Sunday, June 19, 2011

What is Story?

One writer said: "Story is about character development, it's about the connection between the reader and the protagonist." Another author said, "It's about what happens." Yet another said, "it's the connection between author and reader."

And all are right.

I recently wrote about story when putting together an introductory unit for a class I am constructing with Joe Ponepinto on creative writing. As I started constructing the introductory material, I stopped and considered what a nebulous term it was.

Everyone story , intuitively, but when it comes to defining the term the responses are often amazingly varied. And yet within the different answers is the heart of the definition.

To put it simply, "story is the aggregate of plot, character development, theme, and setting." Rather a sterile description. However, it helps us understand the phrase "that was a bad story." For usually when the statement is elaborated upon, we hear that the reason the story was bad was because the author failed in developing character or the plot was poorly constructed. Or perhaps the parts simply failed to gel as a whole.

And yet, the idea of story in terms of elements of writing still doesn't do the concept justice. Rather, one needs to go back to the most elemental basis of story, the idea of the communication of culture and knowledge between generations and the critical fulfillment of a need for the writer to connect and to share with an audience on an primitive level. This is the essence of story. It is the force that captured the hunter who held sway around a campfire before there was written word. It is the force that guided the hand of the artist who painted his emotions and ideas on the wall of a cave.

Story is our shared identity, and without it, we are lost.


Charles Gramlich said...

I think I agree. I don't often analyze it that carefully.

Joe Ponepinto said...

And as much as story is the teller's need to communicate his experience, it is also the listener/reader's need to hear it, to incorporate that experience into hers. Story is how people have always passed on and strengthened a shared culture and values. In our incredibly diverse and multifaceted society, it helps explain why so many different types of story are popular today, from 3D animation movies to commercial fiction to micro flash written and read on handheld wireless devices.