Stories have been told to countless audiences throughout the centuries of human existence. We started off with oral storytelling, where the individuality of a teller was just as important as the telling of the story, where both of these aspects married with the dynamic nature of the story itself to produce something vivid and magical, to ensnare an audience and teach countless generations lessons pertaining to life, morals and their own rich history and ancestry.
Storytelling does not just limit itself to mystical tellers enrapturing an audience around a campfire or in an ancient tent, however. Stories can be found in the most common places, around a dinner table, at a sleepover, during a picnic, at a meet up, over a steaming cup of coffee, in a diary and even through a Facebook message! A story does not just have to be a well written, much drafted and severely edited piece of work. It can also be an event dressed up and communicated through several choice words, expressions and gestures, all interplaying to create a tale which is uniquely creative to the person telling it.
A story is a performance, no matter it does not strictly adhere to a play or an opera. A story is individual or collective artistry, working closely with the conventions of performance and forming something familiar, yet distinct in its own right. And that is what captures the attention.
Tradition is therefore a huge part of storytelling. Be it at a pantomime or around a dinner table, certain conventions and expectations of performance intertwine with the teller’s innovation. The key here is manipulation of convention – a good story turns expectations on its heel, and makes something new out of something expected. A good novel has an unexpected twist, or challenges conventions of creative writing by using unique language structure, or changes the face of a genre by interlacing two completely different ones. A good play is one that challenges the audience to think and bates the breath. A good family story is one told with enough wit to conjure laughter at the table, or with a hilarious display of gestures to endear, or with solemnity in an otherwise jovial demeanour. The ways are countless, and they all can be understood through the context in which they are told, and the audience must therefore be familiar with the traditions around these stories. A story from Shakespeare’s time would not, perhaps, be understood in the midst of the Arabia desert, since they are worlds apart and flourish under different cultures.
As to how stories and story telling affect one’s life, well, we are living and breathing results of such an experiment. Every single one of us has heard stories in the past, has perhaps been influenced by a story or has had a story change one’s mindset.
As a child I heard hundreds of stories, from books, from relatives, from the security guard of our building warning us not to do something because so and so did it and such and such happened, from my mother relating past experiences in her mesmerising way, short and concise, yet carrying deep meaning, from my grandmother adding snippets in conversation, rolling rotis out and telling me the servants used to let her roll the last roti because they didn’t want her to ruin the batch. From my paternal aunt telling me stories of my father as a child, helping me understand his character better. Stories have added to my life perspective about people, places and feelings. And accompanying the stories themselves, the ways of narration, the different accents and languages and gestures and fonts and structures through which they were told have had just as much impact as the stories themselves. Stories would not carry the way they were, for impact as much as they have been, were it not for storytellers and story weavers.
Research has shown that storytelling in very young children improves their cognitive abilities. Stories are important. They are life changing, and they add colour and insight to one’s existence. They are the small threads that connect people together and unite them under one cause or many, under one tradition or many, and make people feel as though they are part of something larger in this vast world. I think that is something everybody wants to feel, don’t you?
How have stories and storytelling impacted your life?