Many cellular components are present in such low numbers per cell that random births and deaths of individual molecules can cause substantial "noise" in concentrations. But biochemical events do not necessarily occur in single steps of individual molecules. Some processes are greatly randomized when synthesis or degradation occurs in large bursts of many molecules during a short time interval. Conversely, each birth or death of a macromolecule could involve several small steps, creating a memory between individual events. We present a generalized theory for stochastic gene expression, formulating the variance in protein abundance in terms of the randomness of the individual gene expression events. We show that common types of molecular mechanisms can produce gestation and senescence periods that reduce noise without requiring higher abundances, shorter lifetimes, or any concentration-dependent control loops. We also show that most single-cell experimental methods cannot distinguish between qualitatively different stochastic principles, although this in turn makes such methods better suited for identifying which components introduce fluctuations. Characterizing the random events that give rise to noise in concentrations instead requires dynamic measurements with single-molecule resolution.