In Robert McKee’s, Story, his first chapter begins with:
Imagine, in one global day, the pages of prose turned, plays performed, films screened, the unending stream of television comedy and drama, twenty-four-hour print and broadcast news, bedtime tales told to children, barroom bragging, back-fence Internet gossip, humankind’s insatiable appetite for stories. Story is not only our most prolific art form but rivals all activities—work, play, eating, exercise—for our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep—and even then we dream. Why? Why is so much of our life spent inside stories? Because as critic Kenneth Burke tells us, stories are equipment for living.
Wow! Think about what this really means!
So what is a storyteller?
Merriam-Webster provides four definitions:
a relater of anecdotes
a reciter of tales
a liar, or fibber
a writer of stories
Whereas the National Storytelling Network provides this statement:
Storytelling is an ancient art form and a valuable form of human expression.
The organization then notes that the term storytelling is used in many ways, but provides a specific definition, that within our art form, we can explore further.
Storytelling is the interactive art, of using words and actions, to reveal the elements and images of a story, while encouraging the listener’s imagination.
Let’s break this down as it pertains to us as writers.
Storytelling is interactive because it is two-way
For a story to be told there will always be a teller and a listener, a writer and a reader.
The response from the listeners, the readers, the audience, this will influence the telling of a story.
In fact, storytelling emerges from the interaction and cooperative, coordinated efforts of teller and audience.
At first as a writer, when you first pen your story, it’s an isolated experience. You have no idea if you actually have a pearl in front of you. It takes work, dedication, and courage to share your story.
As a reader, you generally seek a quiet and somewhat isolated environment to pick up a novel. You want to go “off into a new world,” a place where you can concentrate, and forget about the distractions and demands of your present world, a place where you can be alone with your thoughts.
But are we truly alone when we read?
When a reader reads, it’s a magical moment in time to relate to the writer.
This is especially true with literary texts. This is a relationship, an invitation to collaborate, an expectation from the author of literary texts that you as a reader will bring your own interpretative ideas to the author’s words.
And here is the beauty found within these combining isolated moments. Readers enrich the meanings of text through personal experience, but authors make deliberate choices to guide those readers’ interpretations. Talk about collaboration!
Storytelling uses words
So a talented writer will make deliberate choices through the use of words. And those words will help shape readers’ interpretations.
A gifted reader will pay careful attention to what the author actually says about life and how those thoughts are expressed. Whereas, a skilled author will seek words that elicit certain reactions within the reader, often without the reader even being aware of what’s happening.
What a fun dance between a gifted reader and a skilled author!
Storytelling presents a story
In order to perform the dance well, the author must never lose sight of why the reader picked up the book to begin with. The reader expects a story!
So a word of caution, found again in Robert McKee, Story:
When talented people write baldly it’s generally for one of two reasons: Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.
Remember, storytelling always involves the presentation of a story—a narrative. As a writer, you share that story the medium of words. So be sure to use your words wisely!
Storytelling encourages the active imagination of its audience
As already stated, a story is interactive. Through the art of storytelling, the listener or reader will imagine the story.
That means that through the words shared, the reader has an active role of creating vivid, multi-sensory images, actions, characters, and events. The reality of the story will take shape in the reader’s mind, this will come through the story the author shares, but it will also be formed through the listener’s own past experiences, beliefs, and understandings. The completed story happens in the mind of the reader, it is their unique and personalized experience. And therefore, the reader becomes a co-creator in the story experience.
No wonder we enjoy stories!
Originally published in March 2015 on The Other Side of Quiet Writing Group website.