Elements that a story absolutely MUST contain?

Discussion in 'Writing' started by nicba, Jan 16, 2005.

  1. nicba

    nicba Lost in a large book

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    Is there any list of elements that a story must contain in order to be rated a "story" at all? And if so, is this list of necessary elements the same for all types of stories, from novels to short stories to flash fiction?

    It's often said that in writing there's no rules, only guidelines. But even so, time and time again, I've heard critiques stating that "XXX is not really a story because it does not contain YYY." Examples:

    "This is not really a story because it contains no characterisation..."
    "This is not really a story because it contains no protagonist ..."
    "This is not really a story because it contains no antagonist..."
    "This is not really a story because it lacks a conflict..."
    "This is not really a story because it has no plot..."
    "This is not really a story because it has no climax..."

    (I've even had some of those reactions to some of my own pieces of flash fiction! :eek: )

    What's your take on this? Do such a list exist? Should it? Is it permissible to stretch (or even break) these rules in short stories or flash fiction?
     
  2. JRMurdock

    JRMurdock Where have I been?

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    When I wrote a short story for 55 fiction (a 55 word short story) their requirements were this "to be considered a story, your fiction must contain all the elements of a story. Those are A characters, a location, a conflict, a resolution.

    Anything else just enhances the story. :)
     
  3. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    I think conflict and a resolution are the main things, otherwise it is just something that happened, a slice of something greater.
     
  4. TheEarCollector

    TheEarCollector Cavalryman Extraordinaire

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    I think conflict is the most important. Characters are sort of implied by that too... Resolution isn't necessary but if the story just drops off suddenly it won't feel right.

    Whenever I workshop a story, I find a lot of "telling of events." Your schedule of the day is not a story because nothing really happened, so why is telling about a typical day in the life of a Martian any different? It's still not a story.
     
  5. Jacquin

    Jacquin Shovelly Joe

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    I always (well nearly) try and follow the pattern described by Nigel Watts.

    Stasis - Once upon a time
    Trigger - Something happened
    Quest - Which made someone do something
    Surprise - Which had unforseen consequences
    Critical choice - that forced them to make a dificult decision
    Climax - That in itself has consequences
    Reversal - That lead to a change in status
    Resolution - and they all lived happily ever after (or not)

    It seems to work if I can manage to follow it...

    J
     
  6. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Damn... here is me thinking I had to have a beginning, middle and end...;)
     
  7. Chlestron

    Chlestron New Member

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    In my opinion, a story requires the following:

    Plot - without this underlying interconnectedness, it's just a collection of random scenes

    Conflict - this is part of the plot - there must be something that is desired but not easily obtained whatever that something is. It could be a physical object held by somebody, or a metaphysical realization that must be realized through some means.

    Characters - I've not yet seen a story that didn't have characters. I've seen stories with just the protagonist and with no personified (or really iconified) antagonist, but you have to have SOMETHING that is undergoing the conflict

    Resolution - You have to resolve the conflict in some way or another by either defeating it or otherwise removing it. Giving up IS a viable option though you won't see it very often.

    Otherwise, that's it
     
  8. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    A story requires words. Whether a story is called a short story, flash fiction, novella, novel, etc. depends on its length, though the range of length for those categories does shift somewhat over time, can overlap and is somewhat left to the judgement of the author and whatever type of publisher may be publishing the work.

    As for the rest of it, here are what the statements you have been told actually mean:

    "This is not really a story because it contains no characterisation..."

    Translation: I don't get your characters.

    "This is not really a story because it contains no protagonist ..."

    Translation: I can't figure out who the protagonist is because you did not put a big white hat on his head.

    "This is not really a story because it contains no antagonist..."

    Translation: Where is Dr. Evil? How can you have a story without Dr. Evil?

    "This is not really a story because it lacks a conflict..."

    Translation: Your story bored me.

    "This is not really a story because it has no plot..."

    Translation: Your story bored me.

    "This is not really a story because it has no climax..."

    Translation: I like big battle scenes at the end.

