Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

New Series – Grammar and Vocabulary of Storytelling

Not of novels. Good grief. I’ve got enough on my plate.

Blog series on Writing, Structure, Character, and Story Design.

The Grammar and Vocabulary of Story

There’s some conventional wisdom floating in the world that there are only really seven stories. Or three or one or twenty or thirty-six. You can go here for a summary of the arguments, complete with book citations. Or here. Or here.

Ahem. Allow me.

Who cares?

The point someone is trying to make is that there’s really only one fundamental story out there (it’s got conflict!), or two (except for Infinite Jest, which kind of manages not to…). Then again, you might want to categorize your list differently and take into account, maybe, who tells them (men, women, kids, elders), who their intended audience is (publishers really want to know this), whether there’s a moral or lack of one (calling Otis Oracle), or if it’s about people arranging matches or shooting bad guys.

We could have this argument for days. Years, even. ‘Cause, look, it’s been going on at least since Aristotle, who pioneered the three-types-of-stories rule in the western canon with comedy (have happy endings), tragedy (have sad endings), or epics (tend to wander around a bit, like Ullyses, the greatest liar in literature).

Not. That. Interesting.

Wait. Not true. Interesting, but not practical.

Arguments like this tend to settle on which title is worthy and fits into which category. So I’m not going to do that.

I am going to focus on the structure of writing and on characters and events.

The “grammar” of a story is how we tell it. It’s not necessarily the chronology of events, but the chronology of how the events are explained by the writer. Similarly, by “vocabulary” I don’t mean the words we use but the elements. Is our protagonist a hero or an anti-hero? Is the helper a sibling, a pet, or a demon? Is the goal of the story stopping evil, solving a riddle, or helping the helpless?

I don’t mean this as an exploration of originality. We all know that there are some hugely successful and not necessarily terribly original stories out there. I do hope, however, that it can function as a guide to creating and reading (or watching) stories, whether they be thoroughly out of the box or with that nice little twist that agents are always telling us they want.

Next up: Example one.


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