Storytelling  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
narratology

Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view.

Contents

Historical perspective

The earliest forms of storytelling were thought to have been primarily oral combined with gestures and expressions. In addition to being part of religious ritual, rudimentary drawings scratched onto the walls of caves may have been forms of early storytelling for many of the ancient cultures. The Australian Aboriginal people painted symbols from stories on cave walls as a means of helping the storyteller remember the story. The story was then told using a combination of oral narrative, music, rock art and dance. Ephemeral media such as sand, leaves and the carved trunks of living trees have also been used to record stories in pictures or with writing.

With the advent of writing, the use of actual digit symbols to represent language, and the use of stable, portable media, stories were recorded, transcribed and shared over wide regions of the world. Stories have been carved, scratched, painted, printed or inked onto wood or bamboo, ivory and other bones, pottery, clay tablets, stone, palm-leaf books, skins (parchment), bark cloth, paper, silk, canvas and other textiles, recorded on film, and stored electronically in digital form. Complex forms of tattooing may also represent stories, with information about genealogy, affiliation and social status.

Traditionally, oral stories were committed to memory and then passed from generation to generation. However, in Western, literate societies, written and televised media has largely surpassed this method of communicating local, family and cultural histories. Oral storytelling remains the dominant medium of learning in many countries with low literacy rates.

Contemporary Storytelling

Modern storytelling has a broad purview. In addition to its traditional forms (fairytales, folktales, mythology, legends, fables etc.),it has extended itself to representing history, personal narrative, political commentary, and evolving cultural norms. Contemporary storytelling is also widely used to address educational objectives.

Oral traditions

Albert Bates Lord examined oral narratives from field transcripts of Yugoslav oral bards collected by Milman Parry in the 1930s, and the texts of epics such as the Odyssey and Beowulf. Lord found that a large part of the stories consisted of text which was improvised during the telling process.

Lord identified two types of story vocabulary. The first he called "formulas": "rosy-fingered dawn", "the wine-dark sea", and other specific set phrases had long been known of in Homer and other oral epics. Lord, however, discovered that across many story traditions, fully 90% of an oral epic is assembled from lines which are repeated verbatim or which use one-for-one word substitutions. In other words, oral stories are built out of set phrases which have been stockpiled from a lifetime of hearing and telling stories.

The other type of story vocabulary is theme, a set sequence of story actions that structure a tale. Just as the teller of tales proceeds line-by-line using formulas, so he proceeds from event-to-event using themes. One near-universal theme is repetition, as evidenced in Western folklore with the "rule of three": three brothers set out, three attempts are made, three riddles are asked. A theme can be as simple as a specific set sequence describing the arming of a hero, starting with shirt and trousers and ending with headdress and weapons. A theme can be large enough to be a plot component. For example: a hero proposes a journey to a dangerous place / he disguises himself / his disguise fools everybody / except for a common person of little account (a crone, a tavern maid or a woodcutter) / who immediately recognizes him / the commoner becomes the hero's ally, showing unexpected resources of skill or initiative. A theme does not belong to a specific story, but may be found with minor variation in many different stories. Themes may be no more than handy prefabricated parts for constructing a tale, or they may represent universal truths – ritual-based, religious truths, as James Frazer saw in The Golden Bough, or archetypal, psychological truths, as Joseph Campbell describes in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

The story was described by Reynolds Price, when he wrote:
A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths.

Märchen and Sagen

Folklorists sometimes divide oral tales into two main groups: Märchen and Sagen. These are German terms for which there are no exact English equivalents, however we have approximations:

Märchen, loosely translated as "fairy tale(s)", take place in a kind of separate "once-upon-a-time" world of nowhere-in-particular. They are clearly not intended to be understood as true. The stories are full of clearly defined incidents, and peopled by rather flat characters with little or no interior life. When the supernatural occurs, it is presented matter-of-factly, without surprise. Indeed, there is very little affect, generally; bloodcurdling events may take place, but with little call for emotional response from the listener.

Sagen, best translated as "legends", are supposed to have actually happened, very often at a particular time and place, and they draw much of their power from this fact. When the supernatural intrudes (as it often does), it does so in an emotionally fraught manner. Ghost and lovers' leap stories belong in this category, as do many UFO stories and stories of supernatural beings and events.

Another important examination of orality in human life is Walter J. Ong's Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982). Ong studies the distinguishing characteristics of oral traditions, how oral and written cultures interact and condition one another, and how they ultimately influence human epistemology.

