Storytelling: my latest obsession

Posted on 5 September 2011

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This year I’ve been getting increasingly obsessed with the idea of storytelling. It seems kind of obvious that I would think about the idea seeing as I call myself a writer. But, honestly, with the type of writing that I spend most of my time doing (blogging, tender writing, marketing copy, sponsorship proposals), storytelling is far too warm and fuzzy and old fashioned a concept for me to ponder much.

Two things have highlighted the idea that telling stories is just how people talk to each other. Firstly, I moved to Melbourne. Since then, I’ve met tons of new people and been getting to know my Melbourne friends better. Interacting with both of these groups has been a process of swapping stories.

Secondly, I started working on two new story-oriented projects. One of them is blogging and social media for the Zahmoo storybank. It’s basically a private online database for stories created by knowledge management professionals at Anecdote whose entire business is built around the idea that recording people’s stories is the best way to preserve and share the aggregate knowledge of a business, and they have expanded this idea to serve community groups and families as well.

The other story-oriented project is my Grandmother chronicles blog post series. I’ve been collecting stories of my French Canadian ancestors for about 13 years and I’ve started some vignettes that only I know. This is partly to share them with my family and partly to help me organise my thoughts on the shape of the eventual book(s) I’m working on about this part of my family.

At uni, one of the first things I learnt in communication theory was that speech is a “species behaviour” of humans, ie all humans everywhere, barring physical constraints, have a spoken language, even those freaky kids literally raised by wolves.

And the most important things we tell each other aren’t “I’m hungry” or “look out, you’re about to walk over a cliff”; they are stories of who we are and the things that have shaped us. It is part of our constant striving to work out who we are and looking for common ground with each other.

In researching Zahmoo blog post ideas, I’ve tapped into a huge online subculture of storytelling and another of family history. The storytelling community took me by surprise just by of how big it is, but also how passionate people are about it and how immersed they are in it. There are information-based websites, discussion forums and blogs about the idea; events big and small celebrating it; and publications dedicated to it. Search “storytelling” on Twitter, hashtagged or not, and the stream will be updated so fast you won’t be able to keep up.

So now that I’m looking at my work through the lens of storytelling as a concept, I notice that it’s all related: each infrastructure tender document tells a story about a company, its people, its past successes and how it would do the next project better than anyone else; a sponsorship proposal is the story of the potentially dazzling joint future of two organisations if only one gave the other some money.

I don’t know if this all means anything apart from helping me explain how all my different bits of work operate for me as a cohesive whole. Just something I’ve been thinking about.

Image credit: Ethiopia by Steve Evans under a Creative Commons Attribution licence

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Posted in: Writing