It's a bit early to celebrate NaNoWriMo, but it doesn't hurt to take a look at just how something as simple as storytelling has modernized over time.
“The theory I’m putting forward here is that storytelling is a genetic characteristic in the sense that early human hunters who were able to organize events into stories were more successful than hunters who weren't—and this success translated directly into reproductive success. In other words, hunters who were storytellers tended to be better represented in the gene pool than hunters who weren't, which (incidentally) accounts for the fact that storytelling isn't just found here and there among human cultures, it’s found universally.” - From "The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit" by Daniel Quinn.
Is this, truly, what has contributed to our success as a species? Perhaps the ability to tell a story is what distinguishes us from the other animals?
As we look back, it is apparent that even before alphabets and syllabaries were created the concept of what to expect in life was drawn upon the cave walls of Lascaux by primitive man. Tales meant to explain the world were orally administered by such wandering storytellers as Homer in ancient Greece. Even after the printing press was invented and the Reformation sought to bring believers closer to God through the written Word in their native language, literacy rates of men were only around 20% and women 5% in the late 16th Century. Enter Shakespeare whose audience was able to learn more about history, humor, and culture through the stories he told with his sets, costumes, and literary devices than by reading because they could understand the message by seeing it enacted before them.
Slowly, over time, literacy spread. It was no longer an exclusive practice for nobles and clergy to have mastery of message. The common man was able to spread his Common Sense throughout the population and gave rise to the Age of Enlightenment. Philosophy and contemplations on the human condition were spun at a rapid pace. While the written word was important, and many great pieces of literature were born from that era, the visual element to our learning remained. Political cartoons created quite a buzz as did the ability to print pictures in colors and clarity not yet seen at the time.
It's not too much of a hop, skip, and jump to see that today novels as a storytelling medium are still important to our culture. Be they from Danielle Steel or J.K. Rowling, the purpose is still the same. However, two offspring from the novel have arisen recently (in the grand scheme of history) as another way to tell a story. This isn't such a strange occurrence since the word novel itself means "new and not resembling something formerly known or used".
The first revisits the cave paintings of France. Graphic novels are meant to portray a full story artistically. Not just with words that need comprehension to manifest ideas, but with vivid pictures dominating them. Those pictures bring sparse words to life with facial expressions and the ability for the imagination to make what is happening come to life. Some of the most prolific graphic novel creators are Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Not simply "comics", there are many examples of just what an impact one graphic novel can make.
The second offspring is what is known as a "visual novel." In many ways these are like classic video games, just with a bit of a choose your own adventure aspect put into it. As you experience the dialog and character development-heavy story, the characters' animations accompany your choices as well as consequences. There are many Japanese visual novels and they tend to dominate the market. Firm Western roots into this idea have started to show prominence with a company called Telltale Games. Included among their library are notable visual novels such as: The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us (based off of the comic series "Fables") and even Game of Thrones!
What is next for storytelling? That is up for you to decide. While it may seem that every idea has been made regarding a way to convey one's thoughts, innovation always abounds. A 21 year-old Martin Luther took his first steps to change history in Europe with his passions. An approximately 26 year-old Murasaki Shikibu changed history with her story in Asia. What will you do about your story today, for history tomorrow?
To revisit the novel and author who opened this week's blog...
“If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all.”
What are your novel ideas?