A story is a "narrative of events."
Little Red Riding Hood goes into the woods, meets the wolf, takes a short cut to grandma's, meets the wolf again, says "My what big teeth you have," the woodcutter comes and chops up the wolf. A narrative of events is a simple recounting or retelling of something that happened, either in the "real" world, or in a "fictional" world. The story of Little Red Riding Hood is clearly a narrative of events. It is also a narrative of events when the old man goes out to catch the big fish, or when Michael Corleone goes out to kill his father's enemies, or when Leamas, the spy, goes out into the cold. Any story is a narrative of events. But that is not all it is.
Consider this narrative of events:
Joe hops out of bed, dresses, packs a lunch, gets into his car. He drives a few blocks to his girlfriend's place and picks her up. Her name is Sally. They drive to the beach where they lie on the hot sand all day, then have a nice seafood dinner. On the way home they stop for ice cream. This is a narrative of events, but is it a story?
Most readers, instinctively, would sense that it is not. The reason is that the events are not worth reading about. The events must be of interest. So what if Joe goes to the beach with his girlfriend? So what if they have a dinner? The events of this narrative have no meaning because the events have no consequences. If we define a story as a "narrative of events," we have not gone far enough in our definition. We must add that is is a "narrative of consequential events."
Besides consequential events a story has to involve human characters. And not only human characters, but human characters that are worthy of our attention. No one wants to read about characters who are just anybody. They want to read about interesting somebodies, characters capable of evoking in the reader some measure of emotional response.
An expanded definition of story now would be: "A story is a narrative of events involving worthy human characters and consequential events."
This definition is good but still not complete. What is missing is that the characters must change as a result of conflict. If a character waltzes through a story unaffected by the events and sufferings he sees and endures, then the narrative of events is not a story at all, but merely an adventure.
A complete definition, then, is: A story is a narrative of consequential events involving worthy human characters who change as a result of those events.
Excerpted from How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
If you will remember the above definition of "a story" when you set out to write a short story or novel, and incorporate these elements in your writing, you'll have created a piece of work worthy of being published.
Keep Writing, Ya'all,