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¬x~x=x Dept.


Somewhere else I ran into a defense of Avatar having a weak story that ran something like this: "Well, there are only X number of stories in the world." (X varies, but it's been as low as three and as high as ... forty-nine, I think, in one incarnation.)

My answer is: Horse manure. There are as many or as few stories as you want there to be. The whole concept of a story is an arbitrary human construction in the first place, so any cap on the number of possible story permutations is going to be just as arbitrary.

Then comes the counter-argument: But doesn't it make sense to have these things codified, for easy reference? Sure, sez I, if that's all you're doing. But if you're creating, the last thing you want to do is tell yourself Well, there's only this many stories floating around out there, so I might as well pick one and settle for less.

I may catch fire for this, but I have a hard time seeing this as anything but a defeatist way of thinking about the subject. The more you get accustomed to thinking there are only X stories, etc., the easier it becomes to dial back your own storytelling ambitions to fit into one of those buckets. To settle for less, as I see it.

Sure, there are things which are common to all things deserving of the label "story"; that's what the label is for in the first place. I'm not trying to say that it is a good thing to be ignorant of storytelling construction. I am saying that the whole X-number-of-stories conceit is only useful from an academic point of view, as a classification device — and even there I have my reservations, since I balk at the idea of literary criticism as a fancier version of philately.

I suspect that's why people like to apply it after the fact ("This is one of those types of stories"), even when they're not doing anything remotely academic in the process. But a lot of times this classification formula feels like it's been invoked more to excuse uninventive, lazy, cop-out storytelling. If you're going to defend a story against potentially valid criticism, why not defend the story on its own terms instead of evoking what amounts to a just-so tale about story construction?

Okay, you may say. So what about genre? Isn't that a classification device too, on bordering on an x-number-of-stories variety of classification? Well, sure. It's also not unheard of for people to use the confines of a genre as a defense against certain criticisms of what happens in the story. But a) nobody says there are only X genres in the world, and b) a genre is not an entirely closed-ended container, since a great deal of what's creative about a story can be how it starts within what a genre circumscribes and leapfrogs out of that.

If I must subdivide, I'll stick with exactly two categories of story: those that work, and those that don't. At least with that, we're all forced to make up our own minds.

Now: your turn! Feel free to disagree.


Tags: creativity criticism writing


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2010/01/02 13:38.

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