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Word of the Week: ‘storytelling’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘storytelling’.


‘Storytelling’ is a concept, and word, so woven into the fabric of everyday existence that it can often be overlooked. National Storytelling Week, however, grants us opportunity to revisit and unpick the age-old act – without which, us brand bards would be out of a job.

The act of ‘storytelling’ is crucial to the way we understand our complex world and our place in it. It is a means of translating every human experience into narrative – even Brexit (see: Middle England, by Jonathan Coe).

But what does the word ‘storytelling’ mean? Where does the word that provides us, well, a bridge across cultural, historical, linguistic, political and socioeconomic barriers come from? Allow us to enlighten you. Sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

‘Storytelling’ as a noun is simply defined as: “The telling or writing of stories”. The word traces its origins back to the early 1700s – but of course the act of ‘storytelling’ has a far older and knottier history. Not only does it predate Snapchat stories, it predates writing.

One of the earliest recorded representations of ‘storytelling’ is the Chauvet Cave in France. Dating back 36,000 years, the cave drawings are believed to depict a volcanic eruption and are centred around themes of survival. #Lit

Later forms of visual storytelling were found in Egyptian hieroglyphics from around 3000 BC – and the earliest written stories are believed to be the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad by Homer in 700BC. This is all without mentioning the grand old tradition of oral storytelling – to which we owe many of our favourite and enduring myths, legends and fairytales.

Smashed avocado on toast: the epic

Walter Benjamin’s polemic on the death of storytelling in Illuminations, depressingly describes the way the ‘age of information’ has destroyed the art of storytelling – along with “the communicability of experience” and “the epic side of truth”.

Fake news is increasingly common and locating the truth in stories becomes harder and harder. Social media (specifically Instagram and Snapchat) allows everyone to engage in the art of ‘storytelling’ via their live stories. However, instead of Greek epics, we are presented with videos of smashed avocado on toast, people doing squats in the gym or most frequently, the banal video of a pet. They are gone in 30 seconds. They live “only at that moment” – unlike the classic stories that have endured and continue to shape our values, like Aesop’s Fables circa 500BC.

So, what is next for the fate of ‘storytelling’ in the age of information? Is it up to us, brand journalists, to protect a dying art? It is – but who can resist a cheeky post about their brunch now and then?