15 February 2011

What is storytelling? A Let's Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What is storytelling?"


I spend a lot of time in internet marketing and social media circles. There are a number of buzzwords that get a lot of play in that world and the current most-used and least-understood buzzword is storytelling.

In social media and internet marketing circles, storytelling takes on a shape something like this.


Ugh. How do people get paid to come up with such meaningless nonsense? Seriously, what does any of that mean?

My understanding of storytelling comes from something other than a dull-as-dishwater seminar or committee meeting. For me the be-all and end-all example of great storytelling is this, Grimm's Fairy tales.

In 1812, brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first edition of 86 German folk tales under the title Kinder- und Hausmärchen. That's translates literally into Children's and Household Tales. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm kept releasing new volumes of stories through 1857 when the story count consisted of 211 tales.

Then, as now, the Brothers Grimm and their stories were savaged by critics for being so inappropriate for children. I disagree of course and am happy to report that I grew up with them.

For me, the stories contained in my unabridged Grimm's Fairy Tale collection epitomize storytelling. Each tale is, like all good stories, a personalized morality tale. And I mean morality in the true, non-religious, sense of the term. Morality is the code of acceptable behavior in a culture. Good stories personalize an account of an individual's either going along with those rules or defying them. But more important than the morality tale aspect to a good story is the personalization.

It's easy to get caught up in the buzzwords and catch phrases of the day and to lose sight of what it is we're talking about when it comes to a term like storytelling. Storytelling has nothing to do with terms like "project-based learning" or "technology integration" (again, what on earth does any of that mean?). Storytelling is the uniquely human ability to personalize a situation to teach a lesson, to make a point, sell a product or just entertain somebody else.


As the day goes on, the rest of the participants in today's Blog Off will appear miraculously at the end of this post. Keep checking back and check out everybody's postss. You can follow along in Twitter as well, just look for the hashtag #LetsBlogOff. If you'd like more information about about the Blog Off or if you'd like to see the results of previous Blog Offs, you can find the main website here.


  1. I was really hoping for some "technology integration" all up in my "reflection for deep learning" at the webinar today...

  2. Well, with me it’s all about project-based learning and reflection for deep learning! My wife occasionally brings home the latest business book that is supposed to help the company maximize the strategize or whatever the hell the latest buzz words happen to be. It’s all crap, pretty much. It’s amazing how much money you can make if you don’t have a conscience! But I digress! Your definition of story jibes with my own, especially the bit on the Grimm Brothers. I still remember a lot of those stories myself, and I haven’t opened that particular book since I was in grade school!

  3. Pick up a copy, an unabridged one. The stories are fantastic.

  4. Yes! The Brothers Grimm make a comeback! Well, for some of us, they never left. You've hit it right on the nose - Jacob and Wilhelm have transcended centuries with their magnificent storytelling. The volumes of their original stories are a handbook in and of themselves for hopeful writers!

  5. Here's to more personalization and less buzzwords! They're exhausting. I couldn't agree more. Thanks Paul and welcome back. Looking forward to your Spain stories.


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