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Monday, June 13, 2011

The story about stories

There is a lot of power in stories. Most of us can remember stories in greater detail than we can lists of facts or ideas. Some methods for improving memory ask us to attach each thing we want to remember, to a story, or a character.

We like stories to have structure, and plot, and certain typical elements. When we watch a movie or read a book, at the beginning we are sorting out who is in the story. We want to know if there is a main character, or hero. Do we like the hero? There is usually someone in opposition to the main character, the one who complicates their life and adds conflict to the story. For the story to be interesting, to hold our attention, to seem real to us, complication and conflict are absolutely necessary.

We also like stories to have a beginning, middle and end. We like the questions to be answered, and the problems to be resolved- and the resolutions have to make “sense” to us, somehow. We all seem to have an internal sense of whether the story “works”.

I mentioned in the Sunday sermon that there are theories about a limited number of categories of plot or story-line. The idea is that while there can be an almost infinite variety in the ways a story is developed and told, the basic “bones” of the story will fall into one or more of a short list of possibilities. According to an author named Christopher Booker, in his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, these are the categories:

Overcoming the Monster

Rags to Riches

The Quest

Voyage and Return




There are numerous websites where you can explore these categories, and find examples of stories that fit into them. It might be interesting to try categorizing some of your favourite stories.