Why is storytelling important? Why is it important to learn how storytelling works?
Never mind fiction. Never mind other people’s stories.
Never mind the manipulations of truth that we are subjected to everyday as news.
Never mind those stories that are silenced around us.
No matter what we feel about stories, or how much we hate reading stories, or don’t want to listen to stories, we are constantly subjected to at least one story. We cannot escape the one story that is constantly with us.
It’s the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves.
We are the protagonists of our own story. That protagonist’s story is what we know as my story.
That story is what makes us hang together as me.
That’s why we need to learn how storytelling works.
In my stories, some of us are tragic characters, victims of circumstances, either swimming against the tide or just passive. Round pegs in square holes.
Some of us are heroes. Simply self made. We achieved what we did in life either through our merit or some kind of cleverness manipulating our circumstances. We remember our past as fighters, rescuers, talented doers.
Some of us struggled against circumstances to reach where we are today. That conflict between us and the world gave my story meaning.
Some of us are men, bearing our responsibilities despite the odds, manly heroes of our manly stories.
Some of us are nurturers having sacrificed other great possibilities for our everyday families, feminine martyrs giving up opportunities we could have easily achieved for domestic happiness.
That is what we tell ourselves.
Some parts make us angry. Some parts make us cry. Some parts are nice. We keep replaying these in our minds over and over again. We choose memories that fit the story. My story.
We string together experience to make sense of who we are and where we’re going.
Sometimes our stories change. We alter our pasts by altering our memories. We rewrite.
When there are conflicting stories we struggle to make sense of ourselves.
Sometimes, our lives in the past seem like hypertext that could have been linked to different concluding bits ending with our present moment. Ahh. How different the present could have been.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to survive” (Joan Didion).
It’s when we start thinking of our stories as already written, or mostly written, that we begin to lose hope.
But had we known how stories worked, we would have easily seen that the one story, my story, is fiction.
There is no such story. Only many stories. Many my stories by me.
We aren’t protagonists of anything. There isn’t even a coherent story.
Out there is a sea of multitudinous stories, all playing out even as we are thinking them, many many my stories, changing every moment even as we are telling them, and playing out against many other stories of ourselves.
That is how fiction works. That is how stories work.
To understand is to be set free.