What is a Story?

It’s safe to say that I am slightly obsessed with NPR’s radio broadcast, The Moth.  My husband and I like to listen to it via podcast while we get ready in the morning (when we’re not playing Disney tunes to entertain our daughter) and it makes for an interesting start to the day.  I like to share the love, so I usually tell friends and family when I hear a good story.  I’m always a bit surprised when I learn that they’ve never heard of The Moth, which means that I now have to explain it to them.  So I tell them….well, I never know quite what to tell them.  I’ve realized that it’s kind of hard to explain.  It’s a collection of stories told by the people who lived them; that’s easy enough.  But what kind of stories?  Well, all sorts of stories. Sometimes they’re funny.  Sometimes they’re sad. Sometimes they tie up neatly at the end and sometimes they leave you wondering.  What’s the point of the stories?  Well, there isn’t always a point, at least not in the way you would think. they don’t all have a moral to offer and they don’t always have a happy ending. There’s no easy way to define the stories of The Moth just like there’s no easy way to define stories on the whole.  For me, stories offer a brief moment to view the world through someone else’s eyes.  You see what they see, smell what they smelled, hear what they heard.  They allow you to pause and think outside yourself and try to understand the world around you in another way. I liked the way that Andrew Stanton talked about stories as being able to deepen our understanding of the human experience.  I think that as individuals, we don’t have enough experience or insight to understand the world on our own, so we need to draw from the experiences of others to do it.  It’s kind of like that old “it takes a village to raise a child” saying.  I think something like that applies to stories.

And to make things even less clear, we can add the word, “digital” to storytelling. My understanding of digital storytelling has expanded exponentially in just the last 36 hours through DS106.  Just reviewing the New York Times articles that utilize different forms of media to enhance their stories changed the way I thought about digital storytelling.  There are countless ways of using media to enhance a story and that has the potential to make the story richer than before, having an even more profound and lasting impact on the consumer of the story.  Thinking about The Moth again, I can only image if some of the stories came with animations, or interactive imagery – those would be pretty cool tools to help me connect with the story and ultimately, the experience of the storyteller.

The one thing that really resonated with me in this week’s class videos was what Andrew Stanton said in his TED talk.  He talks about wonder being the secret ingredient to a good story.  He says that the greatest gift one human can give another human being is to give them the feeling of wonder, “to hold them still for a brief moment of a day, and have them surrender to wonder.  When it’s tapped the affirmation of being alive reaches almost to a  cellular level…..the best stories infuse wonder”.  I love this.  I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew Stanton that a sense of wonder is a great gift that you can give someone and it certainly explains why Pixar (and Disney) films are timeless and ever-popular.  This will stick with me and I hope I’ll be able to infuse wonder into all of my stories; spoken, written, digital, or otherwise.

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11 thoughts on “What is a Story?

  1. Pingback: Week 1 Summary | bcodelson

  2. Thanks for sharing your love of “The Moth.” I am plugged into NPR more than just about any other channel and I’d never heard of it before (but now I’ll check it out). I enjoyed your observations/details and reflections, the basic ingredients of storytelling. I suspect you’ll be successful at infusing a sense of wonder into your work, now that you are more mindful of it; and so will I, now that you’ve made it stick in my mind with your enjoyable post.

  3. We have a local Moth storytelling event in our neck of the woods, but I always forget about it until it has come and gone. Ack. Your post reminds me … it’s coming up.
    Kevin

      • You’ve gotta go. I used to produce the Ann Arbor show. I got a new/super-awesome job, otherwise I’d be there every month. There’s something very community-oriented and also very randomizing about encountering 10 stories from strangers (mostly strangers; you begin to see regulars if you go regularly).

        And I’m SURE that DC will be getting one at some point and there are also MainStage shows that travel around. Themoth.org and your local NPR station should help with all of that.

  4. I’m a fan of the Moth too, for many the same reasons. Many seem to be vignettes into the every (and often extraordinary) days lives of people, and it means something to have it told in their own voice (recalling one by the New York cop who had the classic accent).

    I’ve glad you brought up the idea of retelling a story; when you share a Moth story with someone else, you are not telling ti exactly the way it was done originally (that would just be a recording), but you are latching on tot he key parts you found most interesting. Very often when we are communicating, be it an email or creating a documentary or a sales strategy, we are trying to tell someone elses story. You will get experience in both kinds of telling in this course.

    That is a point I felt strongly too from Stanton’s message; it sounds easy, but do you have any idea what it takes to create a sense of wonder? Part is the thing he talked about in what we leave out of the story, that some of the best stories are where the thing told sets up the audience to do the work to connect the key points on their own.

    • Good question about what it takes to create a sense of wonder – seems very daunting, really. I like the “give them 2 + 2 and not 4” advice, but I think there’s a little more to it than that. I’ll continue to ponder 🙂

  5. I totally wrote about the Moth too! Definitely a go-to.

    Thanks for writing this great thoughtful post. It’s interesting, I suspect that the fact that there aren’t animations or videos for the moth–that it’s just one person at a mic, or that’s the event that was originally recorded–is the reason it’s so popular. But putting a few into different media would be so cool.

    Have you seen the This Is Radio video series at transom.org? Seems a lot like what you’re envisioning (maybe?).

    Thanks again.

  6. Pingback: There’s No Place Like Home | bcodelson

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