Types of stories are like ideas. The only limit is our imagination. It only takes one new idea to rewrite the realm of possibility.
My writing teacher once said, “There are only two stories. A stranger comes to town and a man goes on a trip.”
Leo Tolstoy is credited with saying it first. Later it was attributed to novelist John Gardner. It seems simplistic, like someone saying that something is or it isn’t.
In the first place, the quote is apocryphal. Tolstoy’s original statement was abridged. He originally said that there are 22 stories.
This kind of editing is dangerous. It maligns the speaker and the message. Stories are important.
“And so we all matter — maybe less than a lot, but always more than none.”— John Green, An Abundance of Katherines
It doesn’t matter what the total number of story types equals. Only that we discover the best ways to tell our stories. Choosing a model for the story you want to tell starts with understanding the importance behind the choices that are available.
Jerry Flattum’s What is Story: Story Types, Plot, Themes, and Genres is a great introduction. He begins with types of conflicts that often exist in stories. His approach is designed to help you write a screenplay that will sell.
To begin with, the examples start with a person vs. themselves or someone else and then includes examples of a person taking on the external world. The elements, technology, the supernatural, and god are the likely antagonists. Others might include viruses, extraterrestrial elements, or some combination of antagonists.
Examples of these conflicts exist in literature. A classic tale of Human vs. self is the book Lord of the Flies. Into the Wild is a popular example of Human vs. nature. Readers need only look to William Shakespeare’s Macbeth to witness Human vs. Supernatural.
Conflicts in Stories
For the most part, Flattum’s introduction to how we tell stories is focused on screenplays. Scripts are built on dialogue, plot, and theme. Opposing forces define the structure.
The entertainment industry likes presentations that are brief. Preferably a quick synopsis or bullet points. Ideally presented using an elevator pitch that covers the main points in a matter of seconds. Screenplays are generally 120 pages.
The first thirty pages introduce the characters and conflict. Pages 30-60 build the tension. Pages 60-90 raise the stakes and pages 90-120 are the climax and the resolution of the story.
There are other approaches…