October 10, 2005
The definition of 'story' remains contentious. The problem is, there are so many contexts that the term can be applied in - most dictionaries list at least seven discrete cases. When a word has taken such a diverse role in language, it is no longer possible for us to pin it down to a specific meaning - we have to accept the diversity of its application.
In terms of formal discussions of writing and game writing, the best solution might be to accept 'story' as a semantic umbrella term (like 'religion' or 'food') and to avoid using it when talking about the specifics. It's capacity to be used in this way explains why different people report such different things when we ask them to relate their 'favourite stories' in a particular context, especially for games where the scope of 'story' is even wider than most dictionaries allow!
I think perhaps that there is a certain sense to which the term 'story' has a fractal quality... it has that fractal property of 'self-similarity' - it has the same nature at all scales, like a leaf or a coastline.
An anecdote, scene or brief narrative account all constitute a 'story' on a small scale; complete chapters, episodes or narrative segments constitute 'stories' on a larger scale (they contain several 'stories' in the previous sense - many scenes). Above these, we have framing narratives which are also 'stories' (stories which contain stories...), and above this we have abstract narrative patterns such as myths and legends which are also 'stories' (which contain many different 'stories' - there are many versions of the King Arthur legend contained in the 'story' of King Arthur). At all scales, the term 'story' still applies.
In this way, a large scale story is made of many smaller stories, which in turn are made of smaller stories, and so on down to the smallest element of story - which might perhaps be a single scene. The word 'story', therefore, describes any and all aspects of the story experience, we can choose to see it as a fractal noun, applicable at all scales with broad equivalency.
And if we choose to accept this approach, we acquire some freedom to define more precise terms to supplement 'narrative' and 'plot' such that our discussions of story can have clearer meaning.
I think that's a good approach, all in all. In a way, my definition of story as "the emotional reaction to a narrative" abstracts it to just about the level as well. It's narrative and plot that then become the more concrete tools you need to use in an effort to achieve story.
Posted by: Corvus | October 10, 2005 at 02:27 PM
Fractal stories... Mmm... yes. Exactly why I work within mind maps. The process of 'storytelling' itself is being redefined both via games and interesting new techniques of writers.
Posted by: Eric von Rothkirch | October 10, 2005 at 05:52 PM
Oddly enough, someone had just passed me this url last night when talking about writing stories:
A novelist who takes a fractal approach to writing, which may well be appropriate, given the fractal nature of stories themselves. Good post.
Posted by: Jack Monahan | October 10, 2005 at 10:21 PM
I'd say the smallest unit of story is the intentional meme, or verb. In other words the smallest unit in a game's emergent narrative is the user's decision to execute one of the game's particular verbs. This might be called a free decision, but its not quite free due to its contextaulization by all the story fractals it is nested in.
Posted by: Patrick Dugan | October 30, 2005 at 03:58 PM
Does your use of 'verb' here spring from a particular source? I ask, because I have a model of game design which has been percolating through my consciousness for a while now which might be considered "grammatical game design", in which games are considered to chiefly consist of nouns and verbs (and, in extension, adjectives and adverbs).
I'll probably post about this in the future - but I have a serious backlog of topics to get through right now. If someone else is employing grammatical terms to game design theory, I should look into it, so do let me know if you have any references to this.
Posted by: Chris | November 01, 2005 at 08:15 AM
I wish I came up with the idea on my own, as its a clear way of codifying what games are all about. I got the notion from Chris Crawford's essays, you can check up on its "original" origin at his website: www.erasmatazz.com
Posted by: Patrick Dugan | November 01, 2005 at 07:15 PM
Ah, I see - this is just a decendent of adventure game grammar. It's not quite the same thing I was talking about, although there are parallels, of course.
Posted by: Chris | November 02, 2005 at 07:22 AM
I like your approach. I tend to think that Stories are not made up of words, but essentially they're made up of actions. and actions are very fractal as well. from the story of a single atom colliding to the story of galaxies colliding. Fractal. Thanks!
Posted by: Sankofa | December 28, 2007 at 06:22 PM