I have been thinking the last few days, naturally in lieu of writing, about the most boiled down academic definition of what a story is. Of course, everyone will have a slightly different definition. Even in academia people argue definitions all the time. Without looking at anyone else’s definition, I came up with the following:
A story is an event or series of events that changes a noun. Or maybe a series of events that describe the way a noun changes. (Under the assumption that one event falls under the umbrella of a “series of events”.)
As we all remember School House Rock, a noun is a person, place, or thing.
So a story is about how a person, place, or thing changes. For if there is no change, then there is no story. There is nothing to talk about.
I’m sure many are going to say, “Wait! So much more happens in a story. How can you just limit it to such a simple definition?”
First of all, because it’s my definition. All I need to do is back it up. Second, as I mentioned above, I am looking for the most boiled down abstract definition possible. I’m not looking to make things overly complicated. I’m looking for a definition that fits every story ever written.
What is a murder mystery? A story about a person who was alive and is now dead.
What is a romance? A story about a person who goes from not being love to one that is in love.
What is an epic fantasy?
Ah! Here’s where things get a little tricky. An epic fantasy is actually a genre and not really a story type, but you can often be rest assured if a story is epic one of the major elements is describing how a country or world goes through a change. You can have all sorts of subplots, and sub-mysteries, etc. within a book/story, but I would just argue that it is actually a number of different stories woven together in the same presentation.
Try it. See if you can come up with a story that does not fit this definition.
Try and see if you can come up with a definition of your own that covers all stories. I’d love to hear what you come up with.