Why Do We Tell Stories?

last updated: 12 January 2020 (approximate reading time: 2 minutes; 411 words)

Storytelling is something that is known in every culture and has always been a central part of human existence.

We find stories in books, on the TV, and at the movies. But stories form a much wider part of our cultural fabric. Every nation has its own stories. Every religion has its stories. Every organization—schools, universities, clubs, army regiments, political parties, campaigning groups—has its own stories about itself, its values and its principles. And in our consumer society, brands have their stories and advertising tells stories.

Story is so much part of our everyday life that we don't notice that we are constantly hearing stories.

Why Do We Tell Stories?

There is no one single reason why our cultures tell stories and there is no one single reason why we listen to stories. And of course, for any one story we will all individually understand a different meaning and take a different lesson.

One of the main reasons we listen to stories is because they entertain us. They amuse and fascinate us—they draw us in and compel us. And as storytellers, often our prime aim is to entertain.

Beyond entertainment, perhaps the most compelling reason to tell stories is to make sense of the world. The storyteller can provide answers that may not or cannot exist in reality and—if the storyteller chooses—the positive side of negative situation can be highlighted, maybe offering some sense of comfort or reassurance.

Telling stories then helps to share that sense and helps to pass on knowledge. In short, telling stories is—in part—about educating. Hiding a lesson in entertainment then makes the central message easier to remember and improves recall.

Which Stories Do We Choose to Tell?

With stories being so embedded within our culture, it's often more interesting to move the question from why we tell stories to which stories do we choose to tell? Often, particularly within nations and religions, stories are chosen to reinforce rituals and norms or to signal to the tribe.

For me, the stories that draw me—as a storyteller and as a consumer of stories—are the tales about people. For me, stories always begin with people; there is a person and they have a problem. The question then becomes how does that person then handle this problem and what are the consequences for the choices they make. Those consequences will have an impact on the world in which the story exists and at a more personal level for the character.

Filed under

Category: story
Tags: culture