This sprang out of a conversation I had with a friend who asked me what I thought a short story was. But my answer even surprised me a little so I wanted to expound on it here.
Most often I’ve heard that there are only three types of stories: Heroic Quest, Man Who Learned Better, and Boy Meets Girl. While those are the three main story types that most people use, I don’t believe those are the only kinds of stories. Yes, all stories have elements of one of those three in there somewhere, probably, but I don’t think that’s the main focus of every story ever told. So I’ll illustrate my point with the types of short stories I believe there can be.
Short stories that are driven by a plot. Something is happening and it will eventually reach an end-goal. In the basis of a short story, it has to get through that plot in a short amount of time and feel whole and complete without skimping on details or having plot holes. Often these sorts of stories will be the “Heroic Quest” type of story.
These are stories written to showcase its characters. It’s basically a story to meet a person and get to know about them and get a look into their mind. There doesn’t have to be a plot, there doesn’t necessarily even have to be a character change to be satisfactory, though there can be elements of “Man Who Learned Better” type stories. Of course, there can also be “Boy Meets Girl” type stories with these sorts of stories (and it’s better for this sort of story than for a plot-based story, as romance stories should focus directly on characters rather than the plot of them getting together.)
Visual/Sensory Based Stories
A story like this doesn’t necessarily even have to have a character in it. These sorts of stories focus on visuals (description) and sensory feelings you can create through the words. A lot of stories like these could be described as “prosetry” as they are poetic in their prose. They can possibly have a plot, but it must be purely visual/sensory in the way it is told, and thus it is much harder to pull off. In visual art media terms, it would be visual storytelling without a single line of dialogue told.
Those were the three types of short stories that I identified. But I do think they can be applied to longer stories/novels as well. If not through the whole story, at least elements throughout. Character-based stories can be full novels (slice of life stories, anyone?) but visual/sensory based stories not so much. I’m sure it could be done, but it would be difficult. I personally try to put elements of that sort of story into my longer stories at times, though.
I’ve just been thinking about this because I’ve been told more than once that those three types of stories (Heroic Quest, Man Who Learned Better, and Boy Meets Girl) are essentially the only kinds of stories and I don’t agree with that because most of my stories don’t really fall into any of those categories. I don’t know what they do fall into, though.
Either way, don’t let your writing be constrained by labels. Just write the story you want to write, and don’t worry whether or not it’s Heroic Quest, Man Who Learned Better, or Boy Meets Girl. Just make it a great story. In fact, if you don’t make it one of those three, it’s possibly even better.