Types of Stories

I’ve been thinking about storytelling lately – to the point that I’m ready to commit to writing a NaNoWriMo novel in November (although who knows how committed I’ll be by the time November actually rolls around). So, I was especially interested when a conversation with an accomplished film-maker turned to story archetypes.

He said that you could think of stories as falling into one of two classic archetypes. The first is like a hunt, and the second like a football game.

The Hunt archetype is similar to the one that Professor Harold Scheub used to talk about in the African Storyteller class I took in college, although he labeled it the ‘coming of age’ story. In this story, a person leaves his comfortable routine, has an incredible adventure (the hunt) and learns something in the process (comes of age). This is the oldest kind of story – if cave drawings can be any indication – and very linear.

The second type of story is structured more like a football game. There is the conflict and drama of a single play, which is embedded in the drama of making progress before the ball gets turned over, which is embedded in the drama of the game, embedded in the drama of a season culminating in the Playoffs and the Superbowl. These stories within stories are more circular, or encompassing, like layers of an onion.

I’m not sure that thinking of things that way really changes my experience of the story as a whole, but it’s nice to have some mental frameworks to hang things on as you come across them. I was always so focused on science classes in college that I didn’t have many chances to learn about this kind of thing then. I’m coming late to the scene, but enjoying the little snatches from here and there.


Note: This is far from the most important thing that happened this weekend, but it is the easiest one to write, and post from a dial-up connection.