We all tell stories, it’s part of who we are. We inherently want to share our knowledge and an effective way of doing that is to explain a series of related occurrences. The occurrences could reflect the true universe or they can be entirely made-up. You tell a story when you lie about taking the last piece of pizza. You tell a story when you explain why you are late to lunch. You tell a story when someone asks about your day, though it may only be a single word. Stories are a way of communicating information in a form that allows the audience to anticipate and complete the story as it’s unfolding.
Every time you tell stories, which I hope you now realize is a lot, you are building a universe. The universe you’re creating can be identical to the real one with just a few minor changes. That universe could have entirely different laws of physics! Regardless, a unique universe will be created by every member of your audience. We often say storytellers like Lucas or Tolkien created amazing universes, but we all create our own universes when we take what they’ve given us and interpret it uniquely. The storyteller’s job is not only to convey the information of the events, but to allow a diverse audience to experience some sort of catharsis.
A good storyteller is one that creates characters that are relatable enough for the audience to empathize with. A good storyteller keeps their audience unable to anticipate what comes next and wanting that completion, surrendering their entire attention. A good storyteller will allow the audience to journey and grow with the characters in the story. A good storyteller will be unafraid to force their audience into experiencing loss and defeat. A good storyteller will complete as many neural clusters as it stimulates.
A good storyteller is an incredibly difficult thing to be, but the only way to earn that title is to keep practicing and studying. “People don’t always remember what you say or do, they remember how you made them feel.” A story that makes me cathart is a story that I will remember.
Stories were first used by our ancestors to explain natural occurrences like the changing of seasons or why the wolf howls. We were a curious species and imaginative too. We observed the world around us and asked why, to which a creative individual would tell a made-up explanation story. We passed on these stories orally for generations, each time the story changed slightly. Our selfish tendency led us to believe that the characters we created in these stories could interact with us. Those stories became much more permanent as they were recorded in written form. By this time the stories had undergone significant changes from the original telling. Perhaps, if we could hear the originals, it would be easier to write off explanation stories as make-believe.
The stories told by our ancestors were usually fairly simple with a definitive overall theme being positive or negative. The stories could describe a reason to celebrate or a warning. They could end with a wedding or a death. You’ve heard them described as comedies or tragedies.
Storytelling became slightly institutionalized with the Entertainment Age creating large media corporations that could sway the trends of contemporary stories. Storytelling turned into a science with set formulas and templates of plots and characters. As I said before, a good storyteller leaves their audience unable to anticipate; not likely when generic stories are pumped out for the sole sake of profit.
The Information Age gives the people access to a huge number of stories. The dichotomy of good vs. evil has become played out and characters are becoming hybrid hero-villains, with significantly more depth than the average characters of the past. The institutionalization by the media is being combated by more original plot lines and characters via the Internet. More information about storytelling makes for better stories with unique plots and characters that more accurately reflect the human audience.
Stories are a fantastic way to explain something or express an emotion or idea. They can be true and they can be false. It’s important to appreciate stories for the sake of the story itself but you must be wary of their legitimacy. I personally love to hear people’s stories, whether they are true or not. It’s a chance for me to build a new universe based on information that someone wants to share with me. Storytelling is sharing, and sharing is loving.