We live in a world mad for deconstructing, classifying and compartmentalizing. We have always done this but never to the degree we do now. It has something to do with the rise and growth of science. It’s the process we developed in order to learn and understand. It can, however, be restrictive and have the opposite result.
I’ve always known a story when I’ve come upon it. I’ve always recognized storytelling when I’ve encountered it. But I’ve never articulated a definition of storytelling. It never occurred to me to do so until recently when I’ve found others attempting to define it. For instance, today I was on the Canada Council for the Arts site and the term storytelling shows up, but I get the sense their definition and mine aren’t quite the same. I think mine is broader.
I tend to resist defining, at least in this instance, because defining is also limiting. It is a bit like defining myself. No matter how detailed any definition might be, there will always be more to me than is included in that definition. There may be elements that even contradict it.
So … storytelling. There are two streams that seem particularly active currently. One of these is the business stream where storytelling is seen in terms of marketing and branding. What is your story? You have to communicate it because that is what customers want and what engages them. It’s the thing that communicates your brand. Your business needs to engage in storytelling, particularly where social media is concerned.
The other stream is in the realm of the arts where storytelling seems to be a way to distinguish the medium by which a story is communicated from writing. In other words, to a large extent it is being defined by what it is not. What it is appears to be, or to encompass, is performance.
I have two problems with this. The first is that, for me, writing is performance. The second is that the term seems to be defined by what are actually its subsets: oral storytelling, visual storytelling, and so on. To me, this would be akin to defining myself by my arms or my eyes. They are part of me but they are not who I am.
This leads to confusion, at least it does for me. For me, I go back to the definition of stories I posted a while ago: A story is people involved in events told by people to people.
Storytelling, then, is the telling of that story, regardless of the medium.