What’s in a Story? by Ben Brzowski

When someone asks what a story is, the first response almost always goes something like this: “a story is a recount of a series of events”. Well, while that’s not entirely wrong, I would argue that stories are made of something more. Stories matter because they are one of the best ways we humans communicate our most important lessons to one another. To better understand them, the ways we describe the elementary components of story must evolve too.

We already have the beginning of what I will call “story analysis”, or the examination and attempted understanding of the elements of a story. As we covered in class, each story is made up of 5 different parts, also known as the “Five Elements”: character, intent, struggle(s), details, and action. As an example, I will be overlaying this model over what is perhaps my favorite story of all, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Specifically we will be focusing on the story as experience by Aragorn, a character in the story. Aragorn, also known as Strider, is the last in the line of ancient human kings and beloved of the Elven beauty Arwen. He is one of the characters this particular story revolves around. It is his viewpoint that is used to create meaning to the intent, struggle, action, and details found around him. Aragorn’s intent is the manifestation of his personality, and it is seen in his desires to protect his love and all the good or innocent in world that surrounds her. In a story, any given character’s intent is displayed (or hidden) through their wants and their “why’s”, or their motivations. Action, obviously, consists of the myriad events that take place within the story. Lord of the Rings is brimming with action of various types, from the subtlety of conversation or the epic battles that decide the fate of the world. These events lend themselves to the struggles, or breaks in normal/routine occurrences in the world. Struggles are better defined as “the internal or external blockages, obstacles, or conflicts that must be endured/overcome by the character.” Applied to the specific case of Aragorn, we see the struggles of the Fellowship of the Ring, the various wars and battles, and the conflict of the desire to love Arwen or protect her from evil by separation from himself. Permeating all of the above and in some ways ultimately responsible for the feel of a narrative world (be it fictional or not) are the details, or specific information about character, setting, action, events, and objects that exist in the story’s particular universe. J.R.R. Tolkien is well-renowned for his exquisite and intricate detail found in Middle-Earth.

These Five Elements are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fully understanding how stories are made and what it is exactly that makes them so important to us.

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One thought on “What’s in a Story? by Ben Brzowski

  1. meaganmthornton January 21, 2015 / 8:24 pm

    I think that the Lord of the Rings is a great example to use for your argument and you’re right, the five elements are still only a basic way to describe a story, though they are more than what we probably all previously would’ve defined a story as. The word “story” is certainly far more complex than I ever realized. Anyway, I don’t remember a lot about Lord of the Rings, but I do remember that there was lots of fighting, tension and long travels and those are certainly struggles, which makes Lord of the Rings great in emphasizing the struggle required in the story structure.

    – Breanna Larson

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