great start, buz. Thank you.


    Take the passage Lisa quoted and apply it to this:

    John woke up. He brushed his teeth and showered, all the while planning his day. He had cereal for breakfast and left his house. It was going to be a great day. <the end>

    Is that a story? Could it become one by getting rid of the extraneous, mind-numbing "stuff" and building suspense for the reader who now has the expectation it's not going to be such a great day, after all? How would you go about that?
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    Writer Beware's Faithful Igor Richard White's Avatar
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    To me, (and possibly only me), a story exists to entertain the reader/listener. They should be going, "And what happens next?"

    Lessons, morality, deep psychological meanings? Those are nice but completely tangential to the idea of a story, and if they exist, should come about naturally as you're telling the story.

    There's a big difference between a story and a lecture, a story and a lesson, and a story and a sermon. Each of these have their place, but I'm by nature a story teller. Even when I was teaching in the military, I found if I could tell a story that highlighted what we'd covered in class, (maybe an anecdote about something that had happened when I was a junior enlisted but it had something to do with the point of the lesson), the "lesson" stuck better with my class than if I simply read the lecture, covered the examples, and then sent them off with their workbooks.

    I take that focus into my writing and reading. Sure, I don't mind reading to learn (love histories and biographies), but mostly I read to be entertained. I remember reading the last page of "The Way of the Pilgrim" by Gordon Dickson and feeling like someone punched me in the gut because not only had I really gotten into the story he was telling (entertained), but when the point he was trying to subtlety make throughout the book hit ... wow!

    I also remember reading some books and the author's agenda was so obvious, it became work to continue -- the fun was sucked right out of the book because they had to make their point. (I get the same way with movies and TV sometimes too.) The storyteller's here failed to differentiate between story and sermon, even though they wrapped it in a fantasy setting.

    So, I don't write with the idea that I'm telling some great universal truth or making a point to promote X or Y. I just write stories that amuse me, interest me, make me want to know "and what happens next?", and if I'm successful, other people feel the same way.

    If they learn some lesson or I stumble over a great truth, that's simply gravy and completely unintentional.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    *crickets*

    Does this topic seem too basic, too "well, duh" in some way? It isn't; and I never promised easy questions, anyway. I've spent a bit over six decades frantically hitchhiking from one book to another as though their worlds would end tomorrow and I'd miss out on experiencing those worlds. I visit SYW quite a bit, too. We have so many new writers and young writers—even as young as thirteen—who need someone to teach them the elements of story: those elements that transform "this happened, then this happened, then that happened" into an engaging story. You can do this; I know you can.
    It's the opposite for me! I find the question very hard, and this is something that I particularly struggle with in my writing.

    I tend to gravitate toward very character-driven stories, both as a reader and a writer. I also gravitate more toward internal conflicts.

    Part of the challenge, I think, is that "story" and "plot" are a little different. I find it quite easy to come up with a basic story, but sometimes it's hard to translate that into action and conflict. Particularly as a fantasy and science fiction writer, I struggled when I was younger because the types of sci-fi and fantasy I was exposed to was much more plot-driven. So some of my early efforts suffer from forced efforts to use the sorts of events and conflicts you might see in, say, Star Wars. Becoming more well-read (and well-watched) in my genres has helped a lot, because it's given me more examples of how plots are structured in stories that are closer to my style.
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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW buzhidao's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    It's a great start, buz. Thank you.


    Take the passage Lisa quoted and apply it to this:

    John woke up. He brushed his teeth and showered, all the while planning his day. He had cereal for breakfast and left his house. It was going to be a great day. <the end>

    Is that a story? Could it become one by getting rid of the extraneous, mind-numbing "stuff" and building suspense for the reader who now has the expectation it's not going to be such a great day, after all? How would you go about that?
    I wouldn't call it a story, offhand. But I might also be wrong, and automatically second-guess myself. Maybe it is, in fact, a story. Just not a good one.

