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nicba
January 15th, 2005, 08:21 PM
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?

JRMurdock
January 15th, 2005, 09:03 PM
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. :)

Rocket Sheep
January 15th, 2005, 09:07 PM
I think conflict and a resolution are the main things, otherwise it is just something that happened, a slice of something greater.

TheEarCollector
January 16th, 2005, 06:20 AM
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.

Jacquin
January 16th, 2005, 06:46 AM
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

Holbrook
January 16th, 2005, 09:04 AM
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

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

Chlestron
January 17th, 2005, 11:41 AM
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

KatG
January 18th, 2005, 12:53 PM
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.

Gary Wassner
January 18th, 2005, 02:21 PM
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.

nicba
January 18th, 2005, 02:37 PM
Hi eveyone


But the words thing, you probably have to have that.

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.