Monday, January 28, 2013


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?


Anonymous said...

Hi Sia,

I don't think storytelling has changed that much on the grand scale, but the vehicles for telling stories have evolved. In addition to the oral tradition, stories can be told in musical form as songs or in new flavors like flash fiction. I've heard some of the MOTH stories on NPR, which is an indication that the oral tradition is still evolving to take on new forms that fit our current times.

Jo said...

You put me in mind of Isaac Asimov and Catherine Asaro, to name two, who are both scientists and story tellers par excellence. Physicists seem to have the ability to tell stories too.

Where would we be without story tellers?

nutschell said...

The basic DNA of storytelling hasn't changed, but the method of delivery sure has evolved!