What Are Traditional Stories?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 11 April 2014
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Traditional stories are narratives that have some significance in the cultural history of a given group of people. The term "traditional stories" is also sometimes used to refer to narratives that adhere to traditional rules and practices of storytelling, regardless of whether the story has cultural significance. Traditional stories are often important parts of a given culture's literary canon. There are many different types of such stories, including myths, fables, epics, fairy tales, and other narrative forms. In many cases, such stories exist in many different forms by a variety of writers; the origin of the story may not even be known with certainty.

In most cases, traditional stories are quite old. They are significant to the cultural history of a certain group of people, and may even provide alternate histories of the origins and actions of a given group's ancestors. Such stories were, in some cases, originally told orally and were only recorded on paper some time after their original telling. The actual origin of some traditional stories is not known with any confidence.

Many traditional stories, particularly those that have major cultural significance, exist in many versions by several different authors. The Faust story, which tells of a brilliant scholar dissatisfied with his life who makes a deal with the devil, for instance, is a traditional German story that has been told in many different forms throughout history. Literary scholars and historians cannot say with certainty when the story originated.


Themes and motifs from traditional stories are easily recognizable and are often re-used by writers, artist, musicians, and scholars. The Faustian deal with the devil, for instance, appears in many different artistic works. This is particularly true in the German artistic tradition in which the Faust story originated. Borrowing one or more themes or motifs from a traditional story tends to call others to mind. Many writers count on this fact when borrowing from a traditional story and intend for the work to have greater weight and significance because of the literary or artistic tradition behind it.

Scholars may also use the term "traditional stories" to refer to stories that follow conventional narrative practices. Such stories tend to follow normal grammar rules, follow traditional and chronological story arcs, and focus primarily on details relevant to the narrative itself. Nontraditional stories, by contrast, may follow unusual and non-chronological story arcs and may focus on details that are largely irrelevant to the progression of the narrative itself. In such works, the writer is often attempting to make a point and create an aesthetic affect that is not directly related to the narrative events.


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