Why Do We Tell Stories?
Whenever I walk into Barnes & Noble and see all those thousands of books…
When I hear statistics like a million books published a year…
When I look at the query section of my inbox …
When I attend a conference and meet with writers passionate to see their words in print…
I find myself getting all philosophical. Why so many books? Why do so many of us want to write? What is this thing inside us that drives us to want to share our truth with the world?
And of course (me being me) I come up with answers. I think that before there was the Internet, before television and movies, before radio, before newspapers, and even before books… (I am talking about the whole entire history of humankind, not just our lifetimes)… people have always connected with other people by storytelling. For some, storytelling means making up fantastical fables that illustrate truth metaphorically. For others, storytelling means sharing their own personal experiences and letting others be enlightened through them, or sharing what they’ve learned about history. For still others, storytelling means teaching, taking the lessons they’ve learned and relaying them to others.
People have always shared their stories verbally, with those in their extended family, with their friends, with their tribe. Before mass media or technology, the primary form of entertainment was talking to one another. Imagine Biblical times. Or a native American camp 500 years ago. Or even a Wisconsin farm family 200 years ago. The day is done, the chores are finished, the family is sitting around… what do they do? They talk. They tell stories. It’s how people have always connected with one another.
Men have been telling each other stories over campfires or in pubs or during the hunt… for thousands of years. Women have been telling each other stories while drawing water from wells or making quilts or birthing babies… for thousands of years.
As our society has become more fragmented and media-oriented, as extended families have ceased to be an important social construct, as individuals spend less time in face-to-face communication and more time in mediated communication, our need to both tell stories and hear stories hasn’t changed, but the way we fulfill that need has changed.
The need that used to be fulfilled by personal relationship is now largely satiated by less personal relationships. We maintain our friendships through email and text messaging and cell phones. We have relationships with the characters on our TV shows; with the radio hosts we enjoy; with the blogs we read; with our favorite newspaper columnists; and of course, with our favorite book authors.
We have largely replaced personal communication with technological communication.
We don’t just want to write and publish books. We want to be heard. To be known and understood. And we want to know and understand others. I think the desire to write and publish books is simply an extension of our very humanness.
What do you think? Why do we write and seek publication? Not necessarily you, personally, but we, as humans.