    If a story is a chronological narrative of events, then yes, that's a story, and I'd accept that as a simple definition--say, in the same way I might say some clotted old dead blood cells and plasma in a tube is "blood," though it's not functional as such :p

    I suppose if you're asking about what makes a functional story, then...yes, any number of things could be done to it via revision, but I'd probably alter the events. I don't know if that's the sort of thing you mean?

    John woke up, and another crack formed in the window. He brushed his teeth and showered, and the cracks followed him, spidering across the mirror and tiles. He had cereal for breakfast, eating out of a paper bowl--ceramics did not last long in his presence--and left his house.

    The cracks followed.

    It was going to be a great day. <the end>
    Or I could alter his inner life:


    John woke up thinking of the corpse under his bed.

    He brushed his teeth and showered. The corpse under his bed needed cleansing, too, he remembered, and thought he ought to buy baby shampoo at the store and some leather conditioner. Perhaps whitening strips for the teeth; the teeth were a bit off-color.

    He had cereal for breakfast and left his house, leaving the window open to give the corpse a bit of fresh air with the view.

    It was going to be a great day.
    Or something simpler...

    John woke up. He brushed his teeth and showered, and left his house. It was going to be a great day.

    For everyone else.

    The day had something else in mind for John.
    But, without altering the content significantly? I'm not sure...

    And yet...all of these are really the start of a story, aren't they? Rather than a whole thing? Or can they be whole because I say so?

    Truly, I'm not sure. *floops uselessly*

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    We have told stories to entertain and to learn from each other even before the first cave paintings. It’s been said that our brains are hard-wired for using stories to learn—that telling stories is how we relate to each other, share experiences, and draw out emotion. We know stories and we tell them to ourselves, our families, our friends, and our co-workers every day.

    What to you is the difference between the narration of sequential events and a story?

    What makes a story a story?
    The best stories ask questions, I think. Sometimes they answer that question, or show the effect of it, and sometimes they let the reader answer it, and sometimes they do all the above.

    I think a narration of sequential events can still be a story, simply because I'm not sure what else to call it and sometimes narrating events is important (not usually the point of fiction, though), but there's no question to ponder in them; it's simply a relaying of facts.

    I think oral history in the form of recited epics might blur that line of question/not question.

    But, I feel like I don't really have the depth of experience and knowledge to adequately answer this question. It's the kind that could be turned into a thesis.

  13. #13
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Okay, fair enough; you all make good points. *Let's bring it down a notch or two, Ari, and be clear for a change.*

    We're writers, so we're talking salable fiction for the moment, those of us who wish to be published. Agents, editors, and (ultimately) our readers want an engaging or entertaining story.

    • We have an MC, whose story we're telling. [check]
    • Our MC has to have a goal, which may or may not change over the course of the story. [check]
    • There must be an obstacle or obstacles to reaching that goal (conflict—internal and/or external). [check]
    • There is always a theme, whether planned or discovered while writing; could be something as simple and relatable as, "See, it's not just you; the course of true love never did run smoothly.*) [check]



    Those and a handful of other elements propel the story to resolution—elements that make your readers want to know more. What are the techniques you use for transforming a linear chain of events into a story that makes your readers NEED to keep turning the pages far into the night?
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  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    What are the techniques you use for transforming a linear chain of events into a story that makes your readers NEED to keep turning the pages far into the night?
    This isn't something I do consciously, and I'm not sure how well I do it, but in trying to deconstruct my subconscious tendencies, I think it's mostly about cultivating emotional connection to the character. Sass to make the reader smile, heartbreak to make them cry, something unconventional to make them wonder, danger to make them care, etc. There's probably other things too. But a lot of times when I'm editing, assuming all the other factors you mentioned are in place--the question is always, "how can I make this more interesting?" and the answer thus far as been to fold more emotion in, whether subtly or overtly.

