Friday, July 15, 2011

What's the Story Anyway?

Many times in my reading and learning about the art of writing I stumble across people who define story as conterminous with plot. I feel this can be a limiting view of story and in the end is harmful to the 'long view' for our writing.

1.Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.

1.the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.

1.a narration of a chain of events told or written in prose or verse.
If you stick to these narrow definitions, Plot=Story; but we are missing one critical element here. All fiction is a narration from the lips of a storyteller - you the writer. An interesting thing happens to our idea of story when we consider the root meanings and origins of narration:

early 15c., from O.Fr. narration  "a relating, recounting, narrating," from L. narrationem  (nom. narratio ), from narrare  "to tell, relate, recount, explain," lit. "to make acquainted with,"

It is this last idea that is critical to how we view story. I find it helpful to think of if this way: I am a storyteller standing on a stage - I must let my audience know not only what happened, but also how, why, and to whom. Everything we write is an effort to make our readers acquainted with our characters, our themes, our ideas, our fictional events - in short, our stories. By keeping the whole tapestry of Story in our minds we will allow our readers to become acquainted with the entirety of our fictional world.

How do you view story?


Doug Hagler said...

I think that Plot is one step removed, one step into the abstract, away from Story. A Plot is a plan, a schematic, something you can diagram on a dry-erase board.

Same with Character, which is one step abstracted from Person. A Character has attributes you can list - you could fill out a character sheet.

For both Story and Person, though, you can only experience them. They exist as unabstracted as possible. You experience a Person. You experience Story.

I think it's telling that your example is presenting something on a stage - a performance piece exists only as long as the performance exists. A play or a musical performance is like a sand mandala - it is only present for a moment before it is gone. You can record it and replay the recording, but a recording is not the same as a live performance. A photograph of the sand mandala is not the sand mandala.

The Plot is not the Story. The Character is not the Person.

thebloodfiend said...

I completely agree. Story /=/ plot. While they compliment each other to create a novel, they are not the same thing.

Laura said...

I think story is so much more than plot. Of course there are books with no plot. Experimental stories and things. But story is when someone breathes life into a plot and makes it so much more than getting from point A to B. I think you are write. What makes plot a story is the POV of the storyteller. Great post:)