Friday, October 3, 2008

Why We Love Stories

by Raelene Gorlinsky

The September issue of Scientific American magazine has an article I highly recommend you read: The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn (by Jeremy Hsu).

It discusses how storytelling is a universal and timeless part of every culture, and what storytelling reveals about how our minds evolved and function.

Some interesting quotes:

Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. [...] People in societies of all types weave narratives, from oral storytellers in hunter-gatherer tribes to the millions of writers churning out books, television shows and movies.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, a narrative engages its audience through psychological realism--recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters.

As our ancestors evolved to live in groups, the hypothesis goes, they had to make sense of increasingly complex social relationships. Living in a community requires keeping tabs on who the group members are and what they are doing. What better way to spread such information than through storytelling?

There's an interesting discussion of how common romance story themes reveal basic human needs and wants!


Tricia said...

A very interesting article. Thanks for pointing it out. Another source I've studied (in addition to Campell) is sociolingist William Labov and Mar Louise Pratt's work with "natural narratives."

Terry Odell said...

Lee Child spoke at SleuthFest this year about the origin of storytelling, and it was fascinating. After all, humans are the only creatures who have learned to "lie" and it had to have been for a survival advantage.

He also pointed out that the roots of storytelling are in what we consider "commercial fiction" so we shouldn't let those who write "literary" lord it over us!

ECPI Editors said...

Interesting comment, Terry. Have you read "White Lies" by Jayne Ann Krentz? It's part of her Arcane Society series, about people with psychic senses. The heroine in this one can tell truth from lies. Other people think she must be horrified to have to face that everyone is lying all the time. But the heroine talks about how she thinks lying is a trait that humans had to develop in order to live in groups, form societies. We could not function with other people if we couldn't tell the social lie, the "white lie", or even lie about more major things.


Terry Odell said...

Raelene -
No, I haven't read "White Lies" but being 100% honest would certainly strain any kind of relationship.

Lee Child's premise was that survival for early man (and he was talking cave man type early) was such a struggle, their only goal was to live to the next day. Communication began to set them apart from other animals, because the only way they could take down a large animal was to cooperate and hunt in groups. There was no point in lying about whether the mammoth was here or there.

He surmised that storytelling might have begun first when someone related how "Joe" managed to outsmart and kill a saber-tooth cat. From there, the story grew, and soon Joe had single-handedly dealt with a whole pack of cats. This 'lie' then provided the clan with hope and optimism.

Anonymous said...

From a blog post I wrote:

My dad was raised in Nigeria. He used to talk about my grandmother ( who just passed and whom I’ve only met once) who would gather the families around at nighttime and magically weave stories together as they all listened in awe.

I believe story is at the core of human existence — it is not just how we communicate, but it is how we think, and who we are.

I really believe there is a trend in our society for story. We are being pushed story from all mediums -- print, TV, radio, advertising -- but there's something deeper going on. We see others' stories and we want to matter. I watch Maximus on Gladiator, or William Wallace, or even the boys from Remember the Titans and I say "hey wait a moment, I want a story too. I want my life to be a tale -- not to impress, but to have an impact." Or, as Steve Jobs would say, I want to make a dent in the universe.

This isn't just about supporting our startup, Heekya, with more evidence -- this is something we truly believe.

A story can change the world. It can change a life. It can change me -- and the stories of others around the world -- from the slums of Kibera, Nairoibi Kenya to the jungles of the Amazon in northern Peru -- I have seen that our stories have the power to unite us.

They have the power to bring us together. To bring tears, to bring joy, to bring laughter, to incite nostalgia.

They help us to not just communicate, they help us to believe.

What's your story?