The Difference Between Tale and Story


What is a difference between a story and a tale? This is how our Fiction Professor Toby McLitt started his lecture. He gave us two examples, which are Lady with a Lapdog by Chekhov as the story, and Little Red Hood as the tale. There are many differences between these two genres, and one is of course more complex than the other.


Tale: Little Red Hood


  • Events are predictable.
  • The tale can have a “sing along” structure [All the better to hear/see/eat you!].
  • Choices are simple [Little Red Hood just needs to decide if going off the path or not].
  • Characters are not psychological [The wolf simply represents evil, and we don’t need his backstory].
  • They have a moral [In Little Red Hood, it could be to listen to parents, don’t go out of the path, if you step off the path then the wolf will come… Little Red Hood steps off the path as she wants to pick flowers for her granny or, in other versions of the tale, she decides to take the shorter way. The morals, anyway, are simple].
  • The time is patterned, linear, familiar.
  • Tales are told again, again and again. There is a pleasure in joining the chorus.
  • Tales are much older than stories, they are part of an ancient culture and everyone get them if they’re referred to (in jokes, etc).
  • It comes from the folk tradition.


Story: Lady with a Lapdog by Chekhov


  • Events are unpredictable.
  • Choices are complex. They can be moral choices, like having an affair or not.
  • Psychology is an issue.
  • They don’t have an explicit moral.
  • Time is unpatterned, often not linear.
  • Stories are, in general, unfamiliar.
  • Short story is an art form, it developed out of people reading and coming up with other stories.
  • Stories come from art. Chekhov is the father of modern short story.


After this lecture, Professor McLitt gave us an advice: all the further we go from tales, the better.




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