Define Your Terms


Last night I wandered along Southbank with a friend talking of many things, of cabbages and kings (or rather coeliac bread and the mayoral election), and the kinds of stories that we, as individuals, are naturally inclined to tell. Coming from a theatre background, she aims for specific scenes – what might be considered a traditional form of plot-crafting, with a set progression of events. I have a slight obsession with consequences – working out the logical reactions to the most recent event and extrapolating from there. In LARP, which is where our conversation started, these would be classed as ‘railroading’ and ‘reactionary’ approaches. Both are equally viable in the right situations, and they can lead to the same place, but the journey – and the style of storytelling – is likely to be very different.

The raptor reckoned that, in terms of definition, the former approach is a classic story and the latter is actually simulation. The Oxford Dictionary doesn’t really help with clarification:

sto.ry: (noun) An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment (noun) Imitation or representation, as of a potential situation or in experimental testing

I would say that both railroading and reactionary approaches are stories, because they are accounts told for entertainment. But it could also be said that all stories are simulations of more or less likely situations. What’s the distinction then?

At school I was taught that you can’t have an argument (sorry, discussion) until you had defined the terms about which you were debating. But there are some words which defy definition, either because they mean so many different things to different people or because they are too big. The Oxford English Dictionary gives 13 different definitions for the word ‘free’ and it still doesn’t really encompass the meaning. This is my pet subject, so I’m heavily biased, but maybe ‘story’ is a complicated enough word too.

In this case, I don’t know that definition is wholly necessary. Regardless of what it’s called, I’m going to carry on doing it.

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