What is a story?

I used to feel confident in my definition of a story.

If you had come up to me and asked me 5 years ago what a story is, I would’ve told you straight up:

“A story has a beginning, middle, and end.”

*Buzzer sound*

That’s what a story has, not what a story is.

When I developed Story Forms Theories, which explain how stories are told in every story medium, I realized that I needed to understand what a story itself is and that my definition was flawed. Looking online, I was surprised to find similar issues with other definitions and a wide swathe of definitions. I realized that I had to discover a definition for the word story that would help me as a writer gain clarity and become a better writer.

I began looking at tons of stories and what people connected with. This involved seeing what the commonalities were, no matter how big or how small, and limiting story to that spectrum.

On top of that, I wanted to remove any extra information from the definition, for example qualifiers (“usually told through a novel or movie”). I wanted a definition that was concise and would give me a clear vision.

My stories weren’t suffering at the time; people already loved my stories. My first theatre skit was considered the best one ever performed at a local theatre school that had been performing original skits for 5+ years; I’d written a musical that was the talk of my writing group and its writing professor; I’d even written some goofy short stories that ended up being read in a jail for everyone’s entertainment.

So this wasn’t an issue of if I could tell good stories. This was an issue of whether I could figure out how to consistently tell good stories. And the first key to that is clarity.

The infographic below touches on the answer that I came to and have found to be extremely useful in story development and writing:

What Is a Story

Notice how this definition is not only concise, but how it naturally leads to some popular and respected writing practices: being able to state what your story is in one sentence (many writers believe that if you can’t do that, you don’t have a story); the Three Act Structure (the first breakdown pretty much exactly mirrors it); and the story outline (though you may need to go to a greater depth than 3 levels to get there).

If you’re interested in more info, go to the Curriculum page and download some of the free content there.