Storytelling vs curating

Jim Henson’s character “The Storyteller” and his dog. It is what pops into my head when I hear storytelling and it is the standard by which I measure all stories. Probably not fair, but it is what it is.

A while back, many bloggers decided they wanted to throw off the image of being one guy and his dog, hanging out in his parent’s basement ranting in his pajamas. They set about becoming “journalists.” And then that kinda didn’t set right because that was rather limiting their right of personal expression when they didn’t really have any facts and so they become “writers.” The latest metamorphosis for bloggers is to become “storytellers.”

Everyone now is a storyteller.

Only they are not really telling stories. They are curating facts. They are collecting events and regurgitating them. It’s the same thing they were doing as a blogger with a “new and improved” label stuck on the front only it is neither new or improved. The basic ingredients of storytelling are missing.

I recently received an invitation to They tout on their web site:

Turn what people post on social media into compelling stories.
You collect the best photos, video, tweets and more to publish them as simple, beautiful stories that can be embedded anywhere.

That’s not telling a story. That is assembling an exhibit piece for The Museum of Social Media. Bleckkkk.

If storytelling is not what most bloggers are doing, what is storytelling? I didn’t know myself until I received a tweet from @SaxonHenry this past Wednesday morning with a link to her blog. And with the following sentence, everything clicked.

Simply recording the boys’ actions wasn’t nearly enough! I had to determine how I would have responded to what they were doing. (I encourage you to read the entire piece.. after you get to the bottom of mine, of course.)

Saxon tells stories. I defy you to read this account of boys playing outside without feeling that film of grit between your skin and your sweat. Or read this poem and not smell the mix of old grease and pancake batter crisping at the edges, while getting an uneasy urge to run away from a life that has become banal and dull. Her choice of words, the cadence, the rhythm expresses her reaction to the story she is telling.

Jane Devin also tells stories. Her style is intense and many times uncomfortable but succeeds in ripping away a social mask that most of us have spent years affixing to our true faces. In her latest post, I defy you to read the entire post without choking back anger and a primal fear that you have been discovered for who you really are by those who have become the closest to you instead of the person you wish them to see. Jane’s choice of words, her intensely-packed paragraphs followed by a short, controlled release before she plunges you back with a half breath expresses her reaction to the story she is telling. It is almost like literarily waterboarding the reader.

In a culture where anyone can become a published author, claiming the title of a writer or storyteller without honing the craft is unfair to those who have. It cheapens their work. It disrespects their gift.

If you want to become a storyteller, then work to become one. Don’t just claim the title. Examine the elements of story by reading books like A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Watch episodes of The Storyteller. Watch the last scene of Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome over and over. Read books by Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck and Kate Chopin. Read Ben Zander’s book The Art of Possibility and watch his TED presentation. And read Jane Devin and Saxon Henry. Buy their books when published.

And tell stories. Lots of them. Like acquiring any skill worth holding on to, practice, practice, practice.

And while reading and listening to all of the materials I suggested above, think about why their stories work. And work to be as good as they are in telling a story that has your reaction embedded throughout.

Or stick to curating and leave storytelling to those who choose to reach beyond their five senses.


10 Replies to “Storytelling vs curating”

  1. Exactly. Storytelling isn’t regurgitating; it’s creating. People confuse facts with truth. They aren’t the same. Last night I watched the movie Bridge on the River Kwai. Now THAT is storytelling. The literal facts are not true. Yet the story is true. Because it’s real storytelling.

  2. Exactly. Facts are just anchors for a truth. Just like in any Nat Hawthorne story, nobody ever had muddy boots in the forest.

    PS The dogs around here love your blog logo 🙂

  3. At best, curating can collect and archive stories. Not a bad thing to do, but not storytelling.

    PS The logo is the energetic Molly Bloom, who has just returned from taking me for a walk. 🙂

  4. I’m beside myself that you see what I’m doing (lots of fumbling around in the past, for sure) and recognize it as something of quality and value! This is the most important marker for me in my work and I feel I’m just beginning to achieve what I have always dreamed of accomplishing: leaving writing to the world that inspires and stimulates people; real writing with heart, brains and meaning. I have so many mentors who’ve put their all into the words and it’s what I strive to do every single day, so deepest gratitude for taking the time to support my work and for your encouragement: it puts me over the moon!

  5. I believe in telling people when they do good stuff, especially when they pass along a spark that enables me to do good stuff. (or at least try) You do good stuff. 🙂

  6. I’m so glad you pointed out other storytelling bloggers, as Googling any derivative of that phrase doesn’t help much in finding them. I’ve always loved finding the joyous, funny and delightful things in life and sharing those things with my family and friends in story form. Now thanks to the blogosphere, one can share stories with the whole world with the click of a “publish” button. You are right, however. Simply narrating the chronological order of events takes nowhere near as much skill, time or sweat as telling the same story in a way that will connect with the reader’s heart, and maybe even encourage him to rethink some things he might not have thought of on his own.

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