Real-time Stories in a Digital Age
The Source: Part 1
By Selina Chiarelli
Storytelling has survived and thrived throughout the ages. Today, it has become a buzzword, used in reference to branding, marketing, and professional culture, but storytelling has its roots in civilization itself. Oral histories make up the foundations of modern religion, ancient entertainment, and more importantly, of personal culture. The oral histories that we know and love have grown and evolved, and have adapted to what we both want, and need, to hear in order to achieve the goals that have been put before us by our communities. More importantly, these messages, steeped in our psyche through the comfort of repetition and the weight of a mentor’s words become goals that we set out to achieve ourselves.
So let’s take it out of the global and into the personal history of storytelling. . . It’s easy to find examples of beliefs founded in story. But the fact that oral histories have shaped how many cultures raise children and share values is undeniable. One way to test this is to get introspective and find out about our own oral histories.
As an example of this, take a simple fairy tale, well-known and loved by many of my generation. “The Little Mermaid” was originally a folk tale, taken from Hans Christian Anderson’s collection of stories. In this version, the story aims to urb that desire to search too far from home. It rewards “good” behaviour and punishes the adventurous spirits that reside in the story’s core. But as the Disney reinterpretation shows us, our values have changed. We want to find stories about those same adventurers, but now we want our heroes to travel, take a journey, defy the odds, and win the prince! This is a simple example of how a story will grow and adapt to suit new values in a culture, while appealing to our very basic desire to find that “happy ending.” We want the wedding with cannons and the Disney smiles, not the sad, airy spirit condemned to wander the world in search of redemption for her misdeeds, which is how the original Hans Christian Anderson version concludes.
This is an easy dig, a simple excavation of a story that generations of people in the occidental world have grown to know and love. Some identify with the main character, and without knowing it, her choices can influence their own. Personally, I redefined my perception of what love entails from a Celtic legend told to me by a queen of storytelling, Toronto-based story-teller and librarian, Alice Kane. What made Alice a great spirit of storytelling was not just the stories she chose, but the simplicity with which she told them. Her gift was letting the story speak for itself, without letting her own subjective opinion warp the narrative, or reaching out for cheap laughs or thrills. She carefully rounded out the stories she chose, polishing them over time, through the telling and telling and telling again. With every retelling they became stronger, and they opened up a new listener to ideas on life, love, and adventure.
With that kind of care and consideration put into every story told, things can get interesting in your own attempt to find the stories that speak to you, and more importantly, speak of you. To find the stories that define who you are and the choices you’ve made, you have to look backwards - what are the stories that may have shaped your vision of how things are?
While thinking back on some of the big decisions you’ve made in your life, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can you think of a proverb or motto that has stuck with you over the years? Who originally told it to you? Why is it significant?
- What stories may have influenced your final choice in a difficult decision?
- Is there a storyteller in your life whose words carry more weight than most? What is it about how they speak to you that makes their stories so important?
Once we can identify these stories and these storytellers, we can begin to understand what storytelling really means. The word can morph from a marketing tactic and content management approach to something much more personal. In finally finding your own story, you can start to understand a little more about yourself and how you make decisions. The kinds of values or morals you stand for become clear as you look at the messages reflected in the stories that shaped your character. In the end, we can understand ourselves better once we’ve found what it is we really want to say.
This is the first of a series on storytelling and the importance of finding your personal narrative, for more information on Selina’s storytelling work and personal narrative coaching, please visit her site, justonetale.com.