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To Tell a Story, and How to Begin

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

There have been stories since the beginning of mankind. The methods, however, have evolved throughout history, presenting a number of mediums for storytellers to revert to. As a matter of fact, it is an ancient art created to give a better understanding of the world we live in, everything in it, and even beyond. And what better way to tell your story than to first understand the types of storytelling are?


Before letters were invented to captivate the attention of the audience, spoken word is what society relies on as a form of storytelling. Throughout generations, verbal communication has been used as vehicles for all kinds of stories. Verbal storytelling is also ultimately the initial medium we would think of when it comes to conveying our thoughts, ideas, and experiences to an audience. And over time, it branched out and developed into many forms.

A historic tradition from Ireland, called Seanchai, would be the perfect example of one of the beginnings of verbal storytelling and its prominent role. They'd travel from village with the mission to recite and pass on the ancient myths, lore, and tales of wisdom to the society, not leaving behind local news and happenings. Quite famed in this particular tradition are tales of kings and heroes, not much different from many other countries.(1)


Aside from inheriting legends and folklores, traditions also tend to turn to other forms like songs, poems, theatrical play, chants, which are only a few out of many. However, what makes verbal storytelling so powerful? It is a fusion of many features of other storytelling mediums. It invites you to imagine and create your own scenarios. It invites you to participate, as well as sharing your experience with others.

Verbal storytelling also feels much more personal both socially and emotionally, compared to telling a story using other mediums, like books, for instance. While both do illuminate the experiences for the audience, telling a story utilizing only language, skills of physical gestures, volume, and tone, would capture the audience’s attention in a way that is different than other forms would, like through books or watching movies.


The moment letters came into the picture, written stories started to make its way as yet another medium of storytelling. As society continues to progress, alphabets, oral, and visual storytelling forms were soon transformed into various written stories. A classic example would be Aesop’s fables, which originated in oral form, but centuries later were collected and transcribed.

Storytelling through written works dates back to different points in history, one evidence of written symbols took place about 9,000 years ago.(2) The first written form of stories were transcribed manually on then-traditional surfaces like paper, clay, even stone. Though writing did first begin as drawings, it had its moment of revolution and over time, it eventually changed into script. Another notable milestone in the history of communications is the introduction of mass printing. News and other varieties of information were available to be consumed by the public, at the same time helping to increase the literacy among people.


The birth of the printing press paved the way for the era of mass communication, where, later on, forms of written stories such as books, newspapers, novels, and magazines took over and made its global impact in the history of storytelling. Another perk you might get by reverting to writing as your preferred medium of storytelling is that it is less likely for you to compromise your story. As you develop your story, you can devote more and more of your time to research and gather as much reference as you’d like, perfecting your story and meeting, possibly exceeding, your own standards.


The art of capturing a story in visual representation is a whole other breed of storytelling. From something as historic as cave paintings, visual media is one of the oldest mediums of storytelling known to mankind. The growth in society greatly supported the progress of visualized storytelling. As an example, other than to communicate information, the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt conveyed a fascinating story arranged from pictographic symbols to depict its sounds and characters.(3)

Source: Stefan Draschan

With the development of the era, it extended into other more modern forms, such as film, television, photography, and many more. These are refreshing new ways for storytellers to not only utilize as a medium, but also to engage with viewers in an effort to drive emotions and interaction. And as much as they are often paired with a piece of content of other forms, that, of course, is not the only definitive way for visual storytelling. It’s about representing the information the right way and to ensure that it’s compelling and relevant to the audience.


The digital age opened many doors to groundbreaking forms of storytelling. Film, radio, and television are broad, innovative platforms that set a new wave in the storytelling scene. And It doesn’t stop there. Compelling stories can also be told in bite-sized portions through social media like captions, and tweets, or even lengthier forms through written works in blogs.


Though social media especially, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are taking the world by storm as the vast majority of people, most of which are of course technology-literate, turn to these platforms as a means to get their story out there. Its large popularity exploded in the 21st century, due to their unlike-any-other-platforms freedom that they offer. Millions of users from around the globe are able to share their thoughts and personal stories with ease. All these stories can also be accessed anywhere you are, according to your time table, right on your fingertips, with the magic of the internet. This helped not only the creators of their story to share their stories, but also the audience to content themselves of their favorite works.


While there are of course plenty of other forms to convey a story, I’m still mostly tied close with written and verbal. Reason being, it feels the most familiar and what I have resorted to for most of my life. Written stories give me more time and opportunities to keep perfecting what I want to say, while verbally-told stories feel like it would flow the easiest. It can be done in the simplest ways too, as easy as trying to recollect an occasion, painting a picture of an idea, or as easy as venting to a friend. Even so, visual content has been really catching my eyes lately as an audience. It personally feels like it challenges your perspective even more to really try and determine the true meaning. Nowadays I keep finding myself getting lost in paintings and illustrations, not only trying to establish the message it’s trying to get across, but what inspired the artist.

But enough about me. Which form of storytelling do you prefer? - JO


(1) 'Storytelling and Cultural Traditions', National Geographic <> [17 July 2020]

(2) 'THE EVOLUTION OF STORYTELLING', Reporter <> [17 July 2020]

(3) 'Types of Storytelling: 4 Ways to Communicate Through Story', Masterclass <> [17 July 2020]

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