My vague, all-encompassing definition of a story is a happening. I definitely agree that anything can be a story but not everything is. I believe the mark of a good story is in the details. The details are the line that separates the would-be stories from the “anything” of everyday existence. The other story elements the author of Story Proof mentions, (character, intent, action, and struggle) are definitely important but it’s the details that takes those elements from important to vital. The details form a connections between the reader and the story the same way they form a connection between the character and the intent or struggle. In a way, I believe Story Proof’s good story essentials promise the surest, simplest roadmap toward success but they not necessary guarantee it.
Since reading Story Proof I’ve tried to apply its five good story essentials to some of my favorite stories, such as Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, and T.C. Boyle’s Greasy Lake. I also tried to apply it to some of my not so favorite stories, The Stranger by Albert Camus and The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. All of the stories meet the Story Proof story criteria by containing a character, intent, action, detail and struggle. However, the stories’ approaches to incorporation of these elements are unique and not always evident.
Take The Stranger, (disclaimer: it’s been a long time since I’ve read this book) clearly the main character has a deep internal struggle but I have no idea what his intent was other than perhaps to escape from the monotonous drone that can be existence. In my opinion The Old Man and the Sea lacks captivating detail. The man goes out, catches a giant fish, spends an eternity trying to get back to shore and ultimately ends up with nothing except maybe his story. On the other hand, Hardy drowns entire sections of Far From the Madding Crowd in detail. It takes a certain kind of patience to wade through three pages of the sunlight shining through the leaves of a thicket of trees. But when Hardy gets down to the details of the other story essentials, namely the characters and their intent, the story explodes with excitement. T.C. Boyle’s Greasy Lake supplies “a detailed, character-based narration of a character’s struggles to overcome obstacles and reach an important goal” all in eleven-and-a-half pages. Perhaps all of these examples are by definition stories, but it is the method and the balance of the “good story essentials” that attract certain audiences, making the story good for them.
– Stephanie Hunter