Oh, hello story friends.
Welcome back. Today I’m going to talk about what I feel stories are. Since you’re currently reading this, I’ll assume you like stories, but have you ever really stopped to think about why? The entertainment industry has been the largest segment of revenue in the universe for the last few thousand years. But why?
If you boil it down, stories are just a medium of communication. A device to transport data from point A (the storyteller’s imagination) to point B (the ears and minds of story friends like us). Cold hard facts (very much unlike the claim I made up about the entertainment industry above, although I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn it was true) can deliver information much more efficiently, so why are stories so much more fun to receive for most people (I’d call those other people “math friends”).
“A shark is a dangerous sea creature,” conveys all we really need to know. It doesn’t really appeal to our emotions though. There’s a disconnect that makes us less likely to take the information seriously. We don’t need a story to get emotional though. That’s what statistics are for. “Sharks kill 40,000 people every Tuesday,” provides pertinent information and also appeals to our emotions. We immediately think something like “40,000 people? I was going to go to the beach next Tuesday! Maybe I should see a movie instead, I don’t want to be killed by this dangerous sea creature everyone’s talking about.”
BUT, you see what you did there? You heard the statistic and wedged yourself into it—you created a story based on the information you were provided. It doesn’t have to be a statistic that could directly affect you either. We would still instinctually construct a story around something like “80% of shark marriages end in cannibalism.” Not being sharks, we have little chance of being impacted by a shark marriage, but the tragic image of a sharky husband coming home to eat his wife creates a vivid image (and a colorful story).
Statistics was the only math subject I could ever wrap my head around, because it wasn’t just random numbers, it was a proto-story. That’s what makes them such an effective data medium. Mathematicians and scientists might disagree with me, but I think there is another conduit of information that is even more effective (and affective in this case). The answer is a bit too obvious for a drumroll, but hold for a dramatic pause for me.
Stories! Stories are the best way for us humans to communicate with one another. Better than the fact that sharks are dangerous, even better than the statistic of how many people sharks kill on any given Tuesday, is a story that illustrates the point that sharks are man-eating monsters. Go rent Jaws, or read the novel, or watch the local 6 o’clock news during the summer in any coastal Floridian city—you’ll be transferred data about a shark that attacks humans. The storytellers that produced these stories transferred information, but they added relevance by making it applicable to you on a personal level AND they made it entertaining. They added drama and story arcs and made us feel the story on a personal level (like statistics do) AND an emotional level.
And that’s my definition of a story—an entertaining (or hopefully entertaining at least) transference of information that is meant to be reflected on vicariously by the recipient of that information. That is overly esoteric, but you get the picture, it’s information that you can put yourself into and that you want to hear again. That’s what you need to make a story, now making a <i>good</i> story, that’s something different altogether, and something we can talk about next time.
Until then, story friends.