The Lost Art of Storytelling

I love books.

What a shocker, right?

But it’s true, if a little simplified. There’s nothing I love more than losing myself in a story, getting pulled into an imaginary world, and being immersed in a character’s journey. Books are obviously a big part of that, but I also love other mediums: film, TV, comics, theater, games.

It’s more accurate to say I love stories.

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

Stories, in any form, have really never been more accessible than they are right now. It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s a new streaming service, new ways to consume books, more stories being created, published, shared. But something crossed my mind the other day, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

Have we lost an aspect of storytelling in our mass production of it?

As long as mankind has been able to speak, we have told stories. Some of them served a purpose, to teach or share information. Some were ways of connecting with others. Some were meant to entertain or distract. We have always told stories.

Sure, we started writing down those stories pretty quickly. But it really wasn’t until the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s that books were mass-produced on any sort of large scale. Before that, manuscripts were painstaking copied by hand, and were still pretty regional-specific.

There’s a difference in the way we tell stories now. So much of the research I’ve done for this website and my own writing has to do with the way stories vary around the world. There are probably at least a dozen versions of the story we know as Cinderella that come from all corners of the world. Each one is unique and beautiful and distinct. And that variety is largely traced back to the oral nature of the story’s origins.

Think of a time when you were so excited about a movie. You found a friend to tell about it (at least, you did if you’re anything like me). Think about how you described the plot. You gave context, probably, and then skipped to the parts that most resonated with you, that you found the most important. The way you recount the story will be different than another person would, both because memories never work exactly the same from person to person and because different parts of the story were significant to each person.

That’s why fairy tales differ from country to country, region to region. Different cultures value different things. Their histories influence the stories, as do regional physical factors.

And while there’s something amazing about mass-produced stories and the ability to experience it the exact same way as everyone else, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost something special with the move away from oral storytelling. We’re really only seeing one perspective: the creator’s. We don’t see variety as the story is shared and grows. Stories are, by nature, more static than they used to be. But, as they’re made with that in mind, they’re more polished. And there’s something so comforting, at least to me, about returning to a story time and time again, as familiar as an old friend, even if I interpret or experience it in a way I couldn’t before.

One isn’t better than the other. They’re just different.

What sort of storytelling do you prefer?

Until next time, word nerds!

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