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STORY TELLING is EVERYTHING says story is “a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale. a fictitious tale, shorter and less elaborate than a novel.” Laura Holloway, of The Storyteller Agency, says “[s]torytelling is our obligation to the next generation. If all we are doing is marketing, we are doing a disservice, and not only to our profession, but to our children, and their children. Give something of meaning to your audience by inspiring, engaging, and educating them with story. Stop marketing. Start storytelling.”

The film director, screenwriter, and film critic, Jean Luc Goddard says, “[s]ometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” And John Dufresne, author of novels, short story collections, and books on the craft of writing, and a professor in the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing program at Florida International University, says, in Storyville: An Illustrated Guide to Writing Fiction: “We read stories and write them to make sense of our lives, to be entertained, and to feel something (the stress/italicization on “feel” is mine).

“Purposeful storytelling isn’t show business, it’s good business.”

--Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, entrepreneur, educator

Now, I have included quotes on story from fiction writers and educators, filmmakers, a marketing agency, and an online dictionary. I’m sure there are plenty of other places where stories are told, but I’ll stick with these, as I’m a writer, editor, have acted in a film, and worked in marketing agencies and technology companies for 15 years in various roles. My point is, “story” varies, depending on the purpose of the story or message being communicated, whether it be written, spoken, or filmed. Stories allow us to provide context. They allow us to highlight benefits and value. They allow us to present information in a way that is more easily digestible by our target audiences, be they readers of fiction, clients and potential clients of our products and services, moviegoers, or even our own children. Probably especially our own children, because we must instill in them everything from the dangers of touching fire to why lying is “bad.” Stories, in other words, shape our world. They are what make everything work. And they use description in a way that paints a picture for us that clarifies that which we (as of yet) don't know.

Storytelling, naturally, existed long before writing or movies or collateral existed. Per the Rochester Institute of Technology, “Storytelling originated with visual stories, such as cave drawings, and then shifted to oral traditions, in which stories were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth.” Cave paintings dating back 44,000 years on an Indonesian island appear to be the oldest known examples of storytelling, more than double the number of years of the famous Lascaux cave paintings in the Dordogne region of Southwestern France, which are estimated at 20,000 years old. Stories are our history. They are the most important vessel for the information we learn and acquire during our short time on earth, for they allow us to pass on to future generations not only what’s important but also what’s not. Sometimes they give us the why; other times they may simply provide us with what questions we should be asking. That applies to the messages we receive about the government in novels such as 1984 and War and Peace, All the King’s Men and Brave New World, but it also applies to what we learn through our daily newspapers and magazine articles, the textbooks we read in school, social media, cable news, and the movies we sit and watch that tell us stories about love and science and everything else we find important to our emotional and educational needs. They’re all told through stories in one way or another.

As you work today on your novel or short story, or if you’re in an office getting ready for a presentation to a client or potential client, a teacher or professor prepping for a class, or even a server at your local restaurant, think about the story you’re telling. If you’re writing a novel, who’s the story about? What do they want? What’s in their way? These are the elements of fiction you must include in your story, because they are the ingredients in the recipe that makes your readers read. If your readers stop reading, there’s a good chance it’s because you don’t have a compelling enough story for them to continue on (assuming the writing is well done, etc.). Readers don’t have to be particularly interested in cheating spouses to get entranced by a story about cheating spouses. If the story is there and it’s interesting, they’ll read it. That’s how fiction works.

“We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.”

Jimmy Neil Smith - Director of the International Storytelling Center

In business, storytelling is just as important. Companies selling products and services need to convince prospects and installed-based customers that their product or service is not only needed; they also have to show why and how their company’s product or service is better than their competitors’ product or service. Companies that don’t do that fail. It’s why companies have in-house marketing departments devoted to telling the company’s stories. It’s why they hire expensive advertising agencies to create omnichannel campaigns. It’s why Budweiser’s just released its new “patriotic” pro-America ad following the backlash over its endorsement deal with influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Companies must tell their stories in their way, on their terms, to sell their offerings, but also, in Bud’s case, to remedy the previous story they told that cost them 50% of draft sales and 30% of bottled Bud Light. Story, in this case, was used to change the narrative.

And since we’re talking about beer, I don’t want to leave out the stories restaurants tell to their patrons. Ever sit down for dinner and have a server approach with the day’s specials? Did you realize they’re telling you a story? Jim, your server, may say something like, “Today’s special is the Chilean sea bass. It’s flown in fresh daily, and we sear it with a lemon garlic herb butter and sea salt and pepper to get it nice and crispy, and it’s served with our in-house rosemary bread and your choice of the chef’s signature Caesar salad and homemade creamy roasted tomato gazpacho.” I’d eat that over sea bass with bread, salad, and gazpacho any day. It may be the same thing on the plate, but the story Jim told us has my mouth watering. That’s the power of storytelling.

“Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.”

--Robin Moore, Author

Storytelling is a tool. It’s a skill. It’s taking the who or what or how or when (though probably most of these things) and arranging them into words on the page, or orally, or visually, or even musically to inculcate into the audience what the storyteller desires communicate. The story can be told with flair or in a certain style, such as magical realism or fantasy or literary fiction; it can be told via the benefits an end user of a product will experience if they use said product; it can be told through a dancer’s interaction with another dancer on a stage with a dark background with twinkling stars shimmering overhead. The key to storytelling, besides being a good storyteller, is that your audience is engaged. That they are interested in the story you’re communicating to them, in whatever format you’ve chosen. You read 1984 because someone told you they enjoyed it, or because you’ve read the blurb on the back that gave you the mini story, and it captivated you. You bought Air Jordans back in the day because the story Nike sold you on was that if you wore the Air Jordan sneakers you could be like Mike. And you voted for this politician or that one because their campaigns sold you on the promise of x, y, and z in the stories they told you, and you believe in x, y, and z, so it made sense to vote for them. That’s the beauty of storytelling. Without it, we’re left to wonder about everything.

Cully Perlman is a Developmental Editor (DE) and Substantive Editor (SE), a novelist, and the founder of, an upcoming online novel writing class. If you have a novel that needs substantive editing, we can be reached at for a free quote.


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