Mark Terry

Thursday, February 05, 2009

What Is Story?

February 5, 2009
One of this blog's readers recently asked me:

What is the purpose of a story?  We can keep it in the fiction world.  But seriously what are the rules for a story?  Obviously they are for entertainment, and should have a beginning, middle, and end.  But what are the elements, and ingredients, that you should try to achieve for, when writing them?  Sometimes I think its a resolution to x problem, but that's not always the case.  

The more I think about this question, the more complex, and confused I get.  Maybe you can shed some light for me.

This is such a huge topic, one with no right answers. I could write about how the human brain physiologically has "narrative memory" and how we just naturally try to place the events of the world into a narrative structure. I could talk about Joseph Campbell's hero structure (recommended reading for all writers, I suspect, although I came to it reluctantly). Fundamentally I often think it comes down to: interesting people doing interesting things, which certainly gives a lot of leeway for interpretation.

I'm going to leave a Stephen King quote and then ask this wonderful community of readers and writers to give Ben your thoughts on the subject.

Mr. King said: "...I still see stories as a great thing, something which not only enhances lives but actually saves them. Nor am I speaking metaphorically. Good writing--good stories--are the imagination's firing pin, and the purpose of the imagination, I believe, is to offer us solace and shelter from situations and life-passages which would otherwise prove unendurable."

I'm interested in your thoughts.

Mark Terry


Blogger Jude Hardin said...

The intense desires of opposing forces.

5:52 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Interesting. Yes, whether it's the characters or good and evil or countries or whatever. I can see that.

6:14 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

Interesting way to put it, Jude.

I'm with Mr. King in that I believe Story is the ultimate security blanket. It's a respite of control within chaos.

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Just after I got out of college, I picked up a book called THE ART OF FICTION, by John Gardner. In it, he explains the story arc, and what the point of writing a story is all about. I highly recommend that book as a starting point for understanding what "story" is, and why we should bother writing one.

10:19 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

King said it best. This is how I write my stories:

Hero/ine has the worst day of his/her life. (Let's use she.) She finds the strength to hang on. Things get worse. She finds more hope and more strength. Things keep getting worse, and she keeps finding more hope and strength. Finally, things get as worse as they possibly could be with NO HOPE: every possible means of winning has been taken from her. And yet, she finds a way to triumph and live happily ever after.

11:06 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

I have THE ART OF FICTION but I haven't read it in forever. Sounds like I better put it on my study list. Alongside Aristotle's Poetics.

I'm feeling the need to go back to basics.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I've never read Gardner's book. Maybe I should read it. Is he the same John Gardner that wrote the James Bond books after Ian Fleming died, or is that a different John Gardner?

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Zoe Winters said...

I think stories that make you feel good really can change your life, because there is a part of the brain that doesn't know the difference in real and imagined experiences. Which is why all the things we watch and read and listen to have such a fundamental impact on who we become.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...


Different John Gardner.

The Art of Fiction is kind of a heavy read, but worth it I think, if for no other reason than to get the references people make to it all the time.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Different John Gardner is right. As far as I could tell, he was a professor whose own fiction wasn't that great. He wrote the story of Beowulf from the monster's perspective (called GRENDEL, I believe), and another book that I couldn't get through, sadly.

But his writing advice, thick as it is, was top-notch.

11:31 AM  
Blogger ben said...

Thanks Mark, and everyone who has contributed. You guys have given me a better understanding. I will definitely put "The Art of Fiction" on my wish list.


2:50 PM  

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