Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Viva Storytelling by Anne Stormont

The future of storytelling has got to be bright. It gives life to metaphor and metaphor to life...

In the March 2012 edition of Words with Jam, I wrote about the art of oral storytelling and discussed whether it still has a place in the twenty-first century. I asserted that it had.

In this edition of the magazine we're looking at whether storytelling has a future and if so what that future might look like. In this article I'll be using the term storytelling in its broadest sense - that is in both its oral and written versions.

I hope that storytelling has a future. And, if it does, I hope that although the media via which our stories are told will undoubtedly change, the essential nature of the stories themselves will remain as it has always been. I can't imagine a world without storytelling at its heart. Indeed, if we were to lose the art and practice of telling each other stories, I reckon the future for humankind would be bleak.

We must guard storytelling's place in our communities and cultures, in our histories and in our hopes for the future. The existence of storytelling by and between humans is one of the characteristics that marks us out as unique from other species living on the planet. Because of its inextricable link to language, and because of its meaning-making quality, it's what has made the progress of the human race possible.

One area of human life where storytelling has suffered a catastrophic decline is in politics. Politics - in the UK at least - has degenerated into the politics of policies. The main parties have stopped telling the stories which encapsulate their vision , which describe and share their understanding and conviction, which set out meaningful images of past, present and future for the voters. Instead it's all statistics, negativity and discrediting the opposition.

Storytelling is also under attack in education - again I'm speaking specifically about UK education. Storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. It can be used to excellent effect across the curriculum. It provides a medium for dialogue and depth of understanding for pupils and students. But the prevailing tick-box culture, the ever-expanding nature of the curriculum and its subservience to politics and economics means that storytelling is in danger of disappearing from classrooms.

The back-to-basics approach is dull, limiting and narrow. The basics are just the tools - important, yes - but to have any use they must create something - something bigger. Fundamentalism in politics, in education - in any walk of life - strangles metaphor. Metaphor sustains and enriches our stories. So without metaphor we are poorer. Storytelling is - or it can and should be - a force for good, for understanding and for progress.

Most of us can remember the reassurance and comfort of being told stories and anecdotes by the adults we loved and trusted when we were children. We remember fears being faced and calmed, meaning being clarified and the joy of the story for its own sake. It taps into a deep-seated need. A need that probably dates back to caves and campfires.

Similarly, as adults, most of us can relate to the pleasure of stories and anecdotes shared over coffee and cake, in the pub, over a shared meal - or indeed on social media. Most of us want to tell and share our daily and lifelong biographies and to hear those of others.

And what of writers? What of their role in the future of storytelling? I see their role as vital. Writers of fictional prose and poetry, writers of non-fiction, writers in digital, book, stage and film formats - all take our stories to higher and to deeper levels - and disseminate them widely. Writers offer storytelling that affirms, challenges, educates, inspires and entertains. Writers and their art of storytelling can take us from conflict to resolution and from questions to answers - to more questions. Writers as storytellers take us to magical places. Writers give life to metaphor and metaphor to life.

So, it's my view that, for all the reasons above, the future of storytelling in all its forms has to be both assured and ensured. Long live storytelling!

Anne Stormont is a writer and teacher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults - mainly of the menopausal and post-menopausal female persuasion - and for children. She blogs at - where you can find out lots more about her.


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