Quick preface: This is my shot at describing what I believe storyness is in media design. Since this blog deals to a great extent with story, it feels kind of reasonable for me to take a stab at the subject and be as specific as I can muster, dealing specifically with the concept of storyness, that is the notion of story in media.
So what is story?
Over at Anecdote Shawn Callahan lists the following features to look for in order to spot a story:
- Time marker
- Place marker
Time and place marker puts the things told in a time and place. For instance “In 1991…” “On our way to the client…” These are often present, but not obligatory (according to Callahan). Characters can be people or people-like, while this is a somewhat weak definition, it is better defined later in Callahans text as someone/something that “take action”. Action without character is event, but story without character is… something else. In other words, it’s not only events that are essential, but actions. And actions always happen in time and space.
Stories are actions…
In order to understand the essential core of story we need to understand action. The phenomenon of “action” has been dealt with in excess, not least in the fields of philosophy and psychology.
…throwing a ball is an instance of action; it involves an intention, a goal, and a bodily movement guided by the agent. On the other hand, catching a cold is not considered an action because it is something which happens to a person, not something done by one. (Wikipedia: Action Theory)
Off course, there are less defined examples, like “distractedly drumming ones fingers on the table” (Wikipedia: Action Theory) but the point is that actions involves a goal, an intention.
Now, a fair amount of phenomenon actually involves action, even things we would not be very inclined to call stories. What’s important to stress is that when we talk of “actions” we actually mean one or several specific actions, not something that happens all the time, or general types of actions, but rather one specific happening. And since it is the entire action that is focused, it must in some sense already be there in its entirely. That’s why many scholars say that stories must be about events that have already happened. I’m not convinced that this is necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to keep this perspective in mind for now.
To summarize this far: Stories are actions (involving intention, goal and agent)
Off course defining stories as “specific actions” only takes us half way. More important is the fact that they have to be told
This means that in order to understand stories we also have to take a look at the concept of “telling”, or rather “narrating”. One interesting thing about narration is that it in itself is an action. No wonder literature is filled with people telling stories. Since it is an action it also contains an agent (author for example), intention and goal. All these three qualities need to be found in the actual text, at least for narratologists to be pleased. And for this to be possible the original story need to be adapted to the authors own intention in some way . If a author is supposed to manipulate the story in a way that expresses her own intention, then she would need to have some grasp of the entire story, how can we otherwise separate her intent from the story itself? Some argue that this intention can only be clearly expressed by manipulating the story in time (by flashbacks, cuts, slow-motion, etc.). Personally I believe that it can be expressed by manipulating the space of the story (point of view, focus, etc.). Regardless the storyteller need to have some grasp of the entire story in order to exact her own intention on it, fulfill her on goal.
This discussion leads to the following definition: “Stories are actions that are being narrated”. While narratives by consequence are “Stories that have been narrated.”
So far all good. We now know one way to define story. Simple right? Enter the human mind… (in part 2)
If I can keep to my initial plan, future posts on the subject storyness will deal with our ability to grasp texts that aren’t complete, see stories where there shouldn’t be one, how the the narration also is about the readers intention, etc.