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Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images, and sounds often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture and in every land as a means of entertainment, education, preservation of culture and in order to instill moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot and characters, as well as the narrative point of view.
Storytelling has existed as long as humanity has had language. This is evidenced by the importance of storytelling in the Australian Aboriginal culture, the world's oldest continuous culture. As in many ancient cultures oral storytelling was used by the Australian Aborigines as way of passing on culture and lore from generation to generation, to educate the younger members of the tribe, to entertain and to explain the world around them.
The earliest forms of storytelling are thought to have been primarily oral combined with gestures and expressions. Rudimentary drawings scratched onto the walls of caves may be forms of early storytelling for many of the ancient cultures. The Australian Aborginal people painted symbols from the stories on cave walls as a means of helping the storyteller remember the story. The story was then told using a combination of oral narrative, music, rock art and dance. Ephemeral media such as sand, leaves, and the carved trunks of living trees have also been used to record stories in pictures or with writing.
The evolution of technology has changed the tools available to storytellers. With the advent of writing, the use of actual digit symbols to represent language, and the use of stable, portable media stories were recorded, transcribed and shared over wide regions of the world. Stories have been carved, scratched, painted, printed, or inked onto wood or bamboo, ivory and other bones, pottery, clay tablets, stone, palm-leaf books, skins (parchment), bark cloth, paper, silk, canvas and other textiles, recorded on film and stored electronically in digital form. Complex forms of tattooing may also represent stories, with information about genealogy, affiliation and social status.
Traditionally, oral stories were committed to memory and then passed from generation to generation. However, in the most recent past, written and televised media has largly surpassed this method communicating local, family and cultural histories.
Albert Bates Lord examined oral narratives from field transcripts of Yugoslav oral bards collected by Milman Parry in the 1930s, and the texts of epics such as The Odyssey and Beowulf. Lord found that a large part of the stories consisted of text improvised during the telling process.
Lord identified two types of story vocabulary. The first he called 'formulas': "rosy-fingered dawn," "the wine-dark sea," certain set phrases had long been known of in Homer and other oral epics. But no one realized before Lord how common these formulas were. He discovered that across many story traditions that fully 90% of an oral epic is assembled from lines repeated verbatim or with one-for-one word substitutions. Oral stories are built out of phrases stockpiled from a lifetime of hearing and telling stories. The other type of story vocabulary is theme. A theme is a set sequence of story actions that structure the tale. Just as the teller of tales proceeds line-by-line using formulas, so he proceeds event-to-event using themes. One almost universal theme is repetition, as evidenced in Western folklore with the 'rule of three': three brothers set out, three attempts are made, three riddles are asked. A theme can be as simple as a specific set sequence describing the arming of a hero, starting with shirt and trousers and ending with headdress and weapons. A theme can be large enough to be a plot component. For example: a hero proposes a journey to a dangerous place / he disguises himself / his disguise fools everybody / except for a common person of little account (a crone, a tavern maid or a woodcutter) / who immediately recognizes him / the commoner becomes the hero's ally, showing unexpected resources of skill or initiative. A theme does not belong to a specific story, but may be found with minor variation in many different stories. Themes may be no more than handy prefabricated parts for constructing a tale. Or they may represent universal truths - ritual-based, religious truths as James Frazer saw in The Golden Bough, or archetypal, psychological truths as Joseph Campbell describes in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
The stories was described by Reynolds Price, when he wrote:
A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths."
Folklorists sometimes divide oral tales into two main groups: "Märchen" and "Sagen". These are German terms for which there are no exact English equivalents; the first one is both singular and plural.
"Märchen," loosely translated as "fairy tale(s)" (though fairies are rare in them) take place in a kind of separate "once-upon-a-time" world of nowhere-in-particular. They are clearly not intended to be understood as true. The stories are full of clearly defined incidents, and peopled by rather flat characters with little or no interior life. When the supernatural occurs, it is presented matter-of-factly, without surprise. Indeed, there is very little affect, generally; bloodcurdling events may take place, but with little call for emotional response from the listener.
"Sagen," best translated as "legends," are supposed to have actually happened, very often at a particular time and place, and they draw much of their power from this fact. When the supernatural intrudes (as it often does), it does so in an emotionally fraught manner. Ghost and lover's leap stories belong in this category, as do many UFO-stories, and stories of supernatural beings and events. .
Storytelling as art formEdit
Storytelling Festivals feature the work of several storytellers. Elements of the storytelling art form include visualization (the seeing of images in the mind's eye), and vocal and bodily gestures. In many ways, the art of storytelling draws upon other art forms such as acting, oral interpretation, and performance studies.
Several storytelling organizations started in the US during the 1970s. National Association for the Perpetuation and Preservation of Storytelling (NAPPS), now the National Storytelling Network was one of them. This professional organization helped to organize resources for tellers and festival planners. Australia followed their American counterparts with the establishment of storytelling guilds in the late 1970s. Australian storytelling today has individuals and groups across the country. As of 2007, there are dozens of storytelling festivals and hundreds of professional storytellers around the world, and an international celebration of the art on World storytelling day. The internet storytelling forum, STORYTELL,sponsored by the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University in Denton,has over 500 subscribers worldwide.
Emancipation of the storyEdit
In oral tradition, where stories were passed on by being told and re-told again and again, the material of any given story during this process naturally underwent several changes and adaptation s. When and where oral tradition was pushed back in favour of print media, the literary idea of the author as originator of a story's authoritative version changed people's perception of stories themselves. In the following centuries, stories tended to be seen as the work of individuals rather than a collective. Only recently, when a significant number of influential authors began questioning their own role, the value of stories as such - independent of authorship - was again recognized. Literary critics such as Roland Barthes even proclaimed the Death of the Author.
- Bernard, Sheila Curran. Documentary Storytelling, 2nd ed. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2007
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- Randall, W. "Restorying a Life: Adult Education and Transformative Learning." In Aging and Biography: Explorations in Adult Development. Edited by James E. Birren et al., pp. 224-247. New York: Springer Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0826189806
- Reis, Pamela Tamarkin. "Genesis as Rashomon: The creation as told by God and man." Bible Review 17 (3). Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society. 2001. ISSN 8755-6316
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- What is storytelling?
- The Canadian Museum of Civilization - Storytelling: The Art of Knowledge
- Society for Storytelling
- Persausion Through Storytelling
- Organizational Storytelling Seminar: A forum for researchers interested in using stories and narratives in organizational research.
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