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    [insert witty title here] KateH's Avatar
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    This is a very tough question! To me, the difference between a sequence of events and a story is that a story has a shape. Which is...vague, I know. To use an example, the musical Hamilton is about the life of Alexander Hamilton. To show us everything in Hamilton's life in chronological order would be incredibly dull and incredibly long. What the musical's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has so skilfully done is to choose what parts of that long sequence of events to show, and bring meaning and structure to it. Themes are woven in throughout the musical. Certain lines return again and again, gaining new meanings as they're placed in different contexts. The characters have arcs, and grow and change throughout the story. Events are condensed where necessary to keep the plot moving, and at times the plot isn't chronological (there's a point in the musical where we 'rewind' to see an event from another character's perspective, and it adds a whole new layer of tension to the story). The life of Alexander Hamilton is a sequence of events. The musical tells a story.

    That, to me, is what makes a story. It's about choosing what you tell and what you leave out, what fits with the themes of your story, what creates tension, what makes us invested in the characters and the plot.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    What are the techniques you use for transforming a linear chain of events into a story that makes your readers NEED to keep turning the pages far into the night?
    This is something I've struggled with a lot myself, but in the process of revising my current novel I think I'm slowly learning more about story. Part of what makes readers want to keep reading is a sense that the story is actually going somewhere. My first draft suffered because events weren't sequenced well - there was no feeling that each event built on the one before. Even when individual scenes were full of action and tension, the story still felt dull because it didn't seem to be progressing. My revisions have focused on building a logical chain of events, where each scene builds on what's already happened, and the main character is continually working towards their goal. The story still needs lots of work, but it feels less like a string of events and more like a story now.

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    All about that action, boss. ElaineA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silva View Post
    This isn't something I do consciously, and I'm not sure how well I do it, but in trying to deconstruct my subconscious tendencies, I think it's mostly about cultivating emotional connection to the character.
    This is close to my thoughts. I want to call it engagement, because I think it's more than just emotion. There's a thread in the Novel forum talking about creating an emotional connection to your characters. I think that element is required for "story" and not required for a narration of time-connected events.

    HOW that's done...well. Open the toolbox. There are storycraft elements--plot, theme, character, etc--and then, I think, there's the novelist's version of non-verbal cues. If we equate it to a good storyteller around a campfire, what things make us lean forward? Word choice, speed (fast talking and strategic pauses, both), volume, glances around the crowd, facial expression, physical movement. If I step back in "writer" mode, I can recognize those same kind of elements when I'm reading a book I'm fully engaged with. I can recognize the author manipulating strict telling into something more, through the written equivalents of oral storytelling elements.

    If that makes any sense...I might have just made a circular argument, there, heh
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    practical experience, FTW Jade A's Avatar
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    In my view, anything with a connecting thread is a story. It can be fragile, or tangled, but if the thread is there, it's a story. But I am aware that that's a very loose view of things.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    Those and a handful of other elements propel the story to resolution—elements that make your readers want to know more. What are the techniques you use for transforming a linear chain of events into a story that makes your readers NEED to keep turning the pages far into the night?
    It's all about pacing. If something is happening slowly, compress it into a paragraph or two. We don't need to know what your MC had for breakfast, unless it turns out that the antagonist can't use his death laser on people who just had pancakes. If a scene is interesting, stretch it out. Time doesn't need to be stagnant in a story. It can stretch or shrink. Just think about how much slower the last few hours of work go than your lunch break. Our perception of time isn't perfect, and your protagonist's doesn't have to be either.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by ElaineA View Post
    This is close to my thoughts. I want to call it engagement, because I think it's more than just emotion. There's a thread in the Novel forum talking about creating an emotional connection to your characters. I think that element is required for "story" and not required for a narration of time-connected events.

    HOW that's done...well. Open the toolbox. There are storycraft elements--plot, theme, character, etc--and then, I think, there's the novelist's version of non-verbal cues. If we equate it to a good storyteller around a campfire, what things make us lean forward? Word choice, speed (fast talking and strategic pauses, both), volume, glances around the crowd, facial expression, physical movement. If I step back in "writer" mode, I can recognize those same kind of elements when I'm reading a book I'm fully engaged with. I can recognize the author manipulating strict telling into something more, through the written equivalents of oral storytelling elements.

