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What Are the Different Forms of Storytelling

Storytelling is a human skill that is probably as old as humanity itself. Nearly every ancient culture has its own form of storytelling, and many modern religions still use the language of the story to convey their messages. However, not all stories are the same. There are many different types of stories-each with a unique set of characteristics and uses.

Forms of Storytelling According to Means of Expression

Many people think that storytelling is a literary art form limited to books, novels, and other forms of writing. But it is not.

There are many different ways to tell a story, and all of them can be effective depending on what you want to accomplish, who you want to reach, and how much time you have.

Here are just a few of the ways you can tell stories:

Written Storytelling

The written word is the most common way to tell stories. Just as there are different genres and types of stories, there are different styles and expressions of writing. From poetry to prose, from the short story form to novels, from epics to sagas, from mystery to thrillers, and from nonfiction to fantasy.

The various genres of written storytelling – fantasy, true crime, sci-fi, romance, etc. – each have their own tropes (common themes or devices) that are unique to them. Love stories, for example, are usually about the lovers or the hero and heroine being separated by the obstacles and choices they have to make. Some stories are told linearly, others non-linearly.

Oral Tradition

Oral storytelling has long been a part of human history as it allows people to pass important information orally from one generation to the next or simply entertain each other with stories about heroes and legends. They play an important role in preserving culture and identity. There are many different forms of oral storytelling, such as singing, reciting poetry, telling stories through children’s games, or telling jokes (especially these days on a social media platform like Reddit or TikTok).

Radio shows such as The Moth or Snap Judgment use audio recordings or live performances of narrated stories to immerse the listener in the story being told. There are also podcasts that use live oral stories, like The Moth Radio Hour.

Artistic Performance

In ancient times, storytellers performed on stage, often in epic musical settings, to entertain the audience. Today, storytellers can be seen in all sorts of venues. From restaurants and theaters to senior centers and museums.

Dance is another form of artistic performance storytelling. Different types of dance tell different stories – including ballet, modern dance, or belly dance.

Music is another form of performance storytelling. Through melody and lyrics. Like dance and theater, music can be performed live in front of an audience or recorded.

Visual Storytelling

Visual storytelling has also been part of human culture for thousands of years, through paintings and drawings. In the modern world – movies and TV series are among the most common forms of visual storytelling.

Visual storytelling is important in corporate communications and branding. Photos, videos, animations, infographics, illustrations, and figures, are often used to convey a message.

In sales and marketing, storytelling helps customers understand the value of a product, service, or brand. It can be used to attract attention, convey information, or build trust.

Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is a relatively new form of storytelling. A digital story can combine the art of storytelling with multimedia elements such as images, music, and videos to create something compelling and engaging. Digital stories can be told through a variety of media, including photography, audio recordings, video recordings, and animation.

The Internet has witnessed an explosion of visual storytelling through blogs, infographics, and memes on social media that can be accessed through a variety of platforms such as YouTube.

Among many other applications, one of the biggest business trends of recent years has been content marketing. A voracious consumer of stories!

Virtual Reality Storytelling

Even more recently, virtual reality and augmented reality have become important enablers of digital storytelling, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in a story and experience it immediately and intensely. Including participatory story-driven games.

Transmedia Storytelling

Transmedia storytelling is a form of entertainment that uses multiple media platforms to tell stories across them. The term was coined by Henry Jenkins, a professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California (USC).

In his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, he describes transmedia storytelling as follows:

Transmedia storytelling is the art of world making. To fully experience any fictional world, consumers must assume the role of hunters and gatherers, chasing down bits of the story across media channels, comparing notes with each other viaon- line discussion groups, and collaborating to ensure that everyone who invests time and effort will come away with a richer entertainment experience.

Henry Jenkins

The Goals of Storytelling

Another way to look at the forms of storytelling is to consider the purposes to which storytelling is put:

  • Entertainment. Stories to entertain readers and listeners.
  • Instructive. Stories can be told for didactic purposes to teach or instruct readers and listeners about something. The purpose may be ideological, moral, or religious.
  • Morality. Stories for moral purposes-to teach listeners social norms, to behave in certain ways, and to have certain values.
  • Persuasion. Stories are often used for persuasion – to get readers or listeners to think or feel a certain way about something or someone. This ranges from stories used in advertising copy, such as on sales pages, to public relations and ultimate to outright propaganda campaigns in dictatorial states.
  • Therapeutic: Stories can be told for therapeutic purposes-to help readers or listeners deal with a physical or psychological problem or emotional trauma, or to develop certain skills. Personal stories are told to describe one’s own experiences, concerns, joys, or hopes, or to entertain and motivate the storyteller him or herself.
  • Social Commentary. Stories can be told as social commentary – to highlight a social problem, criticize society, or appeal for social change. Many newspapers use editorial stories to criticize government policies. In reportage, storytelling is used extensively.