As art form

Aesthetics

The art of narrative is, by definition, an aesthetic enterprise, and there are a number of artistic elements that typically interact in well-developed stories. Such elements include the essential idea of narrative structure, with identifiable beginnings, middles and endings, or exposition-development-climax-resolution-denouement, normally constructed into coherent plot lines; a strong focus on temporality, which includes retention of the past, attention to present action, and protention/future anticipation; a substantial focus on characters and characterization which is "arguably the most important single component of the novel"; a given heterogloss of different voices dialogically at play – "the sound of the human voice, or many voices, speaking in a variety of accents, rhythms and registers"; possesses a narrator or narrator-like voice, which by definition "addresses" and "interacts with" reading audiences (see Reader Response theory); communicates with a Wayne Booth-esque rhetorical thrust, a dialectic process of interpretation, which is at times beneath the surface, conditioning a plotted narrative, and other at other times much more visible, "arguing" for and against various positions; relies substantially on now-standard aesthetic figuration, particularly including the use of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony (see Hayden White, Metahistory for expansion of this idea); is often enmeshed in intertextuality, with copious connections, references, allusions, similarities, parallels, etc. to other literatures; and commonly demonstrates an effort toward bildungsroman, a description of identity development with an effort to evince becoming in character and community.

Festivals

Storytelling festivals feature the work of several storytellers. Elements of the oral storytelling art form include visualization (the seeing of images in the mind's eye), and vocal and bodily gestures. In many ways, the art of storytelling draws upon other art forms such as acting, oral interpretation, and performance studies.

Several storytelling organizations started in the US during the 1970s. One such organization was the National Association for the Perpetuation and Preservation of Storytelling (NAPPS), now the National Storytelling Network and the International Storytelling Center. NSN is a professional organization that helps to organize resources for tellers and festival planners. The ISC runs the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. Australia followed their American counterparts with the establishment of storytelling guilds in the late 1970s. Australian storytelling today has individuals and groups across the country who meet to share their stories.

Currently, there are dozens of storytelling festivals and hundreds of professional storytellers around the world, and an international celebration of the art on World Storytelling Day.

Emancipation of the story

In oral traditions, stories are kept alive by being re-told again and again. The material of any given story naturally undergoes several changes and adaptations during this process. When and where oral tradition was pushed back in favor of print media, the literary idea of the author as originator of a story's authoritative version changed people's perception of stories themselves. In the following centuries, stories tended to be seen as the work of individuals, rather than a collective effort. Only recently, when a significant number of influential authors began questioning their own roles, the value of stories as such – independent of authorship – was again recognized. Literary critics such as Roland Barthes even proclaimed the Death of the Author.

In business

For businesses, communicating by using fiction storytelling techniques can be a more compelling and effective route than using only dry facts.

Daphne A. Jameson undertook some research into the manner in which language is used in business meetings. Her analysis led her to the following major conclusions:

Using narrative to manage conflicts For managers storytelling is an important way of resolving conflicts, addressing issues and facing challenges. Managers used narrative discourse to deal with conflicts, because direct action was often impossible.

Using narrative to interpret the past and shape the future In a group discussion a process of collective narration can help to influence others and unify the group by linking the past to the future. In discussions, the managers transformed problems requests and issues into stories. Jameson calls the collective group construction storybuilding.

Using narrative in the reasoning process Storytelling plays an important role in reasoning processes and in convincing others. In the meetings, the managers preferred stories instead of abstract arguments or statistical measures. When situations were complex, narrative allowed them to involve more context.

In marketing

Storytelling is increasingly used in advertising today in order to build customer loyalty. According to Giles Lury, this marketing trend echoes the deeply-rooted need of all humans to be entertained. Stories are illustrative, easily memorable and allow any firm to create stronger emotional bonds with the customers.

According to Professor Henry Jenkins, four steps should be followed to achieve successful campaigns based on that concept:

Stories should be drillable.
Each piece of the story should be enriching, but not vital to the understanding of the story (so that a customer can still have a clear idea of the bigger picture even though he has missed a part of it)
Involve the fans in the creation process.
Build a world in which your story can evolve (such as Coca-Cola's "Happiness Factory")
Coca-Cola is certainly the most famous example of the use of storytelling. Going back to Iris Bell's tale in 1944 to the "Happiness Factory" today, they have succeeded in involving their customers in their advertising and creating emotional power.
The use of storytelling by marketers shows the beginning of a new narrative era in which brand content, brand story, advertainment, street marketing, guerilla marketing ... will be essential communication concepts.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Storytelling" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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