Modern day storytelling is wrapped up in consumerism. It is the endless stream of television shows on Netflix and other streaming devices, or film franchises such as Marvel that adapt comic book storylines to blockbuster cinematic experience. Stories, now more than ever, are built around fiscal return.
How do we capitalise on the foreign markets?
How can we ensure a maximum return on our investment?
This observation is not troublesome. The fact that we as humans are motivated to consume stories means that they are meaningful and connect with us on a personal level. Storytelling is an essential tool for exploring our experiences as humans.
Stories are, in many ways, a reflection of the audience. We invest our time in characters because we are curious about their personality or their choices. Sometimes it is because their reality is so far from our own experiences and journeying through their world is an easy escape from our own. We are drawn to stories for many different reasons, each personal and unique.
When the hero succeeds, we celebrate. When the hero falls, we grieve. They mirror our fears and conflicts. They mirror our highs and achievements. Sometimes we sympathise with the villain and can understand their questionable morality. Sometimes, they are pure evil – and we can’t turn away. We are drawn to characters because they feel real.
Storytelling is broadly entrenched in our history. It is the stories that we tell about ourselves and our family.
Did you know that your Grandfather fought during WWI?
Mum, what were you like when you were my age?
These stories make up who we are as people. They are a composition woven together by our experiences and relationships. Stories are a time capsule of a moment that we have experienced. Visualise a book which contains every moment of your life. There are photos. Short anecdotes. Every breath captures a moment in the time you have spent on this Earth. Each moment is a story and together they tell a story about you.
German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason.” Our experiences derive from our interpretation of the world. We absorb the world through our senses and in doing so we interpret what it means to be human. This is one of the most significant philosophical questions: what does it mean to be human? We can spend a lifetime theorising and comprising and not come close to a concrete answer. It is too abstract of a question, with an infinite number of answers that glimpse a possible truth. Stories allow us to interrogate such questions. They allow us to explore our humanity and the experiences that we collectively go through.
Stories are entwined with curiosity. You will never guess what happened to me today… is a classic preface to ignite interest and encapsulate an audience. We want to know what happens next. Cliff-hangers encourage us to demand an ending. A twist ending prompts endless questions, debates and theories. Audiences commit hours to unpacking fan theories and scrolling through archives and reddit threads to develop a deeper understanding of a film. They attend conventions and cosplay to celebrate their favourite characters. We as the audience always want to squeeze out more of a character. Consider the brutal wait that Game of Thronesfans have experienced while waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish the final two books, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Stories demand closure and the lack of closure is unsatisfactory to a reader’s palate.
Whether we appreciate it or not, storytelling is a significant part of our lives.
Stories can celebrate history. The absence of stories erases history and experience. In her book, Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge discusses the impact of ‘collective forgetting’. This term sparked in my mind the manner which we unconsciously forget people, experiences and heritages when we remove the ability to tell stories or choose to allow a small group of people in society to only tell their story. Take, for example, Indigenous Australians who after colonisation were encouraged to disregard traditions and languages in favour for European customs. An untold number of stories have been lost due to erasure of culture. Imagine the loss we as a civilisation have experienced due to this silencing. When we choose to not listen to others, or they have not been given a voice to speak, we have lost an insight into what it means to be human.
When it comes to studying English in the classroom, it can be easy for students to be wrapped up in the superficial. They are often asked to be creative and to let their imagination run wild. Do students truly understand why we commit such a length of time to reading and writing stories? As educators, it is essential that we take students through a journey of discovery and learning through storytelling. Children’s stories and fables are always wrapped up with a moral. Aesop’s fables are a classic example. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ from The Tortoise and the Hare is still part of our vernacular when talking of children about pacing themselves. This lesson is rooted in a literary landscape.
While lessons are not explicitly stated in fiction pitched at an older audience, much can be learnt from the experiences of characters. Their journeys may be otherworldly or far beyond our own experiences, but there is a collective unconscious that unites human experience. We are unified by emotion, whether fictional or born into the real world.
Storytelling is the process of holding a mirror up to society and examining human experience. Our students should know that when we read stories, we are looking for a truth between the words – one which may take up multiple meanings. We read to learn about the experiences of others in the past. This might be to learn from their errors and misfortunes, or opportunities and successes. We choose to be creative because inside each of us is a voice that we should share with the world. Storytelling is important because it is a documentation of history. These stories will be passed down through our children and exist as a record of our existence.
What stories will people tell about you?
By Luke Raynsford