Monday, April 26, 2010

The Art Of Storytelling

We’re writers. Storytelling for us is like breathing. Storytelling is as old as time. Oral storytelling is a long-standing art of most cultures. Much of it set to some form of music or through use of rhythms in word formation or a drum to remember the stories. I’m sure some of the stories were a way of sharing lessons learned, but I’m equally sure, making up stories were also a form of entertainment told around the cook fire. A way to also share the activities of the day and connect.

Storytelling hasn’t changed all that much. We observe something in life that catches our interest. Maybe it’s something we’ve discovered through research, or something we’ve lived, or people watching, a snatch of a song, or a movie or show. As storytellers we take those observations, experiences, or snippets of life and give them emotions, setting, and an ending—sometimes happy sometimes not. It’s a way to take our experiences and knowledge and connect emotionally with our audience, the reader and ourselves. Our own campfire tales.

I read an interesting article not long ago, in The Scientist, about the Science Of Storytelling. The title caught my eye. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading it and it wasn’t what I thought it would be but it was interesting.

The gist of it was science is a story about ideas and lessons learned. Not all that different from the stories around the cook fire or in a shaman’s circle. Scientists tell their stories via published papers and books, which has little or no narrative or personal thoughts.

A non-profit organization,
The Moth, sponsored an event at the World Science Festival, called Matter: Stories of Atoms and Eves, and the point of this storytelling session is each story of the event had to be true, short, and told without notes. Not easy for a scientist trained to tell the facts and nothing but the facts and removing any personal feelings from the information. Each of the participants shared their knowledge but from a personal standpoint designed to connect with the audience and perhaps show the passion they felt towards their area of study.

As writers and storytellers we know how to craft and tell a story, not so easy for the uninitiated as one participant,
Irene Pepperberg, noted. “It was quite the effort trying to get a 40 minute presentation into 10 minutes.” She gamely shared the unique difficulties and excitement of working with her research subject and “colleague,” Alex the African Grey parrot. In 2007 Alex died and she said, “I realized I'd lost the most important being in my life for the last thirty years.”

Each of the highly regarded participants told their stories. It was actually very fascinating to read the stories and then look at the body of research behind them. For that night, they were storytellers and connected with a rapt audience of over 250 people. Well-respected “elders” sharing their experiences around the cook fire, so to speak.

The thought of “elders” isn’t that far removed in light of what The Moth’s executive and creative director,
Lea Thau, said of the evening. “I was extremely moved by the evening. When you have someone who's contributed as much to the world as these people have, it adds a bit of gravitas, and we're all in awe. But the thing I love about storytelling is that it levels the playing field.”

Really, the art of storytelling, on one level or another, is merely tales around the cook fire or the dinner table. A way of connecting, sharing, and entertaining.

Do you think the art of storytelling has changed? Any thoughts?

This week I will be attending Romance Times Convention in Columbus, Ohio. I will be having some interesting reports, interviews, and a few intriguing pictures you're sure to enjoy.

Have a great week!


Mason Canyon said...

Interesting post, one to ponder. Looking forward to your reports, interviews and photos from the convention. Have fun and tell all.

Thoughts in Progress

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh I will. I'm looking forward to it. I just hate all the last minute details to double check before I can go, ugh.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think verbal storytelling has changed in that fewer people can do it well.
And thanks - I just noticed one of my books in the slide show!

Tonya Kappes said...

I can't believe I'm not going to RT! It's only an hour from my house, but I was gone a few times already and I had to introduce my kids to me again. LOl!
I think story telling is an art. Some people do it well verbally and some do it well on paper. Keep us posted!

Kat Sheridan said...

I've never been a story teller. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, or on the porch in the evenings, listening to the family raconteur (that wasn't me), admiring the way they could make folks laugh. These days, I do it with my writing, which allows me to go slow and think it through. What I like best is that I just get to make up any old story I want!

Joanne Kennedy said...

I think storytelling has changed with technology. People today are used to the rapid-fire storytelling on television and movies, with flickering images that demand your attention and a story that wraps up in two hours or less. As writers, I think we have to work harder to absorb our readers, who have less patience for narrative and description and want more action. I try to keep my own books moving fast, with shorter chapters. I'm very conscious of keeping the readers attention and making sure they just have to turn that next page!

Wayzgoose said...

I've always considered myself a storyteller and a story writer, but the two are very different. In my blogged novel "Stn. George & the Dragon" ( the lead character makes his way through the world trying to find his dragon by trading "Once upon a times" with the other travelers he meets. There are 21 stories that are loosely connected by the narrative and the quest.

But, as I discovered when I did a stage adaptation of the novel recently, telling the story is very different than writing the story. Storytelling has as much to do with the teller's immediate connection with a live audience as it does with the content of the story itself.

I've been to conferences like the one on science you mentioned that were more traditional. The presenters read their papers and no matter how interesting the subject matter, the presentation was boring and almost impossible to follow. I dare say the majority of novelists are probably not that great at reading their works as well.

But when the scientists (or novelists) are pulled out of the protective shell of carefully crafted words that are set in concrete (or ink) as the perfect culmination of their hours of creative labor and editing, and are forced to connect directly to the audience while telling the story, a completely different set of points becomes important. It is likely that the parrot, for example, didn't show up in the written research paper. But it was what made the telling of the story so captivating.

When we write, we say we are storytellers. But few of us actually cross that boundary that exposes the soul of the writer to direct contact of the reader. The telling of the story reveals more of the writer than the writing of it ever can.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia, great post! I've always thought that human beings are a race of storytellers-from history to science and beyond. I tell people I'm more of a storyteller than an author.

Have fun at the conference. Cheers~

James Rafferty said...

Hi Sia. I like telling stories in my writing, but discovered when I read an excerpt at a live mic event last Fall there's a whole performance aspect which works differently in front of a live audience. The goal is the same -- connect with the reader / audience -- but in the live venue you need to pay attention to microphone position (if applicable), and making sure your voice reaches the entire room.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I think so too, Joanne. I, for one miss some the the richness that well crafted narrative can add. And you hit on the head, today, many readers want face pace and lots of action. Finding the path to be able to do the story justice and keep their interest is a challenge. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Wayz, I come from a family of oral story telling. You have to employ different methods, to certain extent, than in written story telling. Rhythms of the words for one, you use your voice to set a mood or a scene, voice inflections and range are important as are facial expressions and gestures.

I do feel there are some great storytellers that write the stories, but again it's all about connection with your audience, touching them emotionally so they care and are pulled onward.

Really, I don't think there is just one form of telling a story. Stories, like music, have to touch or involve the reader/listener in some way.

I wish you success with St George and the Dragon. Sounds interesting.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Exactly James. That's true whether you're singing (and isn't that also a form of storytelling? set to music?) or reading excerpts. Delivery is bit different but the same goals.

Nancy, I think humans are storytellers too. I love to see the variety of forms they use to accomplish that. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Diane,I only have the best on my slide show, lolol! I need to update it. After RT. I also want to add your newest.

I've had several authors Over Coffee I haven't had a chance to get their books on the slide.

I agree, verbal storytelling is an art and sadly not many employ that form of storytelling or do it well.

aries18 said...

Great topic Sia. While I think that the means of storytelling has changed the point of it is still the same: to entertain and to teach. It's an art that will always evolve as we evolve.

Have a great time at RT. I'll be waiting for those exciting reports back.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Sia--it's been a while since I commented, too swamped! I've been enjoying your posts though. I don't think the storytelling elements will ever change. I think we need, deep down, a beginning, middle and end and some sort of lesson or meaning. It doesn't matter what format the story is told in.