Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Do You Storytell?

Why do you write? No, really. I'm not talking about your need or your addiction. I'm talking about storytelling. Why do people tell stories? and why do we listen to or read them?

There are many reasons, it seems: the passing down of traditions, getting a message or lesson across, entertainment, even the act of helping a reader heal.

Brian McDonald, filmmaker and storyteller extraordinaire, maintains that we navigate our world via narrative. Without stories, we wouldn't know what to do, how to react, what to say. According to McDonald, we tell stories, essentially, for two reasons: survival and medicinal.

Stories that have survival information will replicate, spread like wildfire even, because buried within them are the key ingredients to our world navigation.

Medicinal stories send the message that you are not alone, you will get through this, and here, let me tell you how. Okay, so it's actually a survival message, as well, only a slight variation.

So really, most of our initial "reasons" could fit under the category of survival or medicinal. And entertainment? McDonald says that entertainment is merely the "taste" -- the true nutrients lie tucked within the depths of a survival story. The stories that continue to live are the ones that somehow teach us.

What about you? What do your stories tell or teach? What bits of survival information have you tucked into your plot? Do you show us how to navigate junior high lunch duty? survive basketball tryouts? persevere through vampiric nibbles? Do tell!

12 comments:

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Interesting question Alex. I think I need to tell stories about the kid who's lost in this world and finds a personal strength to deal with all the scary stuff. And that doesn't mean all the stories have to be YA or middle grade, because I think no matter how old we get, the kid is always there.
And personally, I lean to fantasy, because it catapults us out of the everyday into the what-might-be.

Charles Gramlich said...

good question and discussion. I've just always loved stories. I guess there's a part of our brains wired up that way, and almost certainly it has something to do with survival value.

Scott said...

What about you? What do your stories tell or teach? What bits of survival information have you tucked into your plot? Do you show us how to navigate junior high lunch duty? survive basketball tryouts? persevere through vampiric nibbles? Do tell!

My stories are normally about the everyday struggle of coming to term with life in general. Yeah, sounds simple, but not so much, really. Every single day people make life altering decisions. I delve into the background of those decisions. Why would a person in an allegedly great relationship suddenly leave that relationship? Why would a man marry someone he truly doesn't love? Why would someone start thinking about suicide? What drives these people to the edge, and how do they step back?

My stories, at least so far, teach that life is not easy, and that every decision, even the smallest one, has a consequence. The stories also teach that happiness does exist, that it is a journey, and not a destination (to quote Souza).

S

stu said...

One of the more intriguing facets of history over the past few years is that historians have finally admitted that what we do is to tell stories, presumably for all the same reasons as people tell other stories. There's certainly a sense of lesson learning there that probably equates to the survival element.

Charlie said...

Hmmmmm. Other than for pure enjoyment, I'm not sure why I write. I've created this alternate reality and I love my characters. I'm almost a witness to their exploits.
I'm reading the other comments and they're hinting that it's human nature to tell stories. I agree with that.

So Regis, my final answer is - I don't know.

Laura Canon said...

Hmm, I guess "medicinal" explains all the glurge in my inbox.
I don't always like to ask myself why I write. Without being at all mystical, I'm just content to let it be and not try to explain it.
But I've had some of the same thoughts as Tricia when I went on a spate of reading books about the Holocaust. I wanted know how and why people dealt with the horrible and survived.

laughingwolf said...

good Q... i like to entertain/enlighten, and try to one, the other, or both in most things i write....

Alex Moore said...

@tricia: me too - i love fantasy; but even as i'm reading it, i've caught myself trying to figure out what i can learn from it and take back into my own world...

@charles gramlich: much like music, i think -- we're hard wired for it. every people, every culture...

@scott: i must say that i love the diversity of writers. i think about the minutia of life and get overwhelmed. and I can't, for the life of me, write about it -- it feels too big. (odd, yes?) but i love that you're drawn to that theme and explore it. i also love that you choose happiness.

@stu: and truth is certainly in the eye of the beholder. or winner. and i don't think that's necessarily good or bad. it's just a fact that helps us sort the storylines

@charlie: i don't think you have to know :) but it's certainly an interesting idea to consider. as i mull it around, i wonder how much it will impact my future writing. i don't know. really.

@laura canon: i don't always explore my inner thoughts. sometimes i'm content to simply be. there certainly may be an element of self-healing w/in the act of writing -- I suppose it depends upon the subject matter...

@laughingwolf: yes, I would totally peg you for an enlightener/entertainer :P

Tess said...

Oh, this is good stuff. I think my stories are medicinal. Usually a journey of some type - learning and accepting and growing after falling and stumbling and wallowing.

BTW, thanks for visiting my blog. Always nice to meet new writerly types :)

Jody Hedlund said...

Alex, Thanks for taking the time to stop by my blog and leave a comment! Great thoughts about storytelling! I think for me it's a combination of imparting a message packaged in the pure joy of entertainment.

Alex Moore said...

@tess: i'm curious: do you consciously approach your writing from a medicinal point of view (even if you haven't been using that word)? Your characters undergo some (often self-induced) tragedy but learn and grow through the process -- and thus your story gives your readership an understanding of how to navigate through their own personal hells?

@jody: i was growling some months ago about the amount of preaching going on in some YA novels. i maintained that i just wanted to be entertained. in retrospect, i don't think it's necessarily bad to have a message or theme, just as long as you don't beat your audience over the head with it. I like how you look at the combination and include the "pure joy of entertainment."

uppington said...

Hey Alex, I'm so glad you blogged about this! It's one of the things always at the back of my mind now, since I heard McDonald talk about it. The way you put it solidifies the concept for me in a helpful way. I've been struggling with a conception of 'Armature' that would make sense to anybody else, and this is a big part of it.

My current character is learning that life is not black and white, that people are messy, and that none of us can detach and survive without each other.