Storytellers have woven their magic around us from our earliest memories,

Are you sitting comfortably?  I want to tell you a story…  Once upon a time…

These well recognised beginnings prepare us for a story, perhaps a fairy-tale or folktale, but although a gifted storyteller works a particular kind of magic in the way they weave their words and use their voice, we all tell stories every day. We may relate an anecdote of how a rude person pushed in front of us in a queue, a small kindness by a stranger or a funny incident. Since the earliest times people have passed on their stories by word of mouth or in images etched on cave walls, revealing their culture, making connections, sharing ideas or values.

Stories enhance learning and memory

There are so many ways to tell stories;

  • Spoken word for those whose entry into a story is through language
  • Visual for others who approach it through images
  • Kinaesthetic for those whose best experience is physical and tactile

With so many mediums at our disposal; music and song, images, games and poetry, stage, screen, dance and needlework; new ways to tell our stories are limited only by our imagination.   

Storytelling as a way of communicating might be considered child’s play but at any age it can be motivating and inspiring, conveying complex information in an easily digested format that stays in our memory for longer. From nursery school to commerce and marketing the power of story is recognised as a vehicle that will assist memory retention and engagement. In his TEDx – The Magical Science of Storytelling (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-hdQMa3uA) – David JP Phillips discusses the science behind how stories make us feel; how they assist in memory and help us become more focussed and motivated. He discusses the Angel’s cocktail of endorphin, dopamine and oxytocin, generated by stories that make us laugh and feel good versus the Devil’s cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline produced by fright and shock.

Organisations are becoming more interested in employing gifted trainers who suggest using story to get a message across not only to their staff in meetings but also reaching out to the general public; to spark interest and encourage engagement. Facts and figures presented in story-form are retained longer than mere numbers or lists, which for many people are difficult to retain.

Presented with the bare facts about a moment in history there is often little to engage with but place it within a story and you give the listener something to associate with the facts – moving from the general to a specific – it creates a personal stake in the information bringing deeper meaning by engaging our emotions. A town that has been bombed in wartime will register, but our minds skim over it quickly. Engage the listener with a narrative that creates images in our minds and we are all touched by a very human tragedy.

 – Sara is holding tightly to her youngest child who is terrified by the noise of the bombs falling around them. He tears himself from her arms and runs out into the road but hearing her scream he turns to see a bomb falling. The building explodes and he stands; small, bewildered, deafened and alone amidst a hail of dust and stones. His mother and family are gone. –

Within a story the concept of a war-torn town becomes more real, more personal, and creates empathy for those involved.

Making sense of the world

Small children gain so much from stories as they learn about the world around them. The simplest tale can offer comfort as well as information and they can examine everyday happenings, explore interactions, feelings of worry, fear or unexpected new challenges. In older children adventure stories tell of potential dangers, limits and consequences; the triumph of good over evil, quiet strength over the brash bully. Stories help children acquire and feel empathy for others, offering tools to build resilience and tenacity.

Teenagers have a natural tendency to test their limits, often without thought of consequences. Through stories they can experience dangerous situations from a place of safety and witness the resulting outcomes in the persona of the characters within their favourite books, films or games. Some of these situations they may never experience themselves but within a story they can question; would they do the same in these circumstances? It becomes a subliminal learning experience.  

Retelling  stories

The storyteller’s gift in changing a story can be a particular joy, bringing the unexpected to a familiar tale we already know. There is a special reward in sitting with a loved or trusted one and sharing a familiar story. It is a comforting experience that offers a moment of harmony and calm, especially for a child, and their memory of these quiet times are often retained all their lives.

As writers…

Using emotion and wrapping our readers in a story can evoke all manner of responses; fear, excitement, tears and laughter. By never underestimating the reader, even the youngest child, we allow them to contribute to the experience, to follow the characters and live through them; exploring their hopes and anticipation, making them urge the characters to do better, to go closer to the edge or to be the best version of themselves. This engagement stays with the reader and can feel like a true lived experience.

Stories are all around us, in the very fabric of our lives; narrations of conflict, stories of warning, of danger, of emotions; love, jealousy, fear and joy. We share who we are,  how we think and what is important to us, exploring new ideas or choices. Stories are the lifeblood of our civilisation. They preserve our histories and explore new possibilities; they allow us to share our hopes and fears, but sometimes stories are wonderful just because of the sheer joy that comes from sharing them.