Day 167

Prompt: on storytelling.

 

The first rule of teaching is to know your subject, but the lesser-known, unwritten second rule is to tell stories. It seems almost counterintuitive: spend your precious in-class time on stories instead of content. However, psychology studies have shown that people are more likely to remember concepts introduced through story-telling.

Which sounds totally bizarre, but at the same time, it makes sense. We (humans) didn’t come out the gate with a written language ready to go. It was something that evolved over time and, for a large part, kept as a privilege of wealth or religion. People were taught through stories and tales. Fables evolved from this very idea: teach people a moral guideline through a story. I like to imagine that fables were a secondary thought, something discovered over time, that

I like to imagine that fables were a secondary thought, something discovered over time, that initially, everyone had an overbearing grandmother that would simply say “don’t lie or we’ll never believe you when you tell the truth.” It wasn’t followed and kids lied (it does seem to be in our nature) until one grandma created the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf to the hazards of lying through a medium children could relate to.

For me, stories are a way to relate to people. Life experience breeds empathy and understanding, both of which can be reflected through stories. Patting someone on the shoulder does little to alleviate emotional pain. Telling a story of emotional pain you endured does three things: tell the person you understand where they are, strengthen the bond between you by confiding, and take their mind of their own pain if even just for a moment. I love telling stories (part of why I am a dungeon master), whether in conversation or in writing.

Writing stories is a harder medium, in my mind. You don’t have all the tools oral storytelling has: eye contact, voice inflection, gesticulation… Writing a story requires precise language and an understanding of your audience. If I posted my exact D&D campaign notes, it would be mostly gibberish to the lay person: “DC 15 CON save v. poisoned.” I know (and other DM’s know) that means the player needs to roll a twenty-sided die and add their constitution modifier to the number. If the result is less than 15, they fail the save and their character is poisoned. Writing with a lay person in mind lets me tell a story: Aymer, the spider’s fangs lodged deep in his arm, felt a sweeping numb travel to his spine, his whole body shaking with whatever poison the foul creature injected.

I am by no means a storytelling expert. This blog is, among other things, a way to improve my storytelling chops. Seek out the advice of the experts. If you’re reading this, you have access to the imaginations of the world through this global internet of ours. I have three resources I recommend for leveling up your storytelling game:

The biggest piece of advice I can give is practice. Writing is like a sport: the more you practice, the better you will get. That being said, practicing without a coach will only improve your game to a certain degree. You need feedback from others and ideas on how to improve (hence those lovely blue links up above). Happy writing!

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