The Gift of Storytelling

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the stories that I love and what it is that makes me love them so. You see, I have this story that I wish to tell but as a big reader I am aware that the way you tell a story is as important as the story itself.

It has to feel real, the characters and themes ones you can relate to, no matter how different the world in which the story takes place is from the world we live in today. Think of some of the greatest stories of recent times - J. K Rowling's Harry Potter, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and Disney's Frozen. All of these take place in worlds that are total fantasy, and yet still we feel as if we know the characters as close friends, understand the decisions they make, and even wish desperately that these worlds truly existed. Because to us, as the reader or viewer of the story, these characters and worlds are real.

No matter how different the environment, the best and most lovable characters are those that reflect something back to us about ourselves, about human nature, about the world at large. Whilst we do not know of any wizards in real life, we all know or remember what it's like to start a new school, feel like an outcast, and face a seemingly hopeless battle. And though our sister hasn't frozen the world because we pushed her too far, we all know what it's like to crave love and attention, as well as loving somebody no matter how big the wall between you has become. These shared experiences are what storytelling is all about.

And for our children, this can be the greatest gift of all. Stories have the ability to present to us incredibly complex ideas about the world around us in ways that we can easily grasp. Take for instance favourite tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, and The Three Little Pigs. Each one of these stories holds multiple layers to them, which can help young children, in particular, to relate to life's lessons.

The Ugly Duckling teaches them that it's what is inside that counts and feeling "different" can be a very lonely place. It also shows us that it is incredibly sad to be on the receiving end of cruel words and harsh jokes and can lead to conversations about kindness and compassion.

The Emperor's New Clothes, though an amusing story when you first hear it, teaches us a lot about pride and the ego, about how important it is not to put so much stock in receiving praise from others but rather to have some self-worth and enough gumption to stand up and speak out when something feels wrong. 

And The Three Little Pigs teaches us so much about the importance of taking time to do things right, making sure our foundations are strong and steady so that when trouble comes we can withstand the storm.

From a spiritual point of view, all of these stories teach our children, and ourselves, some of life's greatest lessons in terms of taking time to ground ourselves, know who we are, feel safe in our own skins, and understand our worth lies not in outside influences but in our own hearts. Even if we don't fully understand the messages within the stories, they are still there. And we'll pick them up throughout our lives, not just as children.

Earlier this week I read a blog post by Write on Sisters called The Influence of Books on YA. As someone who read a lot of Young Adult fiction in my teens, and who has recently re-read all of her favourite Tamora Pierce books (as well as some I have never read before), I love the insight of this blog post.

When we are young we have a very limited experience of the world and it can be hard to see beyond our current struggle to trust that things will change, because they always do. Reading about characters who overcome difficulties really helps to give perspective that things can change. But more than that, it enables us to understand that we are far from alone in feeling the way that we do. If the characters in a book express feelings we have felt afraid or ashamed to admit to ourselves or others, we come to realise that they are only human after all. And that is okay. 

The best characters, for me, are the ones who have flaws. The ones that, despite their amazing heroics, still have their weaknesses. I mentioned Tamora Pierce earlier for a reason - all her books centre around a strong female lead (different leads for different books) and as a teenage girl discovering who she is in the world this can be an amazing gift. But despite being major heroines in the stories, each of them has fears, hang-ups, and, in one case, a wicked temper! And it is those very stories, with such relatable characters, that started up a fire within me to one day write my own story, a story that takes what I have learned from those who have gone before me to pass on the message to the next generation.

And as I work on the basis for my first novel and the characters begin to feel real to me, I am discovering that there are just as many gifts in the act of storytelling itself as their are in being the reader.  And now that I have recognised that I am beginning to see it everywhere. For instance, last week I watched a bonus section on our version of Frozen and watched behind-the-scenes footage of the creation of it. I was amazed by just how many people from different backgrounds came together to make a film that is so loved by so many.

But what struck me even more was how passionate every single one of them was. You could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, catch it in their actions and the way they threw their arms around expressively whilst sharing an idea with others. The very act of storytelling, in whatever particular medium they were using, brought so much joy, energy, passion... life. 

It excites me when I think about the world in which WB is growing up. Technology has developed so massively over our lifetime and I cannot wait to see what it may bring over the coming decades. Storytelling has gone from an oral tradition, to written books, to the big screen and now WB is just as happy to watch videos made by YouTubers as he is the highly polished versions made in Hollywood! In fact sometimes he prefers the rough and ready versions to the all-singing, all-dancing ones.

And even now, at just four years old, he is beginning to create his own stories, mimicking the styles of those videos he loves and making connections between the books he reads and their film counterparts (where they exist in both forms). He'll narrate what is happening in a scene when he feels the dialogue is not expressing enough about what the characters are thinking or feeling, telling us how he understands it. I see the storyteller in him beginning to surface and it fills me with joy!

Storytelling is changing, there are so many ways in which we can share our stories these days. Blogs and eBooks enable even the most inexperienced of us to find our voices and begin to discover the gifts that Storytelling can bring, and eReaders make it possible to take an entire library of stories around with you wherever you go. And this means that, no matter where you find yourself in life, there will always be a story out there for you. How wonderful is that?

Tell me, what are your favourite stories and what do they mean to you?

Share the Joy linky at TheJoyChaser.com

I'm joining in with #ShareTheJoy once more with this post, as it has certainly brought me a lot of joy thinking about how many gifts storytelling brings to both the storyteller and the reader/audience. You can find out more about this linky by clicking on the image above...


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Amanda Shortman

I'm a 30-something mum to one, blogging her way through the completely beautiful and yet utterly confusing world of faith and spirituality. Ever since I started uni I've been on a journey of self-discovery that has led me to where I am today, somewhere between liberal Christianity and New Age Metaphysics, with a deep interest in interfaith dialogue. My greatest hope is to raise my son in a way that engenders confidence to find and walk his own path in life.