Story 1 : What the hell is it?

So much has been written on the subject of story, and it seems so little actually said. The simplest definition is also the most profound. Though going on to explain this definition could fill volumes.

So … what is it?

Story = beginning + middle + end.

Full stop.

Something starts, something develops, something finishes.

There’s an old saying I’ve heard applied to any number of endeavours, and now I’m applying it to this one; when you first start writing you think a story is just a beginning, a middle and an end. The more you write the more you see that a story isn’t as simple as all that. But when you come to master your writing you see, once again, that a story really is just as straight forward as a beginning, a middle and an end.

Perhaps more pertinent than defining what a story is, is coming to grips with why it’s important.

Humans storify (storyfy, storiefy … it’s a new verb, so I guess the spelling is open to interpretation) pretty much everything in their lives. They give it a story structure even when it clearly doesn’t have one. In fact, it rarely has one.

Here’s a real life example:

“I missed the number seven bus by, like, not even 30 seconds. The driver waved to me as he sailed past. I smiled and waved back. Why not? I was already screwed. Might as well enjoy it. It was ten minutes before the next one, which of course put me on the train after the one responsible employees ought to take, which in turn got me to work a full 20 minutes late for the meeting with the big boss. He smiled at me as he slid my request for a raise onto the ‘pending’ stack. In other words: try me again next year. Enough said.”

It’s got the basics; a beginning point, a development, a closure. It’s got history and foreshadowing and theme.

But … it just didn’t happen like that.

To get real life events to give us that all-so-familiar and fulfilling story feeling, at least three major things have to happen; omission, exaggeration, invention. We have to omit all the details of the bus and train rides – likewise the walk to the meeting room, the colour of the walls, the tightness of my socks and the way my hair was combed. Useless details. We have to exaggerate the weight that coming late for this important meeting had. My boss is a stickler for rules, but he’s not a horse’s arse – even he comes late some days. And we have to invent a waving bus driver if we want to foreshadow the importance of events to come.

And the list of the ways we doctor reality to deliver story goes on, and on, and on.

Crack open the basics and you see that this is a HUGE topic. And I haven’t even touched on why the telling of stories is so important to us. But I will, and a pile of other juicy facts besides.

Keep reading this blog.

Until next time, here’s a little homework for the unconvinced and the adventurous alike: listen. Listen to people telling their stories. And it doesn’t matter what the subject is – from the kid’s homework to the twenty dollar note they found in the gutter – it’ll always have the same structure. They may start telling it in the middle or even at the end, but they’ll do this for a reason – as you’ll see.

The form is so ubiquitous it’s remarkable. Just prove me wrong. And if you can’t, why not share your listening experiences here.

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