It is worth noting that there is often overlap between the various purposes above; for example, a story intended to teach children appropriate behaviors or skills may also have the goal of entertaining and motivating them.

History of Storytelling as a Factor in Storytelling Forms

History is full of examples of storytelling. Different cultures have developed different forms of storytelling.

  • the folktales of Native Americans
  • fairy tales of Europe
  • myths and legends of Japan and Greece
  • the Ramayana of ancient India
  • folktales of Eastern Europe
  • legends of ancient China
  • the Panchatantra of Nepal
  • the storytelling of the Aztecs in Mexico
  • the storytelling of Christianity and Judaism

and thousands more.

The point is that each culture has its own traditions and ways of telling stories.

The Storytelling Gene

As early as the African Middle Stone Age – about 40,000 years ago – people began painting the walls of their caves with their first stories.

These paintings consisted of drawings and symbols that represented everyday life and the world around them. Over time, more stories were told, and new forms of storytelling emerged.

The earliest known oral storytellers were probably our ancestors in Africa, who told their stories around the campfire. The art of traditional storytelling was passed down from one generation to the next. These stories served as a moral guide for survival, life, and for entertainment.

The history of storytelling is also, in part, the history of the development of language.

Storytelling Became More Detailed

Written stories usually contained much more detail and variations in storytelling techniques than oral narratives.

Related: Types of Oral Narratives.

Related: Nonlinear Narrative and How to Use It in Your Storytelling

In ancient times, myths and legends were an important part of storytelling, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. One of the oldest surviving literary works in the world, it tells the story of the King of Uruk in Ancient Sumeria sometime between 275 and 2500 BCE.

Myths explain the origin of a particular belief or practice. They’re often about supernatural people, events, or places where people believe something that cannot be explained by science happened at a particular time or place.

Some examples of myth include:

  • heroic stories such as Beowulf
  • epic poems such as Homer’s Odyssey
  • fairy tales such as Cinderella and Snow White
  • folktales found in cultures around the world including Aesop’s Fables
  • legends about famous people such as Robin Hood or King Arthur
  • urban legends, which are modern stories told about things that may or may not have happened but seem believable enough because they could happen in any place at any time

The Monomyth

Joseph Campbell developed a framework for the traditional mythic story which he called the monomyth (The Hero’s Journey) because it describes a common heroic narrative found across literary traditions and cultures.

In many stories, there are several types of heroes, but in each of them the hero begins with ordinary life, followed by a challenge, usually an external or internal crisis, that he or she must face and that conflicts with the hero’s direction in life and must be overcome.

The General Trend in Storytelling Forms

Over time, storytelling has become richer and more diverse. Art changes as societies evolve – the same is true for storytelling.

Today, stories are told through a number of different media and art forms. The chances are this will increase yet more over time.

Elements of Storytelling

Different forms of storytelling favor different storytelling elements. Some of the most important are:

  • Narration: This is the most common form of storytelling in which a story is told. Narratives can be in written or oral form. For example, a fantasy novel or a piece of literature. Narratives can be based on history or folklore or be completely new. Narratives can contain many different elements, such as plot, characters, theme, or mood.
  • Dialog: a dialog is when two or more people have a conversation. Dialog in a narrative can be an important element in drawing the audience into a good story.
  • Plot: the plot of a story or movie is the basic sequence of events that contribute to the telling of the story. The plot can contain many elements, such as the setting, the conflict, the characters, and the climax.

Why Understanding Storytelling Forms Matters

Storytelling is a powerful way to help people understand a concept. It gives abstract ideas a human touch and can deliver meaning.

In business or science, for example, good stories can have a significant (and complementary) advantage over charts and graphs because they’re more memorable and interactive. Figures that come from stories tend to stick in our minds longer than those we read in charts.

Stories can help explain why something happens or how it works. They can simplify complicated topics by converging ideas into a story so that they’re easier to understand and help people engage with the topic even if they aren’t familiar with it.

A compelling story is memorable and helps us recall information when we need it. Stories create an emotional connection with the audience by involving them in the action or allowing them to identify with someone. In turn, we apply it to our own lives.

Last but not least, stories give us room to use our imagination. That’s why so many parents tell their children bedtime stories or watch a favorite movie together.

The stories we tell give meaning to our lives. A great story is the way we explore, express, and understand ourselves, others, and our world. Storytelling skills are likely to grow in importance as technology makes information ever more accessible and detailed.

Related Resources

National Storytelling Network

The Moth