Storytelling is the act of inviting someone into an unknown narrative. The invitation: sit next to a storyteller. An even better invitation: sit on the lap of a storyteller for a first-hand view. Stories have the power to enter our own narratives and give us new memories. Stories alter our perceptions of the world and of ourselves.
A good storyteller will rarely tell you what they think – they will show you. Moral objectives are either nonexistent or implicit; good storytellers will not tell you what’s right or wrong. Instead the story itself will challenge your beliefs. In this way, the storyteller respects the reader’s autonomy as much as the reader respects the storyteller’s autonomy. Therein lies the power of storytelling; mutual respect between the reader and the writer. Or listener and speaker, viewer and painter, audience and performer.
While storytelling may have implicit moral messages, often times well-crafted narratives contain explicit details. Explicitness is a form of authenticity. Why? Because it removes the shine and polish we work so hard to maintain. Explicit details allow the reader to experience vulgar and sometimes uncomfortable subtleties present in real stories, in the real world, and in our real lives.
This year I will be launching into a nonfiction collection of short stories – all true and all seared into my brain (sometimes reasons still unknown to me). The collection includes vivid memories from my life; they are not right or wrong or black or white. They do not always have purpose or incredibly deep meaning. They just are.
So with a little help from my friends, I’ve collected a collaborative definition of storytelling:
“Storytelling for me is defined by humanizing either the people or the situation that you are telling the story about. I am a huge fan of interviewers or writers who take people or situations that seem unattainable or unimaginable and make them human. Make them understandable and relatable.” – Nathan D.
“Storytelling for me is inviting others into a story to experience a perspective or event that they otherwise may never experience.” – Kaci T.
“Being able to communicate an idea or event, true or made up, in which the audience is able to feel like they were there, and are able to connect with the story, feelings, emotions, people or ideas.” – Cody S.
“Storytelling to me is communicating an experience that people can relate to, and if done well, plunges the listener into another world.” – Nate M.
“Interpretive communication…Someone sharing their perception of a situation in which they try to reenact emotions, ideas and theories. It also depends on who the story belongs to.” – Ashlee O.
“The spoken form of retelling a made-up or not made-up series of events often revealing a meaningful insight, perspective…or simple laughter. Story telling to me? I’ve most recently experienced it as verbally captured history.” – Sarah E.
“The most effective way we connect and relate to each other as humans, it’s the art of communicating an anecdote of importance and bringing it to life with inflection and passion.” – Sam S.
What does storytelling mean to you?