Do you ever wonder what your stories mean for the world? I do. All the time. (Maybe too often). From the griots to bards, we seed culture through our stories.
Storytelling is as old as civilization and it is a fundamental component of what makes us human. Says this non-expert, non-scientist, non-anthropologist. Despite my lack of credentials, I really do believe it. Stories are the things that connect us and make us human. They make culture and preserve it.
By sharing our stories (in all their glorious forms) with each other, we build empathy, understanding and stronger interpersonal connections. I’ve been reading a book called Women Who Run With the Wolves for the past five years. It is a book about stories, filled with stories, that tells the story of how women exist within and experience the world. It has been an endless source of insight about myself as a storyteller and the collective experience of stories. I am sure there are similar books for men, though I think it’d be an enlightening read no matter your gender.
In one of the later chapters, the author writes “If a story is a seed. Then we are its soil. Just hearing the story allows us to experience it as though we ourselves were the heroine who either falters or wins out in the end.”
So many powerful ideas in just a few sentences. The idea of the story as a seed is a potent one. Because it means that when you create a story and share it with the world you are planting something, seeding something into culture and into the minds and experiences of your audience. That is an important and powerful seed that demands we tend to it and cultivate in a way that allows for healthy growth. What a magical idea, our stories are seeds. How does knowing change how you think about your work and craft as a storyteller? For me it puts the onus on me to plant good seeds and bare nourishing fruit. It’s perhaps why I work so hard for truth and clarity and an honest reflection of the world in all my stories, from brand campaigns to short pieces of fiction.
The audience as soil is another important idea. It’s the crux of the power of storytelling. It is how empathy and compassion are brought to life in our world and in our societies. I read and experience stories to better understand other people. The right stories can forge connections and bonds that you might not have otherwise imagined. I think at a time when our world is divided across so many boundaries and so many ways, an openness to stories (the seeds) that people have to share is one way to combat the pervasive division and sense of difference that feels to have taken over our cultures.
If your audience is a soil in which you plant the seed of your story, what does that mean for your stories? How does it change your approach, your medium, or even you as a writer, marketer or artist? For me, as a storyteller, it makes me really consider my audience and the impact my story will have on them and as a result the world. It makes me consider what I want to cultivate, what I want to leave people with. It adds weight to the value of my story.
This idea of connection and culture and planting of seeds means that we as storytellers have an important role and responsibility within our cultures. To plant good seeds. At least I think so. Whether you’re a marketer, a business owner, a creative, or any other type of storyteller, not only does your story matter it could change the world. That’s a lot of pressure, but that’s also awesome (in the truest sense of the word). Have fun with it, infuse joy into it (even if it’s a sad story) and know that you’re planting a seed when you finally release it to the world. And as an exercise, maybe think about what you want to grow as a result of your story (sort of like the vision for your story).
I know I say it a lot, but it’s because I think it’s true, your story matters and I hope this helps you understand a little more about one of the many reasons why.
(p.s. I’ve been reading the book that long because I am absorbing and putting into action the lessons of each chapter—I expect, even when I’ve gone through it to the end, that I’ll be reading it for the rest of my life).
A Story Well Told
This week I’m going to tell you about a place rather than a specific story. A place where stories abound and the only thing to really guide you through it is your curiosity and interest. That place though is less a place and more a built world created by developers. It’s the new (invite only) app, Club House. Let me start by saying, it’s another controversial one with both haters and lovers. I exist somewhere in the middle on the spectrum. I have stumbled across some really great conversations that gave me true insight into others’ experiences of the world. (The key is to have a friend who loves it willing to alert you to the good rooms.) I’ve also gone on and been very bored by what was on offer and ignored it for weeks. This article gives a nice overview of the app and its growing popularity. I think it was an app made to thrive during a pandemic and forced isolation. All that to say, it’s worth exploring to see what you may find in there and what characters you may encounter. It will make your stories better.
Also, if you’re enjoying this or if there’s something you’d like me to cover in a future letter—an element of your storytelling you may be struggling with, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’m here to help.
Thanks for reading and I’ll “see” you next week. Whatever the world may bring, there will always be important stories that need you to tell them. I’ll be here to help.