Introduction to Storytelling
Storytelling is a communication art that has existed since the dawn of civilization. Beyond this general notion, formal definitions of storytelling are hard to come by. Indeed, there has been some resistance within the current storytelling community to define the term. Open discussion of the topic was lively and adversarial during the 1997 National Storytelling Conference in Indianapolis.
Although there have been few attempts to define storytelling formally, its tenure throughout human history suggests that it is both a unique and valued commodity—one that is not likely to disappear from the scene regardless of whether a definition exists. But the lack of a clear definition makes talking about storytelling difficult and can create confusion for the beginning storyteller. Is taking photographs with Kodak (“America's Storyteller”) equipment and film storytelling? Can professionals who appear at storytelling festivals and sing, dance, play musical instruments, juggle, or manipulate puppets be said to be storytelling? Are professional educators storytelling when, in a “storytelling” workshop, they read aloud from a text? Are the claims of researchers whose studies involve the significance of storytelling likely to be misleading when it is clear that reading aloud or the writing and dramatizing of stories rather than storytelling is the operative mode of delivery (Campbell & Campbell, 1976; Doss, 1982)? The existence of distinct terms such as photographing, singing, dancing, reading aloud, and the like implies that storytelling is somehow distinct from these other activities. What then is storytelling in its purest sense?