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Telling: a basic human need
Let’s think about what our material is, when we deal with stories.
As we noticed, everybody has the ability to tell, and we spend our lives telling or being told stories.
Why can we tell? Think about where we come from: naked monkeys in a hostile nature, our success during the last millions of years came from our interest for technology and tools, among which one of the most important of them: language, the ability to name and calculate the world mentally.
To survive, our ancestors needed to communicate about their relationship with the world around them: how to get food, how to hunt, fish, choose plants, make tools, where to find water, wood, how to survive as a human group, solve conflicts, regulate sex, educate children, etc. They also needed to shape their life in time, giving themselves a history (even mythological, every human culture developed a fiction about its origins…) and controlling the world by registering facts. Science, protocols, rational theories, came very late. The first encyclopedia of mankind was an orally-transmitted corpus of stories. In majority, we still learn life not through discourses and studies, but from stories (impregnated with discourses, ideologies…)
This indirect experience transmitted through stories helps preparing us to new situations. Before visiting any new country, we already have tons of elements in mind, more or less consciously, to help us „read“ this new universe of signs. To make decisions, we also need to be able to imagine the consequences… what we do by taking infos out of past experiences. This indirect experience is like an extension to our body that is very local, very limited: through the corpus of stories, anecdotes, scripts, references, characters, archetypes, situations, we get in heritage a huge database of facts.
This is really an important point: organizing the world in timelines of connected events is one main aspect of human experience and human thought, THAT WE ALL SHARE. Let‘s dig into that a bit more.
Stories to share, understand, plan…
We use stories to record, interpret, and understand the world around us.
Stories that we organize in collections tell us what things are and how they work.
Take anything. Take cars. We know cars through experience, but also much through stories of industry, car crashes, races, pilots, brands, sport events – all of this was never a personal experience, but we need to know about it. Think about what you know about cars: does it come from a manual? from a university class, “All about cars”? Nope: the way we learned all we know about cars, is accumulated through stories, conversations, press articles, random short videos, fairytales, scenes in movies, ads, music videos, sport programs, visits to the garage (telling how it stopped working…)
Take love stories. Love stories are the way we get to know about love, get to build expectations, get to name the roles and predict the behaviors – from “prince charming” fairytale, to women’s love novels and men’s pornography. Even when we never experienced the following, we can easily understand situations of: love at first sight, passion, hot sexuality, boring sexuality, love betrayal, homosexual love, marriage, divorce, love break, etc. For all of them, we already know the scripts, the standard behaviors and roles of the characters involved, we know the possible beginning and end of each pattern.
Important consequence: when some groups are interested in changing History, part of their job is about rewriting our scripts collection about a given theme (the limits of gender, the value of work, the importance of honor, etc.), reprogram our mental representations, rewrite our recorded encyclopedia of facts that allows us to judge whether something is good or bad, wishable or rejectable, funny or sad, etc.
That is what the gay and lesbians, for example, had to do in storytelling: inform society about their love stories, and get accepted by adding their scripts to the general corpus. Same process with women or the black people in the USA – to gain civil rights, they also needed to share their stories, tell about their situations, build heroes, get united through collective legends.
A story involves the audience and their mental scripts about things.
Notice that MANY stories tell things that are NOT everyday life facts, but imagination, and the list is long of things and characters we „know“ (and we speak and tell about them) without ever having experienced them personally: unicorns, gods, monks (they exist, but did you see a real one?), Muslim terrorists, Nazis and communists, Jesus-Christ, barbarian warriors, banksters, Geishas and call-girls, cow-boys, vampires, rabid birds, giant octopusses, aliens………..
Even symbolic, this encyclopedia is at least a collection of metaphors that are useful to help us compare, feel, estimate, empathize…
Our goal is to learn controlling the story parameters to make complex effects over our audiences – to surprise them, entertain them, challenge them, make them laugh and cry, reconsider, evaluate, take part…
All of that, we will have to do it while taking account of our collective human corpus of pre-designed scripts – millions of stories mixing thousands of elements that give meaning to our experience.
Want to know more ? Then read our tutorial about How to write a story.