    If that makes any sense...I might have just made a circular argument, there, heh
    Right, there's creating emotion in the audience through how the story is told, which is engagement (I think that's a good term) via the narrator, and then there's creating emotion in the audience via the character's actions/emotions and how they identify with them, which, perhaps, is engagement via the character. Both are important.

    And emotion does have a too specific context for some people, which may make it an unhelpful term. When I first started trying to give my characters more interesting actions and emotions, I think I leaned too far into the realm of internal dialogue. Lots of angry or angsty brain rumblings, since both of my MCs are kind of the irritable type. I try to bring it out more in their actions now, and give them something that makes me chuckle, rather than making me want to roll my eyes and tell them to stop moaning and do something already.

  19. #19
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    The following is purely opinion. This question is a tad hard to answer (there's so much one could say!)

    A story is defined by character growth. In turn, character growth derives from a variety of topics that include, but aren't limited to, themes, plot points, etc. While this not be the definition (as I mentioned, this is purely opinion) it's an important element I think every story needs to exist.

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  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW sohalt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    What to you is the difference between the narration of sequential events and a story?
    Daniel Kahnemann would say, causal attribution.

    "This, then that, then that, and then that" is a random sequence of events.

    "This, and then, so that, but then" is a story.

    Of course that doesn't mean a story can't have a place for random elements. Deus ex machina tends to get eyerolls nowadays, but that's not to say that something employing this device is less of a story.

    Still, even deus ex machina is random only on a surface level. If the god from the machine saves the deserving, it's poetic justice. If he helps evil triumph, that's because its victims were too pure for this world. If it's rocks fall, everyone dies, we'll find some deeper reason for that too.

    Because the truth is, we'll read the 'so"s and "but"s, whether the author spells them out or not. The story is made by the reader, and the reader can't help it. That's just how our mind works.

    (I've got a degree in English, I can read a story into a grocery list. Someone else might need a bit more priming to trigger story mode, but something as simple as starting with 'once upon a time" would probably do. Title it 'story", and your readers will see it as a story. They might not find it terribly plausible, or compelling, but they"ll see it allright. Not seeing is would be the harder feat.)

    Of course, Daniel Kahneman is psychologist, not a writer of fiction. Still, I couldn't think of anything to add.

    I'm currently reading 'Thinking Fast and Slow' about how people generally don't get statistics, because our mind just isn't set up to handle this form of information. We either process it as a story (inevitably distorting the facts, by adding sos and buts where there are none), or we won't process it at all.

    At a competition, ski jumpers jump twice, and you can notice a pattern: if they excelled at the first jump, the second one will be worse. If the fucked up the first jump, they second one will be better.

    Of course the announcers have noticed that, and the make the corresponding predictions: he did very well at the first jump, now the expectations are raised, they will tell you, he will get nervous and we should expect him to do worse in the next round. Or, she missed the sweet spot, but at at least now the pressure is off, watch her soar the next time. That's a story.

    Daniel Kahnemann would say, of course, the excellent first jump had a great element of luck in it (and the messed up first jump a great element of bad luck), and there's no reason whatsoever to assume that random element will remain the same for the next round, so the most likely outcome is regression to the mean. That's statistics.

    And that second way of thinking, it doesn't come naturally. Kahneman has a whole chapter about how long it took scientists to figure out regression to the mean, and how they often they still forget about it, in spite of having taking all the required statistics classes at some point. We generally don't know how to make sense of facts without turning them into a story.

    In conclusion, a story is anything that makes some sort of sense.

    What makes some stories more powerful than others, however, that's another question.
    Last edited by sohalt; 04-28-2017 at 11:15 PM.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    We have told stories to entertain and to learn from each other even before the first cave paintings. It’s been said that our brains are hard-wired for using stories to learn—that telling stories is how we relate to each other, share experiences, and draw out emotion. We know stories and we tell them to ourselves, our families, our friends, and our co-workers every day.

