Stories and storytelling goes back to the dawn of modern man — at least 150,000 year ago. They were the educational tool, the history tool, the social tool and stories hold the collective memory of the tribe and clan who told them.
Nothing has really changed. Today we tell stories about everything. And we listen intently to stories told, stories read and stories watched on all out modern electronic devices. Stories are our all encompassing cultural DNA, the glue that holds everything together.
Stories in our age
Stories have not always appeared important. With the rise science in the 19th century the ‘truth’ of stories gave way to the scientific validity evidence found only in dispassionate examinations of facts and data, with endless arguments about bias factors. Victorian society appropriated folklore as children’s stories: bedtime reading was filled with morals and a happy ending. The Brothers Grimm rewrote and sanitized their collected tales through all seven editions published in their lifetimes. No nightmares, thank you.
In the 20th century stories then were dressed up in cartoon clothes as fairy tales for the movie theatre. The wolf was killed and the pauper married the prince or princess. Mass communications turned stories into slogans. The fast pace of modern society didn’t have time to listen to real stories. It was too busy being busy.
A stop to being busy
The stories never really went away. They just went into hiding in rural hills and small towns in the first world and villages everywhere else. In the last 30 years stories started returning to the lips of storytellers, returning to cities, both traditional tales and new stories. Academics and people alike acknowledged stories as basic to our understanding of everything. They’re in our blood: they’re in our brains. Even analysis of empirical data, quite useful in many fields of endeavour, benefits from story.
Brain Science confirms the story roots
Science in the last decade, especially the MRI machine, confirms our reaction to stories. When listening to a well told story the brain “lights up” in those areas of associated with emotion and empathy. We both learn and are motivated.
Humans are ‘hardwired’ for appreciating and learning from stories — not surprising given that oral storytelling, and listening, was the only learning method we had for the first 95% of our modern existence.
How a storyteller is made – my path
I watched and listened as a man created a world in my mind, the vivid world of a blacksmith, of a smithy shop at the end of a bridge across a river from a hardscrabble town, a river in which lived a being who surfaced only at night then transformed itself, a tale about power, about beauty and alchemy.*
That man was an oral storyteller and I was hooked.
That was a magic night of storytelling at the 2010 Ottawa International Storytelling Festival. I joined the sponsoring organization, Ottawa Storytellers. After three months of listening at storytelling events, I told my first story, about a fire juggler. I then learned a classic Scottish folktale. I dabbled in all types of stories, modern to folklore to my own adaptations of print stories. And I listened to storytellers at every opportunity. I realized being a story listener was most important to mastering storytelling. Finally I settled into, as a performance storyteller, creating and telling local history stories and Scottish folklore. Hey, I have a famous “clan” name.
As I moved deeper into performance stories and storytelling, I began to reflect a bit on stories. Like most people my age we started at fairy tales, then Dr. Seuss. I learned to read with little effort. By age 10 I was reading adult level historical fiction. I love history and ultimately completed a BA in history and art history. After university I travelled for a year then went to work in dramatic film as an assistant editor and in production. I wrote for public radio and magazines and ultimately ended by a bookseller owning two stores for almost two decades.
It was as an entrepreneur with many time demands that I created Deliberate Reading. I didn’t have a name for it then. It is my informal method of parsing a book, fiction and non-fiction, for story, for technical development skills, and audience and sales potential. Deliberate Reading was important for my stores success. I needed a sound system as I was busy operating a second company selling bookstore inventory software in the age of first generation desktop computers.
In 1997 I sold the stores and created Digital Folios as a small business corporation at first providing writing, web sites and web content. Storytelling and stories are now my prime interest. I have always found time to volunteer, first on various business associations and then to advise on built heritage conservation, wetlands protection, even a museum board.
My interest in stories and storytelling has expanded to include cognitive reaction to story, narrative inquiry, and the impact of storytelling in applied situations. More about that can be found on the Story Literacy page.
Storytelling adds value to people’s lives, and I enjoy telling.
* The Blacksmith at the Bridge of Bones, by Ben Haggarty.
