The Familiar Art of Storytelling
The art of storytelling is as old as time. Even before people could write, they told stories that ranged from quiet tales designed to calm familial fears (early living was dubious at best) to those that depicted the raw and savage emotions of battle. Some of these sagas were drawn, such as those found in the Lascaux Caves in France’s Pyrenees Mountains. Many more were told orally - people have always been eager to hear new and memorable tales. Not only was the storytelling itself powerful, but so was the ability to remember. People listened attentively and passed popular tales from one generation to the next. For instance, Aesop lived in 500 BC, but his fables were not printed until 300 years later.
Storytelling is important because it identifies a trait possessed by all cultures: the desire to hear about other people and events. Non-fiction allows us a glimpse at lives we will never lead, such as those of royal family members, war heroes, or civil rights leaders. Fiction opens up entirely new possibilities, allowing us to connect with characters who share our hopes and address our shortcomings as they journey through fantastical lands. These tales bring each of us together, however briefly, and expand our minds until we step out of our own worlds and into something new.
Narratives of all kinds include distinct individual perspectives. Such perspectives lend character to the story that would be slightly different if someone else told it. One teller might describe a thunderstorm as a ravage of clouds gathering in the sky to unleash torrents of rain, while another might say the rain fell in a steady steam, forming puddles in the street and on the sidewalk. Descriptions and word choices give a glimpse of the authors themselves until elements of their natures are slowly revealed. This is human interaction at its finest, without worry for igniting an argument or revolt. If strong emotions or deceit are thrown in to the story, they simply become a part of it. No individual is affronted or insulted because storytelling is not a personal attack, but an enlightening experience.
An Equal Opportunity
Whether or not we're consciously aware of it, each of us is a storyteller. Some people read stories to their children, some relay the day’s events, and still others record their thoughts and feelings in private journals. Storytelling doesn't have to be before a large audience or in a bestselling novel to achieve its purpose; it can happen at the kitchen table or in the break room, over the phone or in a letter. Even if just one person is listening, the story begins its fated journey. It's the journey that gives a narrative its ability to impact. Any idea can develop within a teller’s mind, but if he or she doesn’t share, or at least record, the tale, it will wither like fruit on the vine.
History, personal records of triumph, and tales of woe would all be lost if not for the force of storytelling. Just as the teller’s thoughts and emotions become part of the tale, so too do the listeners who form their own opinions and then share those with friends and family. Storytelling is not an individual event, but a yarn that starts with the voice, the pen, or the brush. From that point, all who listen or read become part of the tale.