Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

What are the traditions of storytelling?

In modern narratives, storytelling typically adheres to one of two main traditions: stories that resemble reality and those that are surreal

As the International Storytelling Center’s slogan says, “Storytelling is as old as humankind.” However, despite having a history that begins with ancient oral traditions, the term “storytelling” was not actively embraced in public discourse until 1995.

This was the year 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.

Linking with narrative

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-centred 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.

In modern narratives, storytelling typically adheres to one of two main traditions:

1 Stories that resemble reality

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.

2 Stories that are surreal

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.

This article is from the free online

Transmedia Storytelling

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now