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As the International Storytelling Center’s slogan says, “Storytelling is as old as humankind.”

But despite having a history that begins with ancient oral traditions, the term “storytelling” was not actively embraced in public discourse until 1995, when the Digital Storytelling Festival was held in Colorado, U.S.A. After this juncture, the term “storytelling” came into wide usage in multiple fields, displacing the term “narrative” as the more preferred expression.

Despite narrative’s long history as the sometimes lone anchor of discourse in this area, the concept of storytelling has historical origins that go much deeper. With the rise of text-centered culture, however, storytelling was pushed to the outskirts of narrative and was revived only by modern digital culture’s more oral-based disposition (real-time sharing, room for reenactment, increased communication).

Therefore, since humanity started expressing itself through gestures and speech, storytelling’s significance has gradually accumulated to integrate itself into the language of daily life, which makes defining storytelling a tricky task.

Documentaries and fiction

In modern narratives, storytelling typically adheres to one of two main traditions. One involves people being moved by stories that resemble reality. For example, imagine an old woman who makes money picking garbage up off the streets every morning, starting her days at 4 a.m. in her efforts to support her children and get by in life. Stories like this, which could very well be real, move people in a certain way, reflecting the first tradition of storytelling’s manner of valuing such realistic stories. The other tradition, by contrast, values stories that give the impression of being more surreal in nature, such as winning the lotto or having so much money you can use it as firewood, living in excess and abundance until you suffer from obesity.

This tradition values stories that are fantastic and dreamlike, ones that would not take place in reality. Between these two rough categories, each can be said to have its own merits, making it difficult to say whether one is better than the other.

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This article is from the free online course:

Transmedia Storytelling

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)