What is Story? (Becky Lin)

“Undoubtedly, a story begins with once upon a time and ends with the prince and the princess galloping towards a white castle on an equally white horse.” Without fail, that is what my six year old self would have answered had she been asked the question, “What is story?” As I grew older, I quickly realized that that was not the case. A man going to Las Vegas and beating casinos at their game was a story. A toy reconciling with his pride and finding his way home was a story. A fish going on a journey to find his lost son was also a story. The more stories I came in contact with, the more my understanding of what a story was grew. And grew, and grew, until it became an ambiguous jumble of concepts, images, ideals as well as exceptions. It wasn’t until I came across a book called Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee that I was exposed to a new idea, a new definition of what story is. Through his work, I understand story to be an account of the human experience. It eats at the raw experience of existence and connects people regardless of race, gender, social class, and culture. The heart of a story lies in the human experience which overcomes any barrier of physical, social or geological difference. You don’t have to be a young Chinese girl who just bombed a marriage meeting to understand the struggles of self identity and wanting to meet the expectations of your parents. Audiences across the globe can enjoy the story of a young girl who managed to save China from the Huns regardless of cultural background because something deeper, something called the human experience connected them. I believe that it is what really draws people to stories as has for millenniums, across countries, cultures and social classes. It is important to note that stories also require structure; though how the structure is pieced together depends on the individual’s preferences. How the person telling the story crafts how it’s presented is something else completely but there are some aspects vital to the creation of a story. A character, an intent, an action, a struggle, and details. All of which a story can have more than one of.

One of my favorite stories and examples of stories that connect based on the human experience is Beloved by Toni Morrison. It’s a story that connected to me on a really deep level. It follows the story of a former slave who decides to kill her own children in an attempt to spare them the horrors of slavery. Of her four children, she only succeeded in killing one by the time she was found by slave catchers who decide after witnessing the horrific deed to leave her and her children be. This story, told in the beautiful style of Toni Morrison was simply bewitching. There was a deep horror at times subtle and at times jarringly grotesque that was present throughout the story but despite the horror and the pain inherited through generations of racial injustice prevalent throughout the story, it was an oddly humanizing story that I could connect to despite my heritage which is one of the reasons I value this novel so much.


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