What the Hell is Story Anyway?

You’ve probably been using the word “story” wrong. I know I have. When you say “story” or “narrative,” you’re probably talking about “plot.” So what’s the difference?

In a nutshell:

Story is a sequence of events.

Plot is the cause and effect that leads from one event to the next.

For example…

I took my girlfriend to dinner for our anniversary. She got sick. We went home.

Because I love my girlfriend, I took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner. The chef wasn’t paying attention, so he sent us undercooked chicken. It gave my girlfriend serious food poisoning and she began vomiting all over the table. So I quickly took her to the car and drove her home.

It’s not the level of detail that defines the plot—though “plot” is usually more detailed—it’s the why. I took my girlfriend to her favorite restaurant because I love her. The chef sent undercooked food because he wasn’t paying attention. And she threw up because she got food poisoning.

So the next time you’re in rehearsal and someone suggests you play a round of “Story Spine” (which is the famous “Once upon a time/And everyday/Until one day/etc.” routine) tell them it should be called Plot Spine instead.

And technically, any longform improv show could be called “narrative.”

Check back this Sunday for the next edition of The Sunday Interview featuring a surprise Austin Improv superstar…

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