They are all storytellers.
And so are you.
I spent much of the fall creating an online course on writing. The task is part of my new role at the Cronkite School, where I taught narrative writing in person for five years. I now teach storytelling online, through an asynchronous course open to pretty much any student at Arizona State University, no matter their major.
Creating a storytelling course for people who may not have had a formal education in storytelling presented itself to me as a big challenge. In person, I taught upper-level journalism students, people who had gone through basic training and had some practical experience in the business as interns for media organizations or at ASU’s excellent independent student newspaper, The State Press. How could I universalize my lessons? How could I simplify them and make them relatable without dumbing them down?
While aimlessly searching the web for inspiration, I came across this video of an adorable 3-year-old girl telling a story. The story has a clear protagonist, plot, setting, complication and arc, and it crystalized to me the foundational principle that underlines every module in the online course I’ve developed: We are all storytellers.
As a first assignment, I asked my students to tell me why they chose to enroll in my course. Their answers reminded me of the power of stories — as an element of catharsis, as a tool for elevating voices and as a competitive advantage for those who know how to tell them well.
These are some of the answers they gave me:
A criminology & criminal justice major: Storytelling plays an important role in my life and career. I am an executive in the federal government and it is very important to be able to relate in business by telling stories. It will also help me in my personal life with friends and family to convey messages and to enhance conversation.
An architectural studies major: Constructing a story is an essential element of communications, especially if you want to retain an audience. I would like to learn more about the techniques involved in crafting a memorable narrative.
An integrative sciences & arts major: While I have written many academic papers and many lab reports over the years, I've got very little experience in creative writing, so I thought this class would help boost my skills. For me, storytelling is everything. It's how I talk to my friends, through jokes, sharing memories, and even a little gossip here and there. It's how I communicate, and I love talking to others and spending time with them to create those stories.
A mechanical engineering major: There are many engineers that devote every waking hour of their lives to their studies. The easiest way to set yourself apart from these people, is to have great interpersonal communication skills. Lots of engineers know a lot about their field of study, but not many can have a very good conversation with others.
And, finally, a biology major: As a child stories were how I coped with a tumultuous home life, and they have been a coping mechanism ever since. Whether I am losing myself in a book or forgetting my problems while portraying a character on a stage, stories have always been there when I was in need.
Pick up a pen or launch the Notes app on your phone and start writing. No pressure, no deadlines, no standards to follow but yours, no rules to constrain you. Exercise that muscle you already use everyday. (And if you’re interested in storytelling training for your corporate team, send me a note.)
With love and purpose, always.
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