What Is a Story?

As homework for another class, a student asked me to give her my definition of a story.  I didn’t pull out any narrative theory books to refine it, and I didn’t try to put any special cybertextual spin on it, which I would have done if I’d spent more time thinking about it.  Anyway, here’s here’s what I came up with.

A story is a casually causally-connected sequence of events that focus on a central character’s moral choices, or that present for the reader’s judgment the central character’s obligation to respond to events outside of the character’s control, or that expect the reader to make a moral judgment responding to the character’s actions.  I don’t mean that a story has to be preachy, just that the events described have to be significant enough that we can see a change in the central character (or that we see the central character choosing not to change, which is, of course a moral choice).
I’d say that the same story (such as Cinderella, or The Prodigal Son) can be presented in verse, prose, on stage, in a painting, etc., but that any one particular telling of the story (such as the Egyptian version of Cinderella, or the Disney Cinderella, or Sesame Street’s CinderElmo) shouldn’t be confused with the core elements that make up the essence of the story (the fact that you need a lowly person, the magical intervention, the person in a high position falling in love with the transformed lowly person, the clue left at the separation, the search, and the searcher’s acceptance of the transformed person’s true identity).

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