You sit around the campfire telling spooky stories. You tell your children about the exciting life their grandfather had. You tell someone how your day was or about your vacation. Congratulations, you’re not just a storyteller but you’ve done it through probably the oldest for of storytelling…mostly because nobody was around to see when cavemen started speaking versus the invention of cave drawings. Can we find the drawings Abel made of his brother before that whole incident with the rock?
The spoken word may be the oldest form of storytelling, but it has both evolved with the times and stayed the same. You will find in this series that sometimes things overlap. The campfire tale still exists, both traditionally and a sort of “round robin” style. Also, we have audiobooks and audio diaries. The audio drama is an extension of spoken stories as well as theater and other sources, but theater itself started from sitting around telling stories. Cave drawings and campfire tales may well be the origin of storytelling, but while cave drawings evolved into other forms of media, the spoken word has managed to remain as it began.
The Art Of Storytelling does not rank media format, or genres. Despite what certain enthusiasts may tell you no media is greater than the other. Instead I want to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each form of storytelling. Note that my “college education” is limited to “mostly obsolete web design courses” so if you think I’m not allowed to have an opinion then feel free to put in your own two cents on the topics in this series. A conversation about storytelling would be really nice. Here’s are a series of observations from someone who just really likes storytelling.
Obviously it’s the easiest form…to a point. By “easiest” I actually mean, if the intro wasn’t clear enough, we all do it. It’s a form of conversation. It might even be the most intimate. Unless you’re on stage doing stand-up or telling your audience about some bit event in your life either as part of an assembly or a talk show type gathering, your talking to a small group of people. Even that isn’t completely true with podcasts or radio shows like A Prairie Home Companion, which reaches a wider audience. A podcast may not even have an audience in attendance in person; I’m thinking most don’t actually. It makes a personal connection with your audience because it isn’t you and a bunch of other actors playing roles with costumes and sound effects and everything else. It’s just you and your audience, telling of your life or someone else’s, or making up a story either on the fly or one you’ve practiced or perhaps even wrote something down for.
It doesn’t just have to be one person either. I’ve never been to camp but I’ve seen stories set at camp where they use a “story stick” to pass over the narrative chores to someone else. They then take that story and take it in their own direction. You don’t even need the stick as there are other methods used, like setting a clock and when the timer runs out the next person has to take over. You don’t necessarily have to act it out but if you have a good, quick imagination it might make for an interesting or unintentionally hilarious story. I would have trouble doing this because of the same story control tendencies that probably helped kids not want to play with me but it could end up being brilliant with the right group.
So where is that point I mentioned earlier where “easiest” isn’t all that easy? That comes down to the individual. Some people are better at it than others. Maybe you can make up a really good story on the fly, but you also have to be interesting. I for example have a hard time with it due to my limited social skills and the same “rerun the same dialog in my head over and over” think that allows me to jump past a script in comics. You have to be able to do a good dramatic reading if you’re reading from a book, even if you aren’t doing “the voice” for your kids when you tell them a bedtime story. Some people also have a better speaking voice than others so you need a voice people want to listen to unless your telling a loved one some anecdote of something that happened to you.
Memory plays a role as well. If you’re remembering a story someone told you then you have to remember everything. I don’t know what you call it around where you are but there’s a game called the “telephone game” that explains what I mean. Get maybe seven people together. Tell person #1 something and notice how different it is by person #7. This is why the Greek myths have inconsistencies for example. Every person who hears the story takes something else away from it, and their telling will come from different interpretations. If one person is focused more on an action bit of the story while another the ingenuity or the romance their telling will be different from the others. Bits may not be remembered so they’ll either leave that part out or try to remember and potentially get something wrong. YOU may forget a key detail or want to tell something different or in a different way just to keep from boring yourself. This is worse when telling a story that really happened versus a work of fiction but it leads to the next problem.
The spoken story lacks permanence. When the written language came along someone could write down those stories, and you have recording devices that you can tell the story into. What if you aren’t a writer or you don’t have your phone out and recording? Then that telling, if not the story itself, is gone never to return. How many great stories were lost because nobody ever saved them? I’d like to think more bad than good stories were lost but they’re still lost.
Finally there is still something to be said about presentation. Spooky stories are best told by campfire at night. Try telling one on a bright sunny day with birds singing and it loses a bit of atmosphere. Presentation is important in any story. However, you can tell any kind of story by campfire, like that big wave you hit earlier in the day. This may be more of a genre issue than a media issue.
The spoken word; the form of storytelling we all do and has existed for centuries. It isn’t always permanent even if you’re passing down a story to the next generation and you risk changes to it, but it’s the most intimate form of storytelling and if you’re any good at it then you can keep the story alive before ways to save them were available. I’d say give it a try but most likely you already have. Compared to this the other forms we’ll be examining are a lot harder.