Why Writers Should Know How To Tell A Tale

Storytelling – Why Writers Should Know How To Tell A Tale

The World needs more stories – so in today’s post, we honour World Storytelling Day (20 March) by explaining all about storytelling.

Why Writers Should Know How To Tell A Tale – World Storytelling Day

On World Storytelling Day we remember that all stories come from oral traditions. Stories told by the campfire still needed the alphabet to be invented before they could be written down. In this sense, writers are the children of the storytellers. Let’s find out about our heritage as writers.

What’s The Difference Between Writing And Storytelling?

The first written story is the epic of Gilgamesh (roughly 2000 BC). Since then, stories were born at a desk. Readers got to see the finished product. Writing is a solitary activity.

Storytellers, however, sit amidst their audience. They notice immediately how their listeners react. If the story is lame, the audience falls asleep. If somebody doesn’t understand the plot, there are questions. Sighs, gasps, ahs, boos, and applause are all sounds that come with telling a story. Storytelling needs a lot of courage!

What Exactly Is Storytelling?

Storytelling can take many forms. It’s not just a professional at a literary fest. Telling a goodnight story to your child is storytelling. So is relating an event to your neighbour at the garden fence. What they all have in common is that their stories are told to an audience. It’s a social activity where the reactions of the audience influence and shape the story.

Let’s look at how it’s done. 

The Elements Of Storytelling

Storytelling contains all elements of communication. Not all are verbal! But they need to come together to captivate an audience:

1. Narrative

The narrative needs to contain the four P’s: People, Place, Purpose, and Plot. All of these make up a good story. If only one of them is lacking, your listeners will drift off. As writers, we should know these elements already.

2. Non-verbal Communication

Anyone reading bedtime stories knows how you tell a story is so important! This involves changing the voice, using gestures and facial expressions, and even touching. Parent or professional, all storytellers must improvise and use theatrics.

3. A Hook

An old rule of journalism says that any article must pick up the readers where they are before you can feed them new information. The same is true for stories. Every story needs a hook. Otherwise, the audience cannot connect with the storyteller and won’t pay attention.

For writers, the non-verbal aspects of storytelling are a challenge. Writers need to use tone, style, and register to convey them. All of these help you show, not tell.

What’s The Purpose Of Storytelling?

Nowadays, we tell stories mostly for entertainment. That’s one purpose but there are more.

1. Passing On Information

Storytelling originated when writing wasn’t invented yet. Let’s say you wanted to share where to watch out for a mad tiger. Turn that into a gripping tale, then you can be sure your story is passed on (For example, watch out for the mad tiger behind that tree over there, his sharp teeth have already killed 2 people in the bloodiest way).

Storytelling acts as a mnemonic device and creates relevance and urgency.

2. Relating And Creating History

Telling stories of the past helps us place ourselves within this universe, and within the flow of time. It fulfils a deep and intrinsic human need. It’s a way to honour those men and women before us and to cope with the transience of our lives. Knowing where we come from helps us deal with the present. It helps predict the future, too.

3. Education

We all learn best if we have examples. The same is true for certain values.

Let’s take a fairy tale for example. Little Red Riding Hood teaches us not to stray from our path as there are dangers on our way (the wolf in the forest). Even at our destination, we need to be cautious (Little Red Riding Hood asks the disguised wolf 3 questions). If things seem fishy, then we should leave right away (the girl waits too long, she gets eaten after her third question). There’s always someone to help us in the end, to punish the baddies, and to save the goodies.

Little Red Riding Hood illustrates the moral values of helping our elders, keeping to our path, being wary of false appearances, and trusting in a happy ending. Passing those values on by way of a story is much more successful than any admonishing.

4. Shaping A Culture

When you educate a whole group of people by telling stories, then you shape the cultural ‘glue’ that keeps this group together. Storytelling not only passes on values and history but even relays the traditions that go along with them.

All religions are good examples. Take Christianity. The stories written down in the Bible are actually much older. It’s the telling and retelling that formed the first Christian communities. Finally, these stories were so important that people like the evangelists wrote them down.

Mankind’s basic needs haven’t changed. Storytelling is continuing to fulfil them. Wikipedia cites many examples of how this fundamental cultural technique is being used in other aspects of our lives. For example, schools use storytelling to promote learning, psychology uses therapeutic writing, politicians tell stories to shape public opinion, and business uses storytelling to create attention for products (and thus to make money).

Now that you know all about storytelling, you’re all set to celebrate!

How To Celebrate World Storytelling Day

Each year on the March equinox, on (or near) 20 March, storytellers around the globe celebrate their craft. According to Wikipedia, World Storytelling Day originated in the 1990s in Sweden. The idea caught on quickly. In 1997, Australia once hosted a 5-week-long event called ‘Celebration of Story.’ Can you imagine the number of stories told? It’s mind-boggling. Here are four ways how you can celebrate.

1. Join An Audience

To find an event near you, please check the official map of the World Storytelling Day website. It does pay off to check out national websites as well (please see ‘Further Reading’). For example, the UK, and the USA only celebrate their national days on different dates.

2. Tell A Story

Call a friend and tell a story. Make a recording of your own short story and post it on social media. You can volunteer at a local preschool or kindergarten. Or how about gathering some people from your neighbourhood for a cheese-and-wine – and a story?

3. Read A Classic

Immerse yourself in the stories originating in oral traditions (like legends, fairy tales, the Bible, or even the Iliad). Try to find out why these stories have mesmerized people for centuries. How would you tell them to a live audience?

4. Write A Story To Be Told

Write a new story that sounds exactly as if it is being told. Remember that oral stories don’t always have perfect syntax, and they tend to use different words. Try to include gestures, and maybe even sound effects.

Happy Storytelling!

The Last Word

Writers weren’t born in an ivory tower but around a campfire. That’s important to remember! I hope you have enjoyed being reconnected with your roots.

Further Reading

Official World Storytelling Day website: http://momentofimpact.co.uk/wsd

Many events are registered on national websites only. Some websites also list online events.

Canada: https://www.storytellers-conteurs.ca/en/news/wsd-2024-theme.html

Australia: https://australianstorytellers.org.au/events/2024/3/20/building-bridges-world-storytelling-day-online-stories

Germany: https://www.weltgeschichtentag.de/

Netherlands: https://stichtingvertellen.nl/wereldverteldag/

UK: https://wordsforlife.org.uk/themes/celebrate-storytelling-week-at-home/ (Note that this event has already taken place but it’s worthwhile to check out the activities that you can do at home)

USA: https://nationaltoday.com/national-tell-story-day/  (27 April)

Susanne Bennett

By Susanne Bennett. Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.

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Posted on: 20th March 2024
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