story

Two Types of Story

One of the things I learned while studying the Humanities is that there really are only two types of stories.

CAUTION: this post is only partially true and is most definitely over-simplified. BEWARE!

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

It sounds way too simple to be true! Wouldn’t writing be so incredibly easy if it were?

The two types are…

Can you imagine a story you’ve read where the characters seem silly, thick-minded, or at least at some sort of disadvantage? Characters like this can’t seem to look ahead far enough to predict the outcome of their actions. As a result, they land in complicated, difficult, and often humorous (humourous) situations.

This type of story is a comedy. The reader is smarter than the protagonist, and despite bumbles and danger, there is a happy ending. A couple of examples are Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and The Rosie Project. Graeme Simsion’s protagonist, Don Tillman, is a professor who bumbles through the story, comedically over-self-aware, yet somewhat heroic as he becomes embroiled in a plan to find a wife for himself and a father for Rosie. Simsion’s story subverts the genre because he wrote a “smart comedy” as the characters are all educated and interesting, unlike the first comedies invented in Ancient Greece, where comedies were peopled with fools and bawdy antics and far too much drink during their festivals to worship their gods. All you have to do to find out this is true of comedy is try to find one on a movie channel that isn’t populated by fools. (They do exists, but they are tricky to find!)

The other type of story is a tragedy. In this type of story, the characters are usually relatable, or even in the higher stations of society like the kings in Shakespeare’s political plays. They fall into one of the Deadly Sins, or make some sort of tragic mistake which leads to their demise. At the end, they are “sadder but wiser, (Aristotle/Coleridge).

Aristotle is the one who first wrote about the two basic types of stories in his book, The Poetics. His two types of stories seem to ring true.

A recent example of a tragedy is The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. While there are amusing parts, the overall trajectory leads through difficult circumstances and seemingly the tragic decision of the son to separate from his family. By the end, he has become wiser.

Can you think of any stories that don’t fit his idea?

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