Storytelling is an ancient art that has evolved into a global form of interactive communication. Creating stories that are memorable and engaging can be a compelling way to share information that resonates with an audience.
The first known evidence of storytelling began with the discovery of cave art that was created during the Stone Age in Europe. People drew mostly animal figures with some human figures and geometric symbols. It is believed that the art had a symbolic or religious function.
Starting in 3200 BC, the Egyptians developed a formal writing system with hieroglyphics (phonetic glyphs that are graphic, elemental symbols). Scribes used the scripts in temples, tomb walls and on papyrus scrolls to share their history, beliefs and ideas.
Aristotle and Poetics
Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist (c. 384 B.C. – 322 B.C.) is known for his philosophies on ethics, politics and psychology. Poetics is a book that he wrote about a scientific study of writing and poetry that is different than philosophy because it presents ideas that represent objects and world events. It is considered to be foundational to the concept of storymaking. Aristotle believed that a story must have pity, fear and catharsis to be compelling. His framework for storytelling included Plot, Character, Theme, Diction, Melody, Decor and Spectacle.
The first essential, the life and soul, so to speak, of a story, is the Plot.
Recently I visited an exhibit on Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt at the St. Louis Art Museum. On display were several examples of historical paintings that were defined by their subjects rather than an artistic style. Historical paintings usually reveal a scene from a narrative story, rather than a static subject like a portrait.
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling is a historical painting. They were typically large paintings in oil on canvas or fresco produced between the Renaissance and the late 19th century.
Dale Carnegie’s Formula for Storytelling
In 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People was published and remains one of the best-selling books of all time. Author Dale Carnegie taught sales and leadership skills by using stories as a method to engage an audience, sell messages, convey values and leave lasting impressions. His formula consisted of:
- Incident: Grab attention by sharing a relevent, personal experience.
- Action: Describe how specific actions solved or prevented a problem.
- Benefit: Share the benefits of making this change.
The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?
– Dale Carnegie
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell was first published in 1949. In the book, he discussed his theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in myths around the world.
Campbell’s theory has been applied by many writers and artists, including filmmaker George Lucas, who acknowledged its influence on his Star Wars series. The hero’s journey consists of:
- Act One: Ordinary World, a Call to Adventure, a Refusal of the Call, Meeting the Mentor and Crossing the Threshold
- Act Two: Tests, Allies and Enemies, Approach to the Inmost Cave, Ordeal and Reward
- Act Three: Resurrection and Return with the Elixir
Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.
– Joseph Campbell
Pixar Animation Studio
In the 6 Rules of Great Storytelling as Told by Pixar, Brian G. Peters explains why Pixar is “one of the greatest storytellers.” He describes “The Story Spine” formula created by professional playwright and improvisor Kenn Adams. This is the story structure that Pixar utilizes to create their beloved movies.
Once upon a time there was [blank]. Every day, [blank]. One day [blank].
Because of that, [blank]. Until finally [bank].
The Story Spine is a practice technique for learning how to tell a well-constructed story, and it can also be used as an outlining tool that helps construct a story.
Everyone seems to think that digital technology devoids the medium of content, but that is not true at all. If anything, it broadens the content.
– George Lucas
Today, we have the technology to easily create digital stories that include images, sound and video to entertain, educate and preserve culture.
To influence an audience, it’s essential to alter their attitudes, believes, knowledge and behavior. Well-crafted stories have been one of the most effective tools for exerting influence since humans began drawing on the walls of caves.
Create those things where human protagonists relate to us, where the stakes and conflict grip us, and where the emotions move us. Craft those simple things, those glorious things, those things so often forgotten but so desperately needed. There’s no hidden or corporate meaning behind the word ‘story.’ We know what they are. And we need to start telling them.
– Jay Acunzo