Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How stories are told

How many different ways are there to tell a story?  We can go more or less chronologically.

1.  Oral Storytelling
I'd imagine that stories were told orally first.  People would gather around and the tribe shaman or other storyteller would spin a yarn.  So you have storytelling via oral transmission.

Physical communication involves more than just speaking, though.  There is body language.  How a storyteller gesticulates plays a major role in the conveyance and quality of storytelling.  Can you tell a story with just the body language?  Sure.  There is pantomime.  Mime artists have been around for a while.  There is also dance, which I'll get to below.

One major development in oral storytelling is theater.  Instead of one guy narrating the tale, you have a group of individuals all acting out a narrative by playing their roles.  In addition to acting, which includes speaking and body language, we have the inclusion of artifacts in the form of sets and props.  Perhaps ancient storytellers used props, but this notion goes to the next level in theater.

2.  Pictures
People started drawing pictures in caves a long time ago.  What was the point of painting in caves?  At what point in history did people draw pictures to tell stories?  Of course you have different ways of drawing pictures:

A. Drawing and painting.  This is includes stuff like oil, watercolor, acrylic, graphite, ink, spray paint, etc.  Basically drawing and painting is any attempt at producing some kind of image on a flat surface.

B. Sculpture.  As opposed to drawing and painting, sculpture is any attempt at creating a three dimensional image.  Like drawing and painting, there are lots of media here.  Do people use sculptures to tell stories?  Probably.

C. Photography.  The most recent development would be the production of images through technology and light.  Normally photography might be sorted with drawing and painting, since it is a production of an image on a two dimensional surface, but it may also be considered its own sub-category, what with the advent of three dimensional printing.

D. The Moving Image.  As technology advances, we go from the ability to portray a static image to that of a moving image.  Basically, there are three types of moving images.

i. Film.  Film is the moving image counterpart to photography.  Older film is just a series of photographs shown in rapid succession.  Newer film incorporates digital technologies to capture moving images.

ii. Animation.  Animation is the moving image produced by either drawing, painting, or sculpture.  Like older film, older animation incorporated a series of drawn images shown in rapid succession.

iii.  Puppetry.  Puppetry is basically an animated version of sculpture.  Three dimensional images are manipulated so as to gesture and to communicate in ways similar to body language.

Film and animation are often presented in either of the two formats:  Feature film or serial.  Serials include both television, as well as internet series.

The thing that binds these sub-categories is the production of a static image.  Can a static image tell a story?  Maybe.  They do say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Can those thousand words comprise a coherent narrative?

3.  Music
Like pictures, music has been with us for a long time.  People typically associate music with songs, and I'll get to that in a bit, but let's consider music without any accompanying lyrics.  Do people use music by itself to tell a story?  Probably.  But, like pictures, it can be hard to see how music itself can communicate a detailed narrative.

There are lots of ways of categorizing music.  A lot of those categories, however, are combinations of music and other forms, such as dance or poetry.  Even when we consider music by itself, there are lots of categories.  Do these categories make a difference when it comes to music as a medium for communicating narrative?  I'm not sure.  Does it make a difference if you're telling a story through a concerto as opposed to a symphony?

4.  Written Storytelling
A major milestone in storytelling was the development of the written word.  Stories can now be told without a storyteller physically present.  Written storytelling comes in a variety of forms.

A. Poetry.  I think epic poetry is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, written form of storytelling.

B. The novel.

C. The short story.

D. The serial

5. Hybrids
There are lots of combinations of the four media mentioned above.  Theater often includes accompanying music.  Film can be seen as recorded theater that isn't bound by live performance or a particular stage.  Here are some more examples that I could think of.

A. Songs.  Combining music with written storytelling is a natural move that goes ways back.

B. Opera.  Here we have a combination of music, poetry, and theater.

C.  Musical Theater.  Like opera, except people don't sing all the time.

D. Illustrations.  Lots of novels and other forms of written storytelling have been supplemented with images, either to enhance the written narrative, or to make its own unique contribution to the story.

E. Graphic novels.  The notion of the picture making its own narrative contribution goes to the next level with graphic novels, a relatively recent form of written narrative.  Comic books are a combination of written and pictorial storytelling.

F. Dance.  Dance is a combination of music and oral storytelling in the particular form of body language.  There are as many dances as there are unique cultures.

G.  Ballet.  A combination of dance and theater.

H.  Video games.  Video games are a form of animation where the audience participates in the narrative.

There are probably lots of other formats out there that I've neglected to mention.  Although I enjoy categorizing things, there is a point to this post aside from mere taxonomy.  Here's the question:  How do different forms of communicating narrative compare to each other?  Are some inherently better than others?  Is it all apples and oranges?  You'll often hear people say that the book was better than the movie.  Is this true?  If so, why?  What are the essential elements of communicating a good story?  Do some formats meet these requirements better than others?

No comments:

Post a Comment