Essay – What is the Best Way to Tell a Story?

How do you tell a story? 

The best way to tell a story has forever been subject to personal opinions, views, upbringing and culture. Whether you like books, magazines or listening to people’s tales, they are all different forms of getting the same information and depending on your opinion, some are better than others. I shall be looking past personal belief and what is popular to find the real, logical choice. This meals discarding what I like best to look into the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, atmosphere, even how much of a reaction can be produced by using certain methods.

Let’s start right at the beginning when stories were exactly that – stories, legends and myths told from one person to another, passed down through generations via verbal communication. Words weren’t just used as a form of fictional storytelling before other mediums, they were also used to give messages and pass down knowledge, though there is one huge flaw with this method, being that mistakes can often be made. Such mistakes could be caused by missing out details, forgetting certain points or maybe people even change the original story on purpose to make things more interesting, this behaviour has a knock-on effect on the people listening to the altered version, as they believe it to be the original. The same tale will be told over and over, each person telling it in a slightly different way, resulting in not only a belief of the story, but also differentiating versions depending where in the world you travel. I think one of the most controversial, yet solid examples of this is religion. If you look at all the different religions in the world, many contain different depictions of the same/similar events – in my opinion, this is due the reasons previously described, and this story has changed from one into many as it has been passed down in time.

Looking a bit further forward, we have expressive arts such as dance, singing and chants. Though some expressive arts (mainly dance) are still commonly used today, they often have less meaning and tend to be purely for entertainment purposes, unlike the ones used way back when the arts were used for storytelling, or the reenactment of historical events. This is where plays originated, morphing through time and places depending on what has to be told, this also affected whether the performances/rituals include dance, singing, props, also whether the location is sacred or not. Though a lot less popular, some traditional dances and performances are still performed today, mainly at historical locations for tourists and visitors.

Dancing and the physical arts are all beautiful, expressive ways of telling a story, though in my opinion, they are not the best. They have too many flaws – one of which being a cultural barrier meaning people from different cultures may not appreciate or recognise the meaning of each story, therefore destroying the impact it is meant to create. Language barriers are also a problem when it comes to chants, singing and narrators, again, the narrative can be easily lost and if so, the performance cannot be shared or repeated elsewhere to deliver the same message. These are just a couple of things wrong with the arts, making them easily one of the most ineffective ways of telling a story or allowing it to spread and be retold.

Methods of relaying a story/event such as scrolls, tapestries and columns are by all means beautiful, but all share the same fatal flaw: time. Whether or not such beautiful works of art can withstand the test of time depends on the environment, weather and of course, the material of which they were created. The thing I like about these mediums is that they are almost universal, they use pictures to depict their tales, something most humans can recognise as a scene and figure out the story to. One of my favourites, though unfortunately not the best. 

When it comes to storytelling, books are certainly the first thing that comes to mind for most people, be it the fairytales we were told as children, or a factual murder mystery book we picked up to read on the beach. Certainly they are the most popular way of storytelling in the modern day and age but in older times, books were very expensive ways of telling stories and were rather hard to come by. The first book was most likely created on papyrus in Egypt around 2400 BC (a long, long time ago!) – In Europe and most of the world books were reserved mainly for universities, factual information, biographies and the like… in other words, fiction was scarce and even when used, it wasn’t what we’d see as an imaginative tale today. Possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs in storytelling related to books and mass-printing is Lewis Carroll’s 1865 hit ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, the reason being was because Carroll challenged the issue of books being informative by creating Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, something that was considered complete nonsense at the time. Little does the deceased Carroll know now, this book helped shape modern storytelling by showing people it’s okay to be different.

Nowadays some of the most popular books come in either series or trilogies, enhanced by the movie versions created of them. Some examples of these kinds of books are The Hunger Games trilogy, Harry Potter series, Divergent trilogy and The Twilight Saga. The fact that making these kinds of books into movies has become a trend is helpful to me because I can very easily compare how the book and story translate as I have both read and watched quite a few of these.

What I like about books over most other story telling mediums is the freedom of creativity and imagination, the power to make the reader feel like either part of the story or just an observer and most of all – how description paired with creating personality has the ability to rope people in and make them emotionally attached to a certain person, place or object that they haven’t the ability to touch in real life.
Just as a book has the ability to build relationships, it also has the power to tear them down in a heartbeat, to render characters without hope and thus, the reader too.
Of course no two novels are the same, there are true stories, romantic, action, mystery, crime and utterly heartbreaking ones too – and it doesn’t stop there. To create a book is to have complete control and creative freedom of whatever subject you choose, the only limitation is your imagination – it is up to you to plan and execute how you want your characters and readers to feel, to create a climax – an embarrassing moment… it’s endless.

Something I find interesting about books is the tenses and person in which they are written… for example, writing in first person and past tense may give the sense that someone is telling a story, whereas writing in third person, present tense gives the impression of a limitless observer.  That being said, tenses can also exist (in a manner of speaking) within videography, often portrayed by narration or simply using camera angles to show different people’s perspective on a situation or even show you how the world would look through the eyes of a different species all together.

There are many pros and cons as explained, though books will always be one of the most traditional and well loved methods of storytelling that could easily be the best if it weren’t for it’s rival: Videography.

The main differences between Videography and Books are definitely the usage of human senses. Videos use sight, sound and are able to immerse you almost completely in the right atmosphere, feeding you instant information of shocks, events that are happening all within the blink of an eye. This is something that books can’t do without using the imagination of the reader – they factor in the cognitive function of the brain – relying on each individual reader’s ability to process information at a certain pace and also, the language and grammar they understand. These limitations are what knock books down for me – they are amazing and classic and can easily be immersed in, though they do not possess the raw events, instead they are masked by the readers themselves.
Whether the above makes sense to you or not may indeed be reliant on if you have read a book and watched the movie version of it. One of the most popular things you hear with these is “Oh, the book was better.” And in my opinion, yes, in a lot of cases they are though the reason for this I find is less because of the storytelling method, but more because the films are limited in time and often have to cut out vital parts of the storyline to be within the time constraint they have been given. This aggravates viewers and readers because the book has all the time in the world to go into great detail about a character, a scene, a dark past… whereas the video version of this may only take seconds to deduce an elaborately written scene in the worded version.

To look deeper into both Videography and books, I decided to create my own literature and footage:

Copyright 7Copyright 8

 

(CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO)

While my writing is focused on creating suspense, my video is just to get across what my website is about without sound. I think they both successfully pull off their jobs, however, videography trounces writing by just a little. Let me explain.
There is a reason movies are the most popular in modern day society – they are quick, immersive (they use sight, sound to engage with you) and most of all, they can deliver super amazing visuals that would take so much more effort to read about and probably not visualise to it’s full potential in word form. They are flashy, they create suspense, emotion, fear and joy at the switch of a scene, also they often include dialogue and music which are beautiful storytellers in their own right and allow viewers to bond better with a certain character or relate more to a situation.

This research informs my practice as a designer, photographer, artist and writer because one of the main components of all these practices is to get a message, story, event or certain appeal across to viewers, essentially this is telling a story in very different ways. Knowing the ins and outs of each practice I have researched both within this essay and on my blog will help me make future decisions mainly about communicating my subject to my audience using whatever medium turns out to suit the ‘storyline’ best.

Videography and modern cinema is the winner. Thankyou for reading.

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