by john

“have you ever written any stories?”

i was asked this question yesterday, which got me thinking. what exactly is a story? can anything be a story? as a journalist i write “stories” on certain subjects. but then, “authors” also write “stories”. is there any difference between these stories? one may use the qualitative aspects of each to define them, but then that seems to be being pedantic about definitions. however you could also argue that writing about the meaning of the word “story” is also pedantic.

the first definition i find from a quick search is “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment” – this to me sounds like a weak definition. the origin is the latin word “historia”, which eventually becomes “estorie” in anglo-norman french, and then becomes “story” in middle english. stories are so much more than recounting events for entertainment. they are how humans communicate. there is the story the boy who cried wolf. there is the story of cinderella, of hansel and gretel. there are more complicated stories like lolita, anna karenina, 1984, etc. these are all stories. what’s the difference between them? what are the similarities?

the first similarity i can think of is that there is reason that these stories were written. it might not be immediately obvious to the reader, however. here is where literary analysis comes into handy. one can analyse so many things – you could analyse the structure, syntax, and choice of vocabulary. or you could analyse the characters and their relationships. it seems that for some stories, the characters are metaphors, and the actual “story” is something other than what is written (damn these authors, but praise them too), and for some of these stories, the message and meaning they want to convey is more clear, for example in the case of 1984 and Animal Farm (George Orwell).

thinking and writing about “stories” – perhaps i could also try categorising different stories. for example, the Sherlock Holmes or Artemis Fowl series (Eoin Colfer) are more “entertainment” – in that i feel that the stories are very accessible and that it’s the type of book that gets you hooked on turning their pages. we can learn a lot from these authors in terms of pacing and character development. however in the case of the Artemis Fowl series, entertainment can also help change the world. in the stories, humans are known as the “Mud People” as we used to live in mud huts. a second race exists on the planet with magical powers. The author makes a point of depicting humans as backwards, polluting and warlike species (which we are to a certain extent), whereas the fairies are depicted as technologically advanced, environmentally conscious, peaceful beings. in an implicit manner, Eoin Colfer used a children’s book series to make a comment on human beings as a whole. an admirable use of the story medium.

there are also stories like 1984 and Brave New World – these books are *entertaining* but they are also creating worlds which we can experience without actually having to be in those worlds – “what-if”. i think we are much better off reading about Orwell’s vision of a world under surveillance and cultural control than actually living it, although some would argue (and perhaps i would agree) that many of the things that he wrote about were prescient, and they are already happening. the great thing about these types of stories is that they help you realise what is happening, since in your daily life you are like a fish in water – the water doesn’t occur to you. these stories add food colouring to the water (if you would grant me the pleasure of extending my simile).

each of us has a story too. that type of story would be the type you live out on a day to day basis, that is written during every second. you aren’t writing it, but imagine that someone is writing it – how would you feel like reading it? our stories affect others, and others ours. live a great story, tell great stories. i think that’s what matters.