Defining Storytelling

One of the skills every writer needs to have and develop is that of storytelling. Explaining exactly what that is, however, is one of the harder parts of writing. On a technical definition storytelling is the use of narratives to describe and impart ideas, messages and beliefs. In more ambiguous terms, it’s creating a story, often to share with others.

It should come as no surprise that the origins of storytelling are oral in nature. Before the advent of writing and widespread literacy the best way to tell a story was to do exactly that: tell the story to someone else. The use of props, reenactments and embellishments eventually grew into more elaborate ways of sharing a tale. Performances such as plays are one of the many ways oral storytelling lives on, but there are other ways showmanship carries on stories. Ritual and ceremonial dance almost universally have elements of storytelling embedded in them.

The use of props and costumes also shows us another place to find a shared story: art. Remember to look beyond comics for a story though: sculptures, paintings and even costumes can all tell us something about the characters or situations they portray. For example, you might have seen one of those ‘vampire’ necklaces around Halloween that depict drops of blood. In that instance, the storytelling element there is the idea that a vampire must bite someone (typically on the neck) in order to turn them.

The final and most obvious place to look for storytelling in its natural form are in the folk and fairy tales passed down from one generation to the next. It’s entirely possible you might have experienced these stories in the same way many of your ancestors did: told to you by a parent or grandparent. After all, oral traditions are still the most accessible means of handing down a story—be that about a fairy queen, or about how Aunt Connie and Aunt Rosa married.

What does storytelling mean to you? Let me know in the comments below! 


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