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Story is...


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Plot and character | Tension and resolution | Art and emotion | McKee's admonitions | See also


What is a story? When is story not a story? Here are three patterns that help define stories.

Plot and character

Stories are made up of characters who enact plots. The plot is the overall storyline which unfolds during the story. Characters are the people who stumble and develop through the story.

Good plots tell complete stories. They are interesting, exciting and ultimately satisfying. They may mystify but ultimately create revelation and understanding. A truly great story helps the audience develop and become better people.

The audience identifies with the protagonist or other sympathetic characters and recognizes antagonists from those in their own lives. In this way they enter the story as it mirrors reality (or maybe their fantasies) and in doing so helps them forward.

Tension and resolution

The basic device of any story is to create tension in the audience and then trigger closure by resolving the tension. Many tensions may be developed and resolved across the story. A number of others are left open and which may be resolved in the climactic conclusion. Yet other tensions may be left open, paving the way for a sequel.

Stories often use assorted devices to create and resolve tension. These are classic mechanisms by which messages are reliably transmitted to the audience.

Art and emotion

Stories are a form of art. Like all art, there is also structure, rule and science. An art student learns the rules of color and how to physically create these. They learn of classic techniques and the ways of the masters. If taught well, they learn without being trapped and slowly develop their own style and artistic personality. They can then transcend the science and break rules to create new art.

Art is about emotion. Its purpose is to stimulate and arouse. If you walk past many well-executed paintings in a gallery and then stare at one work, whether it makes you happy or annoyed, it may be considered a greater work of art than those which are ignored. And perhaps those which stimulate positive emotion are greater than those which stimulate negative emotion.

Storytelling is the same. It starts with technique and science and ends in tactic art. It seeks to arouse emotions in its audience and perhaps cathartically release those which are bottled up.

See also

Plots, Characters in a story


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