Wednesday, Oct 15, 2008

The Meaning of Story

Dear Power Writers, 

Master screenwriting teacher Robert McGee defines a well-told story as a “symphonic unity in which structure, setting, character, genre, and idea meld seamlessly.” He continues his musical analogy by stating that “the writer must study the elements of story as if they were instruments of an orchestra–first separately, then in concert.” (STORY by Robert McGee, p. 29). 

Today we will continue our exploration of story by exploring the meaning of story. Following McGee’s guidelines, we will first study each story element separately. Then we will put them all together as we learn how to create a story concert of literary beauty and excellence. 

Today’s element will be the meaning of story. What does story mean? McGee explains story’s meaning as follows:

  • Story means principles over rules.
  • Story means universal forms, not formulas.
  • Story means archetypes, not stereotypes.
  • Story means originality, not duplication.
  • Story means mastering the art of storytelling, not mastering the fickle marketplace.
  • Story means respect for one’s audience.

Let’s take a brief look at each of the above points.

  • Story means principles over rules. To obey a writing rule is to confine oneself to only one way of creating a story. This “one way” may not produce the best story. On the contrary, to choose principle over rule is to free oneself to create an honest story that may not adhere to all the rules but that will be a true work of art. As McGee points out, “inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form” (p. 3).
  • Story means universal forms, not formulas. Universal forms transcend all barriers, reaching deep down to those human needs common to all people. The greatest stories are those that touch all people of all places at all times.
  • Story means archetypes, not stereotypes. McGee makes a thought-provoking statement when he says that “the archetypal story unearths a universally human experience, then wraps itself inside a unique, culture-specific expression. A stereotypical story reverses this pattern” (p. 4). In other words, the archetypal story, the story that lasts, is deductive in nature. It starts with the universal, then moves toward the particular. The stereotypical story starts with the particular and moves toward the universal. Of the two, the archetypal story is the stronger.
  • Story means originality, not duplication. How you tell the story is just as important as what you tell in your story.
  • Story means mastering the art of storytelling, not mastering the fickle marketplace. In short, don’t worry about the outcome of your story. Leave that to God. Instead, focus on writing the best story you can write.
  • Story means respect for one’s audience. Let your goal be to touch your audience. Remember: story appeals to the heart. Your target is the heart. Write to your reader’s heart.

Next time, we will discuss the element of story structure. 




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5 thoughts on “The Meaning of Story

  1. Hi MaryAnn –

    The last couple of lines got to me. If you reach the reader’s heart, you have a great story.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking article.

    Susan 🙂

    October 15, 2008 at 8:43 AM

  2. Respecting the reader only means reaching their heart, but also not insulting them by writing below them or boring them. Especially with kids … I never want to do that!

    October 15, 2008 at 8:48 AM

  3. Share a Story Today

    Story with passion allows no rules to regulate its power.

    Story is a way to share life and connect us together.

    Story shows our souls to those who share our world.

    Stories told before can be told again, and again, and again.

    Stories about the ones I love are my favorite, tears always fill my pen.


    October 15, 2008 at 12:22 PM

  4. Hi MaryAnn,

    I’m so grateful you’re back! 🙂

    What especially touched me today is what you wrote about writing principle over rules to free oneself to write honestly, leaving the outcome of a story to God, and writing to touch the reader’s heart. Thank you. I’m looking forward to more!

    In His Grip,

    October 15, 2008 at 4:22 PM