Definitions of "Story" Vary Widely

Comments (8)

The little one-question survey I have on my sidebar has been a dicey thing because it has no mechanism for preventing spammers from responding — and they do. If the spam is ever so overwhelming I can’t handle it, I’ll get rid of it (or figure out a way to add some sort of “Captcha” device to it), but currently it harvests no more than about 10 spammers a day.

I’ve been waiting many weeks to have enough critical mass of responses to the second question I posed on the survey; I feel as though four responses is the minimum number to publish. So I’m very grateful to Tammy Vitale for posting that fourth response.

The question responders answered: “How do you define “story” and how important is it to you to work within that definition?”

I’ve written in this space that I work within a very broad definition of “story.” A session of the superb Golden Fleece conference yesterday (which I will blog about soon) presented by Gerry Lantz compels me to perhaps re-think my broad definition. The program describing Gerry’s session noted “nearly any verbal recounting is labeled a ‘story’ and therefore nothing is a story.” Now that’s food for thought. While I ponder that notion, I present the four responses to my survey question:

Story is a butterfly whose wings transport us to another world where we receive gifts that change who we are and who we want to be.
— Harley King
A story is a fact wrapped in an emotion, which causes an action that changes something. For instance: an 18-month-old baby can hold up her bottle and say “all gone;” Mom feels an emotional pull and fills the bottle and the result of that action is a satisfied baby. Now that is a very short two-word story and yet it meets the criteria of this definition.
— Robert Dickman
A story is a compilation of events leading to an outcome that is either a surprise or planned; one never knows how the story will evolve as it is a work in progress. I can work within this definition because it is open-ended.
— Gladys Kartin
Story is the mythology we tell of our own life, and is a smaller story set within the story of our culture and the world. I am always open to an expansion of the definition.
— Tammy Vitale

Your thoughts?

8 Comments

Hi Kathy,

What a great question: how do we define story?

For me, I think a story is simply a journey that takes us from “Huh?” to “A-Ha!”

It could be a journey that is felt in seconds, minutes or hours; doesn’t matter. It’s the process of discovery that I think is most important.

The utterance of a story is inconsequential compared to the experiences of story listeners. Story takes form and defines itself in the space of the listener and the collective space created by multiple listeners. It can be synchronous or asynchronous.

While largely invisible, the world of story is inhabited by the experience of people remembering– recollecting their experiences, pushing the boundaries of their imagination to encounter new landscapes of nuanced emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Stories told are just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider this analogy…Whether or not we see or even hear a rock thrown into a placid body of water, ripples of stories emerge that will reach all the corners and contours of the shore embodying the water.

Story asks us to believe in the power of the implicit and relinquish control of language as we know in its wondrous form of explicitness and concrete definitions. Story as a trigger…story as initiator is how I am content to explore the notions of story and if that means in its “initiating form,” it takes on lots of different shapes and becomes difficult to label as story - than so be it. It is in the hearts and minds of listeners that stories find their definition not in the one who utters stories. I insist the only, reason to tell a story is to elicit a sea of stories in ourselves and others.

Stories live in our embodiment of them. We do not need stories to announce our intentions we are a story in motion. Our actions lend themselves to a pattern of interpretations generated by ourselves and others by the way we carry ourselves in the world. Our experiences guide us to act. It is our openness to be transformed by the eternal waves of being we encounter in the endless stream of stories unfolding in our lives that is our greatest gift and calling.

The utterance of a story is inconsequential compared to the experiences of story listeners. Story takes form and defines itself in the space of the listener and the collective space created by multiple listeners. It can be synchronous or asynchronous.

While largely invisible, the world of story is inhabited by the experience of people remembering– recollecting their experiences, pushing the boundaries of their imagination to encounter new landscapes of nuanced emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Stories told are just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider this analogy…Whether or not we see or even hear a rock thrown into a placid body of water, ripples of stories emerge that will reach all the corners and contours of the shore embodying the water.

Story asks us to believe in the power of the implicit and relinquish control of language as we know in its wondrous form of explicitness and concrete definitions. Story as a trigger…story as initiator is how I am content to explore the notions of story and if that means in its “initiating form,” it takes on lots of different shapes and becomes difficult to label as story - than so be it. It is in the hearts and minds of listeners that stories find their definition not in the one who utters stories. I insist the only, reason to tell a story is to elicit a sea of stories in ourselves and others.

Stories live in our embodiment of them. We do not need stories to announce our intentions we are a story in motion. Our actions lend themselves to a pattern of interpretations generated by ourselves and others by the way we carry ourselves in the world. Our experiences guide us to act. It is our openness to be transformed by the eternal waves of being we encounter in the endless stream of stories unfolding in our lives that is our greatest gift and calling.

Fascinating! Love that so many people are thinking about this!

Some wonderful definitions shared here so far…

I believe its most useful to think and work with “story” in the broadest sense - where every experience, every object, every relationship is stored in the mind with a story attached to it.

So to me a story is anytime we connect a thought to meaning. Stories then become the karmic wheel of personal and collective identity. The stories we tell make the world, and go as far to define what is real/not real, possible/not possible, right/wrong, and so on.

The power of a story grows exponentially, as more and more people accept that story as their truth. Stories become the prima materia of personal and collective reality.

Sure, a more strict definition of story has its place as well. But that in my opinion, leads to the current story perception ghetto many of us come across, where people assume that storytelling is just some “once upon a time exercise”, or just gathering around the corporate campfire.

I think the broader goal of this work is not so much learning how to “tell better stories”, but learning “how to think in story”. If you can learn to do that, you might just hold a key to the universe.

Michael Margolis www.thirsty-fish.com

I love this discussion about the definition of ‘story.’

My favorite definition that I use is the following:
A story is an act of communication providing people with packets of sensory material — allowing them to quickly and easily internalize the material, comprehend it, and create meaning from it.

I love this discussion about the definition for ‘story.’

My favorite definition that I use a lot is: A story is an act of communication providing people with packets of sensory material — allowing them to quickly and easily internalize the material, comprehend it, and create meaning from it.

Looking forward to reading more comments.

Thanks so much, Tammy, Terrence, Michael, Thomas, and Karen for sharing your thoughts.

The comments section of this entry generated in a couple of days as many definitions of story as the 1-question survey on my sidebar did in a couple of months.

Thus, you might be interested that I’ve posted a new question on the survey: Are we in the Golden Age of Storytelling? Why or why not?

Thanks again for commenting.

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