Telling Tales

It came to me a while ago that perhaps we, as humans, are built to be storytellers. That it’s in our DNA, some vital part of us that cannot be denied.

From the dawn of humanity when people gathered around campfires or in sacred spaces, taking their turns to add their voice to a tale, we have always shared stories. Before written word it was how we kept records of our ancestors, of our people, of the things that happened, weaving them into songs or epic poems or tales for the dark nights as winter drew in. We painted pictures on cavern walls, blew bright ochre onto rock faces, describing happenings and visitors and successful hunts, religion and family and daily life. Paintings became carvings, pictures became writing and we kept telling stories, about commerce and battles and dark fantasies from the past, using words to frighten people into submission or to uplift them to their best selves. Bards became a class of their own, keepers of the stories, each one adding their own pieces to the puzzle, carrying our ancestors’ deeds forward in time.

And now, in this modern age, it seems we still have stories to tell. Agents are inundated daily with manuscripts, writing clubs and online communities abound, and competition to be published is fiercer than ever. I cannot count the number of people who, when I tell them I’m a writer, say, ‘I’d like to write a book as well.’ Apparently in Iceland one in ten people will publish a book and most people will write one – an entire country of people with stories to tell.

So what is it that has caused this apparent upsurge in writers appearing, a generation of storytellers born anew? I wonder if social media has something to do with it, giving us all a voice, a chance to share our life with the world whenever we choose to do so. Every person has a story – now with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and blogging all you need is a phone to share it with the whole world. We are encouraged to write every day, to post new statuses, update our stories as they happen, 140 characters to tell of each unfolding event. Small wonder then that this daily writing exercise may have inspired us to do more, awakening the urge to weave a bigger, better, more exciting tale and get it down on paper (so to speak).

For much of what we write these days is digital and it makes me wonder whether our words will be around to be deciphered a millennia from now, or if the ephemeral nature of electronic files means they will simply fade away, a forgotten crackle of energy. Personally, I still enjoy holding a real book in my hand and have published both my books in paperback as well as Kindle versions. And perhaps some scholar, centuries from now, will hold a copy of it in white gloved hands (or maybe it will hover, unsupported, above a pristine surface) to be read, my words analysed for whatever secrets of this present time they may hold.

Interesting to consider, isn’t it?

This post appeared in its original form back in November 2014, when I was participating in my first NaNoWriMo, and far fewer people came to visit my blog. Oh, and that NaNo book? I did finish it, though it took me almost two more years to do so – it became A Thousand Rooms.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

22 thoughts on “Telling Tales

  1. I’ve pondered these same questions, Helen… and probably illustrated those thoughts with parts of this same landscape 😉 I don’t think we can escape being storytellers. It makes you wonder though, how much of the digital archive we are creating will survive as long as the hand-written or printed word, in any form accessible to the general public. Does it matter? I don’t know. It would be a shame to lose generations of thoughts that way, but maybe it only matters that we think them and ponder… because no matter who does so, someone else will or will have shared those thoughts. xx

  2. That’s a gorgeous photo. Everything comes full circle. Hieroglyphics become emojis and words are born and fade from common vernacular. But the stories remain always at the circle’s center.

  3. I always wanted to write ever since I was little. I remember having an old fashioned typewriter and banging out stores and taking them to my teacher who would read them out to the class at the end of the day. I always thought I would write a novel but realistically I don’t think that will ever happen now. I hope you are well?

    1. Hi Steve! Lovely to hear from you, hope you’re well. All good here, will I be seeing you this weekend? I do hope so. And you never know, that novel might still be inside you, waiting to come out. It just needs the right time to do so 🙂 xx

  4. In a second year English class, we discussed story telling, and how it connected societies politically, socially, philosophically, spiritually, etc. But here’s something else…children remembered the stories of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers, often passing stories down told word-for-word. Many of these societies, like the North American Aboriginals had no written language. Therefore, their oral history was integral to their identities in terms of the story tradition. So, their whole history was stored in a series of stories. Where these cultures were far superior to modern society was in memory and memorization. And because they had better developed memory centers, they could learn more and remember more. Perhaps our desire to tell stories is like muscle memory, just like it is muscle memory to preserve our history by preserving our stories…no matter their media source. 😉

    1. The Welsh are similar in that they have a long oral history and a bardic culture which was the repository of their stories. In fact, you weren’t considered a proper Welshman if you couldn’t recite your family tree going back seven generations! I do think you’re right about memory, and that perhaps storytelling is a mechanism to exercise our ‘memory muscles’ so to speak. Thanks for sharing such a lovely long comment xx

      1. You and me both, Linda! And apologies for the delayed reply – I was away at the Bloggers Bash over the weekend and took a short blogging break (despite being surrounded by Bloggers!) 🙂

  5. I’ve been wondering the same thing, Helen. But I also wonder if more flexible publishing options have resulted in a sudden flood which may not still exist ten years from now. I think more people are writing more content to put out there, but I’m not sure if everyone is writing books – it’s just that we’re all meeting each other online nowadays!

    1. Well, we’re certainly doing that, something I couldn’t have imagined even ten years ago! Certainly Amazon have made it easy for people to publish, and so the floodgates have opened – perhaps, as you say, it will abate a little now that the novelty is wearing off and Amazon is catching on to some of the scams. I do think storytelling is part of who we are as a species – it will be interesting to see where it goes next.

  6. Hey this rings so many bells for me.

    The ability to reach x many thousands of people with a photo of your dinner is there and is being abused daily, so imagine the reach that authors have, with the tools at our hands to announce a story we have been harboring and developing in our minds.

    I personally sit at my desk at 0600 each morning with a coffee and before I even write a single word on my book, I check my blog and prepare a post (I’m fairly new on WP but its a habit that’s formed quite quickly), I check my online editing and beta reading buddies to see whats been critiqued and what needs critiquing.

    I’m also a photographer so I check sales, and upload the previous days shots for sale and put a post on inst and fb with the best of the set.

    So before I’ve even been swept away into the mind of my main character and started to let anything remotely creative flow, I’ve reached several thousand people with photos and stories, and it’s not even 0630 yet…my coffees is usually still warm.

    I cant begin to imagine how difficult it must have been before the digital age, when I would have spent a day in a dark room before sending negatives off to agencies, then months on a type writer. before sending my manuscript off to my editor.

    Great post, really thought invoking subject.

    John Weston

    1. Thanks, John, both for the insight into your creative process, and your excellent comment. It’s true, the digital age has made it so much easier to share our stories than at any other time in human history, and it’s interesting to see where it will go next. As a writer, it’s a huge gift to be able to publish our work. Those doors were closed to us for so long, so many stories remaining untold, simply because of how difficult it was to get a book published. As you say, this digital freedom is abused by some, but there is some wonderful work being share out there. 🙂

  7. Very thought provoking ponderings Helen. I hope that the words do not fade away. I often wish so many of the stories of old hadn’t been lost by not being passed along or by slowly becoming fragments of the spoken word that they once were. 🙂

    1. Me too. Lots of stories just disappearing into time. Perhaps that’s the way of things though, to make way for the new tales we create. Or perhaps there are no new stories, just retellings of the old ones…

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