The ultimate skill

is storytelling

As I have been exploring writing as an ultra-hobby, I have really started to get into fiction, and specifically storytelling. In scientific research, there is so much information that no one ever knows about because of information density and accessibility issues. It takes someone to sieve through the material and data and have the patience to present it to a lay audience. Similarly, I bet there are treasure troves of resources on storytelling that we can learn from if we just take the time to go through it and explore the body of work that has already been done.

Really great work has been done by Matthew Dicks in Storyworthy, but we'll work our way there. First, I'm going to look at some of the larger organizations dedicated to storytelling.

First up: from the National Storytelling Network (NSN) which was founded ~50 years in the midwest to southern United States.

Storytelling can be confused with using stories in expression. According to the NSN, they believe storytelling is defined by several aspects: 


The space between the teller and the audience is an interactive one, not static. This allows for an iterative feedback loop from the listener to the storyteller which is influenced by culture and environment. I think there is some hair splitting here between a storytelling stage and classic theatre production, but the point is that there is some type of interaction.


I was surprised that storytelling has to be communicated through verbal language. That means that written works of art do not count as "storytelling" per the NSN. Some type of verbal communication in words or through sign language is expected.


In addition to spoken language, the speaker's nonverbal language behaviors are presented. This is another thing that divides storytelling from a written work of fiction, because the actual gestures are enacted.

A story? 

Of course storytelling is all about telling a story. But what is that exactly? Depending on the culture, the definition of story varies. We will explore this more in the upcoming issues.


Storytelling invokes the listener's imagination. Instead of having the scene laid out with its particulars, it is up to the listener to determine the details. I think this is extremely powerful in terms of inspiring or influencing a person. It doesn't matter what you have to say or what your personal experience was - it matters what the listener feels is relevant in her own personal experience of the subject. Because it is happening in the mind of the listener, she becomes a co-creator of the story as it is experienced.

The NSN ends their definition of storytelling like this: 

There are many cultures on earth, each with rich traditions, customs and opportunities for storytelling. All these forms of storytelling are valuable. All are equal citizens in the diverse world of storytelling.

We'll continue on the path towards a more rich understanding of storytelling in the remainder of the issues this summer.

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