    Ok, no, seriously, most stories do have a storyline (plot,) some characters (who might be a rock, spoon or goat in some cases,) a protagonist, a setting, a conclusion, and frequently, some sort of conflict which may or may not be resolved in the story. Some stories have fourteen plots, hundreds of characters, dozens of settings, twenty secondary protagonists, multiple conclusions and conflicts. Some have one guy sitting in a room. Take your pick.

    The question is not: "what do I have to have in my story?" but instead: "what do I want to have in my story?" But the words thing, you probably have to have that.
     
  9. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    A story needs a good author to put it all together. Without that, the rest doesn't much matter - the whole is greater than the parts, as usual.

    But, that aside, look at Ulysses by Joyce, Waiting for Godot by Beckett and Rememberance of Things Past by Proust. None are traditional, none have all the elements listed above, yet all are masterpieces.
     
  10. nicba

    nicba Lost in a large book

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    Hi eveyone

    You mean that's why I've never had anything published! Oh! :D ... No really, I liked your analysis :).

    But still...still... I'm a particular fan of "stories" that do not quite conform to the traditional scheme of Jacquin's. For example the wonderful little thing by Juzzza called "700 words" - it do not take place at any particular location, the antagonist and protagonist are kind of hard to spot and the resolution is left hanging, up to the imagination of the reader.

    Or I remember a particular poetic piece by Arthur C. Clarke called "Transcience". It is, in essence, about a beach. It didn't have many of those elements either. Or at least not in any obvious way.

    I think it's a shame there's not more of this kind of stuff floating around.
     
  11. JRMurdock

    JRMurdock Where have I been?

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    I understand what you're saying (Gem and Nic) but if you're wanting to 'sell' a story, it must contain a character, a conflict, a setting, and have a resolution. Unless you can turn a phrase and draw in the senses, you'll have a tough time convincing an editor to take on your work. Even though I LOVE 700 words, it's a tough sell because of what it's missing. I'm confident it'll find a loving home one day and Juz will be all the better for it. :)
     
  12. JamesL

    JamesL Speculative Horizons

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    The most basic requirement for a story is a problem and a resolution. The next most important thing is to focus on the most interesting person with regards to this conflict. Not necessarily the person who stands to lose the most (though they should be in there somewhere) but a character who is put in a situation by this problem which would make for an interesting story.
     
  13. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    I am still sticking with the beginning, middle and ending... I, at the moment have a damn good one of the first, a mind blowing one of the last and all I need is to connect the two B****rs up...
     
  14. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    1. Write your piece.

    2. Figure out whether it's a story or not. (Not easy in itself.)

    3. a) If it is a story, figure out whether it is interesting.
    3. b) If it is not a story, figure out whether it is interesting.

    [On second thought, you might as well skip step two, unless you're specifically asked to write a story...]

    ***

    Q for Hol? Does the beginning have to in the beginning? The end in the end? ;)
     
  15. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Oh yes indeed the ending does have to be at the end, beceause it is a hell of a twist in the tale and without the beginning it would not make sense..... :eek:
     
  16. Expendable

    Expendable infomaniac

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    I read a strange story once that gave you the ending first, then the middle, then the begining. Of course, the twist was in the begining.
     
  17. JRMurdock

    JRMurdock Where have I been?

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    The movie 'Memento' was backwards. The person had short term memory loss and it retraced his steps through the movie. It was filled with twists and turns and was very strange. I recomend that movie.

    I still maintain that a story must contain some basic elements if you wish to sell it. After that, all bets are off. You can tell a story any way you wish, it's what are editors looking to buy. I've deviated from the norm many times. I've not sold one piece that I did that with. Got a lot of rejections to prove it. :). All the stories that I've sold (all 8) had the basic elements I mentioned before.

    If you want to write 'outside' the bounds and sell that story, you'll need to read a lot and see who buys stories like that. If you're not looking to sell a story, write however it makes you feel best about the story you're telling.
     
  18. Jacquin

    Jacquin Shovelly Joe

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    Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner!

    What elements must a story contain? It depends on what you're writing it for. If you're writing to sell, it must have what the buyer wants it to have. If you're writing it for yourself it must have whatever you want it to have.

    J
     
  19. JRMurdock

    JRMurdock Where have I been?

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    Huh? Who said that?

    :)
     
  20. Jacquin

    Jacquin Shovelly Joe

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    It was me... :cool: