The Mystery of Storytelling

Painting by Jean-Joseph Taillasson: Virgil rea...

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We’re told that storytelling has been around for a very long time, yet that in earlier days it was more formulaic and more geared towards cultural propaganda, especially in the early epics (The Odyssey/The Aenead).

We are even told that it was a way of retelling history, keeping alive morals, stories and events yet I think there’s more to it than that. If that’s all true then why do people who have no interest in doing those things have a desire to write stories.

So the question is:

Why do we write stories at all?

Lange Manzanar j8CC-802A

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Is it to learn? Is it to sympathise with other characters, being able to swap ourselves into other people’s shoes and in doing so learn about endless possibilities and experiences that we may not have experienced ourselves? Is it to express and share parts of ourselves with other people or just some emotional release? Or is it just a desire to create and to explore? Is it just the imagination wanting a playground with which to fabricate worlds and characters in order for personal entertainment?


Image by TOM81115 via Flickr

It’s hard to conclude the why of it. Several years ago I created a poll on asking other writers why they write. Knowing that it would be hard to put in every possibility, I put in only the most basic answers and left one as OTHER, hoping it would encourage people to email me with more personal answers.

It worked, as to date I’ve had 1108 votes and many varying replies from writers wanting to explain their personal feelings and experiences with writing in more detail. The most popular answers, to my surprise, did not include `For profit’ which only got 20 votes (1.8% of the overall).

These were the most popular answers:

  • To express your feelings or to spread a message about life413 Votes/37.3%
  • To escape reality – 312 Votes/28.2%
  • For Fun of course – 238 Votes 21.5%

It was wonderful to know that, while people did value profit as well, the main reason for most writers was their love of writing or an overwhelming urge to write.

Broadway lights

Image by Dom Dada via Flickr

So how does storytelling apply to the modern world. We have more fantasy than ever: books, television, films, music videos, computer games, internet; yet we more knowledge of reality than ever before, with much more information easily accessible to us. Maybe that’s why the modern generation, sometimes unfortunately dubbed`the hangover generation’ are so conflicted.

We can see all the glittering lights in front of us, all the things we want, yet come across all the obstacles and truths that tell us not to trust it, that tell us to face reality and accept what we can and cannot be.

Broadway Lights Leading to the Gift Shop

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Is it any wonder the youth of today don’t know where to turn? And yet stories can spread morality and truth as well and can encourage aspiration.

I remember learning a lot about human nature from watching characters. In fiction we can see the outcome of the characters actions and in doing so, see possible outcomes for our own.

It’s a true enigma, storytelling. Some people believe it’s harmful, other believe it’s essential ,yet we truly don’t know it’s reason or purpose. We are just guessing. Maybe part of storytelling is in trying to understand the WHY, trying to understand the big questions while looking at the world around us as well.

Whatever the reason for storytelling, I can’t help but think it has an important part to play in the world.  For one thing stories do tell us, is that we can do more, that we can be more. It encourages us to lift beyond the obvious and to see more than we would see otherwise and to look at things beyond our own perspective.

Chasing the light

Image by Arianna_M(on travel) via Flickr

I wonder when we broke out of the formula box of storytelling and expanded it. Many writing books will attempt to formulize storytelling again, summing it up into simple terms, but I’m not sure I want that perspective of writing. While we can learn from others, I think the point of writing is to try new things. If that’s just a new take on vampire stories, or a unique character then so be it. If I start lumping everything together in my mind as being done before then I’ll never see anything new.

4 thoughts on “The Mystery of Storytelling

  1. Thought-provoking post. My standard answer to this is “because I can’t not write,” but you’re making me probe deeper. I have to think on this. I will say, the days I don’t write I don’t feel “whole.” I journal to get rid of the crap that weighs me down. I create because I want to leave a bit of myself behind. (No children, so I guess that’s part of it.?

  2. This is a very insightful post! Me? I write because it’s fun! I realized I derive the same satisfaction in reading from writing! And maybe, yes, to also escape and try other roles, and think of what-ifs.

    • Thanks! I don’t think I could decide on why I write. I just want to tell stories and I think a large part of it is curiosity. All I know is that when I’m writing, I’m very happy.

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