What Is a Story?

STORY

Writing or telling a STORY is different from relaying an incident or event in several ways. For example:

I went to the grocery store yesterday. I drove there in my little Kia. I found a parking place on the very last row. It was good exercise getting into the store. I walked up and down the aisles searching for the items on my list. I found everything but the special brand of gluten-free flour I use.

Finally, after asking several people and searching for fifteen minutes I found it.

I stood in line then paid for my items.

Then I put them in my car and drove home. Of course, I put everything away in the cupboards and fridge before I started baking.

THAT IS AN INCIDENT. IT IS NOT A STORY. Why not?

Let’s take a look at the key elements of story for this event.

  1. There is a main character (me). But I don’t sound very interesting, do I? I didn’t show you anything about myself. Who I am. What I think. How I feel.
  2. I am going somewhere; that could be interpreted as a goal, I suppose. But I don’t show you why I’m going, or why it is important to me. Midway in the incident I tell you I searched for the gluten-free flour. But, again, there’s no motive behind it. There is no emotion attached to it. I don’t show you how much I want or need that flour, or why.
  3. There is a series of events. I do this, then this, then this. But a plot is more than a series of events.

*A plot is a series of events related by cause and effect. One thing leads to another, or, has an impact on another. Also, those events affect or change the main character.*

Have I shown the reader how driving, parking, entering, searching, finding, paying, driving home affected me? Changed me or my day?

4. This incident contains no emotional rise and fall—no dramatic arc. I just listed off the things I did on my trip to the store

TRY THIS RETELLING. CAN YOU SPOT THE FOUR ELEMENTS?

Yesterday I went to the grocery store. I was baking a cake for my sister’s birthday and I had to have some flour. Gluten-free, of course. She can’t tolerate gluten. So, I grabbed my purse and hopped into my little Kia. Thank goodness I have a rear camera. I backed out of the driveway just as an SUV whizzed around the curb.

Whew! Thank goodness for brakes.

The store was packed so I had to park in the very last row. But, I have to admit, it was good exercise. Just cut into my time. That cake needed to be ready by 5:00.

I jogged up and down the aisles. Found the other stuff on my list with no problem but, where was that flour? I found the other gluten-free stuff. But I know from past mistakes that it has to be that one certain brand, or the cake could flop.

I asked for help. The guy said, “What’s gluten-free?” I found a lady putting away stock. She searched on her electronic thingy and said, “We don’t carry that brand.”

“Yes, you do. I’ve bought it here before!” I was getting a little stressed. I didn’t have time to go to another store.

Another customer overheard us. “Oh, I think I saw that at the end of a row. The package is blue, right?”

“Right!”

“It was over there. Aisle 6, I think.”

“Thank you!” I said and zoomed off. I circled aisle 6 like three times and didn’t see it. Then another clerk asked if he could help me. I explained the situation.

“Follow me,” he said. He walked two aisles over and bent down to the bottom shelf.

“Is this it?” He pulled a bag from way in the back of the shelf.

“Yes! Thank you!” I shouted as I gave that kid a hug.

“Uh…you’re welcomed.”

I dashed up to the check out, paid for my stuff, and drove home singing all the way. Oh, and watching out for SUVs whizzing around curves.

Way more interesting, right? Why? Let’s look at those four elements again.

  1. The main character is much more interesting. I show enough details that you can figure out a little about me and care about me.
  2. I have a mission—an urgent mission with a deadline.
  3. Things keep happening to block my mission. One thing leads to the next thing. Now you really care about that flour, don’t you?
  4. This STORY has emotion that rises and falls. The STORY is moving—going somewhere—but on a curvy, hilly road.

THIS is what makes a STORY.

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