Friday, January 27, 2012


When thinking about stories, and about "alternative" kinds of stories in particular, it raises a question about what does or doesn't count as a story. Some might say a story has to have a beginning, middle, and end. Some might say it has to involve a series of related events building to some sort of climax. But as with any art form (if you do, in fact, consider storytelling to be an art form, which I think we all do) one can no sooner try to elaborate a set of rules or condition by which we judge something to be a story than someone comes along and proves them totally wrong.

So it's probably best to just treat it as though there are no rules at all.

There are elements that typically comprise a story, sure, like characters, scenes, a plot, a setting, things like that.
Are jokes stories? Surely the longer ones are, ones with characters and arcs and climactic punchlines. But what about one-liners? What about knock-knock jokes? A knock-knock joke has a beginning, middle, and end, and assumes at least two characters, each on either side of a door (setting).

What about other things? Particularly in this age of information and innovation, isn't there room for the emergence of yet more types of stories?

Have you ever read an argument that takes place in a Youtube comments section? Or under someone's Facebook status? It's not fully explicit, but between the lines is usually some kind of a story playing out. They're brief, snarky, and sometimes vulgar, but often thoroughly funny AND they tell you a lot about the characters involved.

The largest collection of examples of this that I know of exists at this website:

Not as big of a time waster as Facebook itself, but I did end up going through several pages.

More good ones here:


  1. Hey Abram,

    I just went the second link you provided. Hilarious!

    I think you make a good point when you say, "it's probably best to just treat it as though there are no rules at all." Going forward, how do we accomplish that? What's the best way to treat a work or be critical of a work without rules/criteria to go by?

  2. I struggled with defining what exactly constituted an non-alternative form of storytelling. For example, novels are definitely a more traditional form of storytelling. However, how do we treat CYOA (or create-your-own-adventure) stories? I think it becomes a matter of personal opinion.

  3. Those awkward interactions are indeed stories. Much more entertaining to experience them this way then if somebody were simply telling what happened.

  4. @Megan Ketelboeter

    You could indeed consider the novel to be more traditional, but as a form it didn't really solidify until the 1800's. The closest thing to it before then was the epic poem, a form nobody would really write in today.

  5. It seems like part of what you are interested in is reader path, right? I mean what does it do to a story if I can jump in in the middle and read parts but not all the way to the end?

    I think another interesting thing to think about is how new media is turning us to a more fragmented society. Think about all the things and people you can be on Facebook - Jen the teacher, Jen the aunt, Jen the friend. We tell all our stories in pieces now it seems. What does fragmentation do to story?