A Definition of Story

Posted on 01 July 2009

Some declaim that story is about conflict and suffering. You will hear this being aphoristically spoken of by filmmakers.

Our current culture has made an idol of violence. Conflict seems to inevitably lead to it, even though that is seldom our experience in every day life. Violence makes films, novels, computer games, etc thrilling and bankable roller-coaster rides. Stories involving violence will inevitably include suffering.  It is the threat of suffering that creates tension and drama in these cases.

“(Storytelling) represents and recreates (a people’s) shared cosmology or model for the manner in which the universe works.”

Norma J. Livo and Sandra A. Rietz, Storytelling: Process & Practice [Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, Inc, 1986] p. 14

I’m not saying, don’t tell stories using violence. We need to be able to hold a mirror up to society and to the contents of our own hearts, which often includes violence. I am saying that we need to be aware other stories can be told, particularly for those of us writing comedy.

We have the opportunity to expand the spectrum of how people experience their lives. Otherwise, we as a culture will have a difficult time rising above our own violence to something better—a world of peaceful interactions. You’ve got to believe something better is possible before you are going to take the steps to make it a reality. Our stories, and most especially our humorous ones, makes this possible. Humorous stories have to contain at least an element of hope and/or humanity, or they become solely tragedies.

Stories are about change. The greater the change, the greater the challenges getting there, the greater the effort to achieve the change, the more meaningful the story will seem to its audience. Mind you, even small changes can be
interesting, thought-provoking, and heart-warming.

  • Changes
  • Challenges
  • Mental, physical, and emotional efforts

Conflict will still have a place in these stories, and possibly even violence, but these will not be what makes the stories significant, rather what becomes of the people/characters on their particular journeys.

Peace and kindness,


1 Response to A Definition of Story

  • Lori Landay says:

    Hi Katherine, I just wanted to thank you for your excellent article Story Shapes, which I have been teaching for 10 years now. I’m preparing for today’s class and thought I would look you up and am so glad to see the awesome things you are doing. Hooray!!!

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