When I was about ten, my mother got a new computer, and I got her old one. It was a device of wonders – it was running Windows 95, and the things you could do! … Okay, I mostly wrote websites with the help of SelfHTML, came up with the most atrocious colour schemes known to humankind, and clicked through all system directories in the explorer tree, because there was not much to do. But I also discovered Minesweeper and put absurd amounts of time into it.
Because clicking on little squares is not exactly challenging once you’ve figured out the handful of rules and patterns, I used to tell stories about the minefields. I was, depending on the book I was currently reading, the lone hero/contractor minesweeper/chosen one/ranger/detective, visiting a town/alien planet/country/secret laboratory and had to save people/retrieve items/sneak by guards without blowing up. I could probably fill a book with medium quality fantasy stories from playing Minesweeper – this extremely drab collection of grey squares and colourful numbers.
We like to tell stories. Fairytales, sagas, epics, origin stories, stories about our childhood. Story arcs about where we came from and where we consequently will go to. Bigger stories of nations and big stakes, the rise and fall of __.
My father used to tell me stories about a recurring set of characters, and he had to make up a new one about once a week. I loved those characters more than most books I was read (and that’s saying something). My grandfather taught me both life lessons and history by way of stories – local legends make for awesome tales, of robbers and knights and city founders, of giants and gods. I remember more local legends (with their historical context) than I remember learning history in school.
Stories touch. Stories convince. Stories are wonderfully object-level. I’ve been reading Nietzsche, and he remarks that
One chooses logical argument only when one has no other means. One knows that one arouses mistrust with it, that it is not very persuasive. Nothing is easier to nullify than a logical argument: the tedium of long speeches proves this. It is a kind of self-defense for those who no longer have other weapons.
Our brain runs on stories – stories are convincing, trustworthy (even if they lie!), and thus dangerous. Practicing storytelling as a skill is valuable for a couple of reasons:
- Practicing communication skills is generally good because everything runs on communications.
- Stories are persuasive, being a good storyteller will make you more persuasive.
- Storytelling is sexy, because competence is sexy
- If you’re ever at the mercy of a child, you’ll have a way to protect yourself
I’m serious with the last one: If you find yourself in the clutches of an inquisitive child, nothing¹ will serve you so well as stories. Stories about what? Doesn’t matter! Grab the thing next to you and tell a story about its origins and travels. Or its secret desires and perception of the world. It’s a lot of fun, really, and is the basis (and often the entire content) of many books for kids. What does the neglected plaything think? Where did this book come from, what has it seen in its life?²
Once you’re hooked on telling stories, you will find them everywhere – which is a good thing, too! Becoming a masterful storyteller takes a life of practice. As always, the theory is easy, the execution is impossible.
¹ A gag will, but that’s generally frowned upon.
² Also your chance to introduce the child to the horrors of sweatshop work. Please check in with parents first.