    What to you is the difference between the narration of sequential events and a story?

    What makes a story a story?
    I think a story generally needs there to be a goal, and to introduce obstacles of some kind, or a conflict that needs to be overcome for a protagonist to achieve that goal.

    So someone brushing their teeth and thinking about what a fine day they were going to have isn't really a story, as such. But if he's making more specific plans (say he's about to go on a date that he's been anticipating greatly) and something gets in his way (say someone has replaced his toothpaste with a tube of preparation H), and he needs to find out how and why and to get some actual toothpaste while the clock is ticking for when he has to meet his date somewhere (and, omg, his phone is dead, so how does he let his date know he'll be late), then maybe we have the rudiments of one. Not a very interesting or good story, maybe. But there are ways to make even the most mundane things interesting or amusing.

    Think of the difference between someone who tells you about their day in a dull, meaningless way: "And then I did this, and this, and this," vs someone who relates a series of events in a way that keeps you listening because you want to find out what happens next. The latter kind of narrator tends to incorporate goals, conflict, obstacles and tension into things.

    There are all manner of exceptions to every rule, though. I'm sure there are examples of stories where nothing much happens and where there is little to no conflict or obstacles to overcome, and maybe even ones without a protagonist. Sometimes a story can be very simple in structure. I can think of a SF story that's all dialog with one person convincing another of something inconceivable (to them) with a punch at the end that explains why humans haven't encountered aliens.

    I stand in awe of people who can write good flash fiction or conceptual stories that are short and simple but still intriguing. When I try, they always end up being either forced or too trite and inconsequential to be of interest.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 04-28-2017 at 11:39 PM.
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  22. #22
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie Maxwell View Post
    The difficulty I'm having is that everything I think of, every element that makes me think "story," I can think of examples that don't fit. Characters? It's possible to make a story without one. Purpose, an end, a goal? No, not necessarily.
    I'm really curious to hear your example of a story without characters. Likewise a story without a purpose, end or goal.


    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie Maxwell View Post
    ... the only universal constant that I can think that makes a story a story is this: Is there someone, somewhere in the world, that is or will be entertained by it?
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  23. #23
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    How about change? In order for it to be a story there has to be change: change in the heart and mind of the character, change in their circumstances (both personal stakes), change in the world around them (rising stakes), change in the world (greater stakes).
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  24. #24
    Making Einstein cry since 1994 Maggie Maxwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Layla Nahar View Post
    I'm really curious to hear your example of a story without characters. Likewise a story without a purpose, end or goal.
    Mostly, I was thinking about what can be done with flash fiction or slice of life. You can write a story about a setting, with no person ever seen. You can tell about a run-down house in the woods and what it says about the person who once lived there, but never show a single living thing. You can write stories that are cyclical, so that someone could read to the end, go back, and restart it and it would continue smoothly forever (like a certain kids show song that we all love to hate). I don't have an example in mind at the moment for a story without a goal or purpose, but I'm sure someone somewhere in time has come up with one. A story has the potential for anything, and that anything could, theoretically, be nothing.
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  25. #25
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    I agree with Roxxsmom that story needs a character, with a goal, and an obstacle between the character and the goal. To me, two more features flow from these: a story has suspense, because until we read it, we don't know exactly how the character will handle the obstacle. And, echoing Ari, there is character growth, which comes from facing an obstacle, even if that growth is becoming more set in one's ways after failure.

    Recently I've been writing pieces that straddle the categories of free verse and flash fiction, so I've been reading opinions about what makes a story versus a poem. I'm persuaded that the heart of story is character growth, and in contrast, the heart of poetry is imagery. Maggie, to me, the exceptions you're thinking of are art, art created with words, but not stories.

    I've appreciated the thread, and I'm open to being corrected. Thanks all.
    Last edited by Anna Iguana; 04-30-2017 at 10:41 PM.

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