As most of you hopefully know, the Literary Lab is conducting a short story contest. We've been getting submissions and hope to get a lot more by the cut-off date. Some of you can write very well, and it's been interesting and satisfying to read the entries.
One thing I have noticed, though, is that some of the "stories" which have come to us are not storylike. They might have good writing, but they are more non-stories. I don't mean that they are experimental and do creative things with form and narrative structure, I mean that these pieces are not stories at all. So I'd like to talk about the very basic idea of a story.
In my opinion, a story has to tell about an event. Something has to happen in the story. Some of the contest entries have been essentially responses to events: journal entries about how the writer feels about something which happened. But nothing actually happens in what we're reading. There is, as Davin likes to say, no movement. Nothing is different at the end of the story than it was at the start.
Something has to change in a story. You don't need to supply all the formal elements of exposition, rising conflict, inciting incident and reaction, climax and the like, but something has to change or happen or you don't have a story. If there is no event in your story, you likely have a non-story. At least that's my take on it.
My minimum standards for a story are that you must have the following elements:
1. An actor
2. An action
One thing I don't consider a story is this:
1. A narrator
2. An emotional state
at least, not if that's all there is to the piece.
But I'm open to suggestion and correction of my stodgy old views. So I ask you, a gang of writers, What Is A Story? How do you know when you have one, and what are the minimum requirements for a story?