Story is probably the most fundamental and important element of entertainment in the world. It’s a basic building block. It comes into play in virtually every creative medium. Storytelling is the oldest profession. Don’t believe what you’ve heard. People were telling lies long before any other business was invented.
We’re in the same business as Homer was. This business has been around for a long time. I think it’s going to be around for a long time. It’s going to be here forever because it’s something that’s built into us and it’s something that we really like.
Okay, so what is a story? Well, in the simplest possible terms what a story is:
What it was, what changed it, how’d it come out.
Now a lot of people have probably been to seminars and read books that say, well there’s Act I, Act II, Act III. You may have heard a story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, no kidding! What does that mean? How does that give you any tool by which to judge whether or not you’ve done it right? So forget those people. It’s what it was, what happened, how’d it come out. Is that a formula? No. It’s a definition. If it isn’t that, it’s not a story.
Sentences have definitions. A sentence is a complete thought. Shakespeare used sentences, so did the writers of Laverne and Shirley. Didn’t limit either of them. It’s just a tool. It’s just a building block. You’ve got to know what it is, then you can manipulate it, then you can play with it.
Think of it as a unit of language. The smallest unit of our language is a letter. The next unit up is called a morpheme. That’s the smallest group of letters that adds meaning, that holds meaning. For instance the `s’ on the end of a word that makes it plural, that’s a word, or `ing’, that’s a morpheme. Then of course there’s words, clauses, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and you build from there. Story is just a bigger unit. Just understand what we’re talking about here is just a piece of language. That’s the story. It should not limit you. It is simply a building block. Why is that a story? Not because somebody woke up one day and said, “That will be what a story is. We’re going to write this in Webster’s.” No. That’s a story because it’s built into our language. You cannot avoid what a story is. If someone tells you a story and it doesn’t have one of the pieces, you may not know the stuff I’m telling you, but you know it’s not right.
Let’s all go out and have a root beer someplace. We’ll go into a bar, all of us, and there’ll be a big guy sitting at the end of the bar, a big, huge guy and you just know the guy played football. So we’ll walk up to him and we’ll say, “Bronco, tell us about your biggest game.” He’ll say, “Well, it was the state championship, it’s late in the fourth quarter and we’re down by six points and we’re marching down the field. I’m the running back and we’re doing great. I’ve got this great quarterback handing off to me. On the other side there’s the biggest linebacker in the world, but we’re getting around him, we’re marching down the field, and then all of a sudden I fumble and they got the ball. So here we are we’re going to win and if we win, the head cheerleader promised me she’d go out with me. So I fumble. The coach takes me out and he’s yelling at me and stuff. The time’s running out and our team intercepts a pass on our own six yard line, and there’s a few seconds left. I say, ‘Coach put me in. I got to get in there.'”
So Coach Rolinski puts him in and then they hand Bronco the ball and he breaks through the lines, through the secondary, he’s running toward the goal line, and then the BIGGEST LINEBACKER IN THE UNIVERSE is standing at the goal line. Time has expired on the clock. He dives for the goal line, and the linebacker dives at him and…
We’re all wondering whether or not he scored…and whether or not he scored. You can’t help yourselves. It’s built into the language. Another thing you can’t help is if you ask Bronco to tell you a story he will tell you the situation, what happened to disrupt it, what happened, and then he’ll tell you how it came out. If he doesn’t you’ll be really upset. It’s built into the language. You will automatically tell a story in the correct order if you just let yourself. Keep that in mind. When you tell a story you’re telling what the situation was, what happened to change that situation, and how it came out.