Famously, there are only seven stories*, but we keep re-telling them. (Or five, or nine, depending on whose book you read). In my writing class, we were asked to think about the different types and forms of story, then consider where we would place the story we want to write.
I started to make a list. It got long.
Types of story:
- morality tale
- shaggy dog story
- literary short story in which nothing happens but someone changes, a little
- best-selling novel in which everything happens but no-one changes much (except for the ones that are dead by the end)
- tall story
- fantasy novel, set in the seething dystopia of the author’s mind, with elves, possibly at war
- pot-boiler, which is never done but bubbles along, emitting enticing or repulsive odours, according to taste
- news story, with intro, exposition, speculative quote from an expert, photo of a child and a tight word count
- literary novel, set in the seething dystopia of the author’s mind, with disaffected, educated protagonists instead of elves, also possibly at war.
- magical realist story, in which anything might happen, and probably will
- translated literary magical realist fiction, in which the unsuspecting reader is led into a labyrinth without a map and expected to find their own way out, and serve them right
- a good read, in which likeable people go through troublesome times in atmospheric scenery, the bad ending unhappily and the good happily.
- commercial fiction, in which the female relative of a person with an interesting profession is required to prove her resourcefulness or independence, perhaps by demonstrating that she possesses the skill required by the profession herself. See light house keepers, taxidermists, undertakers, French lieutenants, time travellers.
- story of my life, which is spent at a keyboard, typing, while the sun shines outside and the sea glistens.
- adventure story, which is what I write while looking at the glistening sea and imagining myself on one of the yachts heading into the blue yonder
- funny story, which is what I make out of the times I do go sailing, which involve throwing up over the side and forgetting how to tie important knots
- dark psychological thriller, in which everyone including the reader is left questioning their own sanity at ungodly hours of the night
- children’s story, which is like a story for adults, but with fewer words, better pictures and more story, often involving anthropomorphic animals
- classical fiction, written 100 years ago or more, which almost everyone agrees is good, but is only read by English students and BBC drama producers
- your story, and you’re sticking to it
- true story, which is a fiction constructed out of half-remembered events that may or may not have happened in the order in which they are related
- based on a true story: no longer a version of events which any of the protagonists would recognise
- historical fiction, in which we all try to imagine how we’d have coped without dentists and loos and wonder whether poor hygiene would be an impediment to romance
- the only way we have of understanding and making sense of our experiences.
*These are: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth. From Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, published by Bloomsbury.