1. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why is "story" of such paramount importance?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by minstrel, Aug 20, 2016.

    This is an outgrowth of the "why kill your darlings" thread.

    So many people say we must kill our darlings, and do various other things, because they get in the way of the "story." (What, exactly, is the "story," anyway?)

    I submit that there's more to a novel than its mere story. There's theme, atmosphere, depth of character, style (not merely the writer's choice of words, but the style of the writer's thought and the light it shines on the rest of the material), and so on. From where I sit, "story" is simply puppets enacting a plot, usually in the context of a strong three-act structure.

    For me, there are many reasons to read a good novel, and story is only one of them - perhaps not even the most important of them.

    For years, my signature on this forum has been "Don't bore the reader." Readers can be interested, fascinated, and entertained by all sorts of aspects of a novel, not just the story.

    Discuss! :)
     
  2. theamorset
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    theamorset Contributing Member

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    I think the story is pretty important. I think without a good story, it' not going to fly for a lot of people, no matter how good the atmosphere, or anything else, is.
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Time for my standard "it depends on genre/author goals" post?

    I think the number of readers who care about style, prose, etc. is smaller than the number of readers who just want to be told a story. Sure, it's a bonus if the story is told with beautiful language, but I really think "the masses" focus on the story. Or possibly the characterization...

    So if an author is writing for "the masses" I think the author should focus on story/characterization. But if an author is writing for herself, or for a literary market, or for some other goal that demands more attention to language, theme, etc.--then the author should focus on that.

    I know, I know... "Faith, here's an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale..."
     
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  4. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Maybe I'm on a different wavelength, but I always thought that 'story' encompassed most of the things the OP mentioned (theme, atmosphere, depth of character +/ style). Story is a product of plot, characters, setting and theme: a meaningful account of events happening to people in a particular time and place. The language used itself isn't story, but it does influence it (mood/atmosphere/style --> characterisation, setting, theme). Language is the conduit through which the story flows.

    A tap (faucet) may be beautifully polished stainless steel, but if the water that comes out is flocculent and smells of sulphur, I won't use that tap much. If soft-serve icecream flows, I'll use it all the time. But if the tap is delapidated, maybe the icecream tastes of rust...
     
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  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    For sure - and this ties in to a question I asked, but didn't get answered, in the other thread. What does "story" mean? Just plot, or everything that contributes to a meaningful reading experience?
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Isn't the purpose of theme, atmosphere, depth of character and style to serve the story? Theme may underlie it. Atmosphere serves to orient the reader to time, place and mood. Depth of character allows the reader to care about the protagonist. Style holds the reader's interest. But if the story itself is unsatisfying, will anyone really care about the rest?
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So how are you defining "story" for this? A synonym for "plot", or is there more to it?
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Who said anything about an unsatisfying story? My contention is that you shouldn't get rid of theme, atmosphere, etc. when it serves the story or is interesting or fascinating in and of itself. So a writer who cares about such things - who is trying to convey such things to the reader - should include those things, and do so as best they can.

    There's a lot more to a great novel than the story it tells.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I too feel the need for a definition of "story" in this context. Just plot?

    I don't care that much about plot, for plot's sake. I care about characters. Plot stirs up the anthill that the characters live in, and makes them do interesting things.
     
  10. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    So... is your argument that we shouldn't get rid of things that add to the experience of reading? Because yes. Absolutely.

    Now if it was only possible to write something everyone agreed added to their experience, we'd be on to a winner.
     
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  11. IcyEthics
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    IcyEthics Member

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    What are you telling if not a story? A story is the framework you're building upon, with style, theme and atmosphere, at least how I see it. The basis of a good piece of writing seems to me to be the story. The story can be decorated with the most literary themes and the most convincing atmosphere, but without a compelling plot, it's just a basic showcase of skill. A story to me is the combination of all of these elements. It's the difference between story and plot. If plot was all there was to a story, we'd be happy with reading the synopsis on the wikipedia page. Instead we choose to read the book, experience all elements of the story, the plot, the themes, the atmosphere.

    To bring this back around to Kill your darlings, if a darling doesn't serve your story, it doesn't just do a disservice to your plot, but also to your theme or atmosphere. You could hang up a beautiful, deep backstory about this chandelier, but if that chandelier is part of the scene of your high-pace horror story's climax, it doesn't add to any of the elements.
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Story: a narrative in which something interesting happens to affect change on the characters within the narrative.

    Technically speaking, when you look at the four structure types (Milieu, Idea, Character and Event [M.I.C.E.]) which can also be seen as the four sides of the story box, only one of them (Milieu) stands out as being decided not about story as defined above. Milieu is about—and only about—the environment under discussion within the narrative. All the others at least suggest a character pushing a boundary which, by implication, means someone else is going to push back in some way.

    By including the words something interesting in the definition, one could infer that a story has to entertain in some way. At the very least, it must spark interest.

    And what is entertainment? My definition: evoking an emotional response the reader wants evoked within him/herself. (which is why daydreaming can be so much fun)

    Further, affect change also implies evoking an emotional response because readers sympathize (or at least empathize) with the characters/events/ideas they read about. If the change is something the reader thinks is good, then positive emotional response is likely. And vice versa.

    So, now I'm ready to update my definition of story:
    A narrative that evokes a desired emotional response, positive or negative, within the reader.

    And it's possible to do that while driving in heavy traffic simply by raising one's middle finger. ;)
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2016
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  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Obviously, there is more to it. My only point was that the elements I mentioned are elements of the story, but do not, in and of themselves, comprise the story. At the heart of it, there needs to be at least one character who is struggling.
     
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