Tue. June 28. 1 pm to 5:30 pm
Hub Ottawa Brown Bag Lunch (BBL)
Thur. May 5, 2016. Noon – 1 pm
Impact Hub – 71 Bank St. 6th floor, Ottawa
Storytelling: Why our most ancient form of communications is still hot and the number #1 skill to have.
Nobody knows for sure where the story communications phenomenon started. No, that’s not true. It started 150,000 years ago around a campfire relating the adventures of a hunt.
But for modern business I’ll say sometime in the 1990’s. In 2000 Annette Simmons published The Story Factor and in 2001 Steven Denning published The Springboard about his story experiences in km (knowledge management) at the World Bank. Theses two books helped define an already growing interest in storytelling as a communications tool —
— which makes sense given that storytelling is really the only way humans have ever communicated. Now some people question that because you can’t prove it. And modern social sciences demand some sort of empirical data.
Gosh Darn. Along comes the MRI machine and we can all now watch our brain waves “go wild” when stimulated by story. It is so positively psychedelic (from the videos I have seen) that you wonder what the late Timothy Leary would have thought of it. But I digress. What it is, though, is the scientific proof that our evidence-based society demands and now is acknowledging, STORIES WORK.
So how do stories work, and how do YOU work stories. That’s what Story Literacy is all about.
I am creating a series of workshops for people in business or non-profit to understand the science of stories and the art of creating them.
Put your name on the email list at by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org for more information when it becomes available.
Story research and creation
Workshops to help you to bring stories to life
The site is still officially under construction after a destructive hack. There are still some problems with html page referencing with my blog. Chrome and Safari seem OK, but Firefox has problems. Please hit home if you get lost. Spring, 2016
After the attack and meltdown of my website earlier this year I have not had the time to rebuild the site and keep my blog going and keep other project rolling. For the time being, I am suspending the blog. I plan to resume sooner than later and I want to re-post some of my […]
You round that last corner and start down the home stretch. You can see the finish line banner, the sun is bright, the snow crisp, your skis are almost flying, the feeling is good, satisfying. You are a winner — until that miserable person steps out from the sidelines, knocks you off balance then runs away. I […]
I was in the middle of my story when a dull roar started to fill the volume of the church. It took me a moment to realize — it was raining, hard — dare I say a deluge pounding the slate roof of the 19th century Merrickville United Church. I decided it added a great […]
About Digital Folios Inc.
I started Digital Folios Inc. (DFI) way back in 1997 (after selling the bookstore) to pursue opportunities in communications with a particularly interest, originally, in CD-ROM production and the Web.
Today DFI provides storytelling, writing, editing, research and web content services.
In recent times DFI has edited book manuscripts for private publication and collaborated (research and writing) on an interactive map project about the War of 1812 for the fort visitors centre at Fort Erie, Ontario.
In the past 19 years I have, through DFI:
- written and edited millions of words of web copy, and a lot of print copy too, in a variety of styles.
- worked in-house for over three years on the Canadian Army national web team as Web Content Coordinator and Senior News Editor
- Editor-in-Chief of This Week @ IC, national employee newsletter, Industry Canada (government ministry)
- developed complete websites, from scratch in Dreamweaver
- interviewed senior executives and government bureaucrats for websites and situation reports
- researched best web practices reviewed and critiqued websites per contract
- participated in research concerning online user experience (UX)
- edited book manuscripts for private publication.
DFI has completed projects for (alphabetic order);
- Canadian Museum of Nature
- The Canadian Bank Note Company Limited, (security printing)
- Communications Security Establishment Canada (government agency)
- (Former) City Councillor Clive Doucet (Web administrator/advisor for 12 years, Web, social media manager for his 2010 mayoralty campaign)
- Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada
- First Stage Talent Agency
- GAPC – General Assembly Production Centre (video and media production
- Industry Canada (government ministry)
- Ministry of Natural Resources (Ontario)
- Pentor Communications Inc.
- Public Works and Government Services Canada, (government ministry, repeat assignments)
Digital Folios Inc. continues to be the contractor of record for projects initiated through murrayrobroymcgregor.ca.
Digital Folios Inc. is registered with the Government of Canada small business procurement program, buyandsell.gc.ca (account number on request).
murray [at] murrayrobroymcgregor.ca