The links to the resources mentioned in this post are available at the end of the page.
Some stories are born when someone sincerely pours his/her heart out, and some others are craftfully edited to manipulate.
Some months ago, as I was on the job hunt, I made some peculiar findings. I was looking for vacancies related to translation, content writing and copywriting. Then I came across an interesting term called “storytelling”. Let’s look at it from these two aspects: its use and its purpose as well as its functions.
In a certain way, it is a writing technique used to make a story sound sensational and more stirring than it originally is (or should be). With a great dose of embellishment and a touch of exaggeration, the purpose is that the said narrative should be able to shake the most unmovable rocky heart.
“Fine! That’s great stuff. I should apply it to my novels to make them more exciting”, I said to myself. I did some further research to know more about the methods applied. In the course of that, I discovered that not everyone has candid goals as I do. I somewhat knew that storytelling is utilized a lot in marketing and advertising (if you noticed, some ads just don’t make any sense); however, I was horrified to learn that it is widely used in politics to create effective electoral campaigns. My excitement immediately melted away like butter. Funny enough, the opposite word for “story” is “truth”…
“This is dangerous”, I thought. “If we fall for a well-written scenario and we vote for its candidate, we might actually put that person into power based on a convincing show.” No wonder the world is at it is. If the candidate is a good person, what a relief. If not, the country is doomed…
People are not people… It’s recommended to not believe everything that we hear or that we think we see. We don’t know what happens inside their homes, in their private lives. We only see what TV and the Internet grace us with. And if they are corrupt but powerful enough to cover things up, we might only get to find out about their evil deeds a hundred years later when journalists record a documentary about it (or reveal the innocent ones who had been framed.) . Some writers and movie producers also try to warn us through books, series and TV shows when they cannot warn us directly. One of my favorite quotes is from Virginia Woolf: “Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact”. It represents so well the main characteristic of our modern era, where it’s hard to distinguish genuineness from manipulation. Our world’s characteristic has always been “a bit of truth, a bit of fiction”. It’s hard to tell what’s what.
The laws that rule our countries and daily lives are passed by a small group of people in a small room, and they come out to tell us what was decided. The only power that we have is to choose who goes inside that small room (for those who don’t live under a dictatorship, of course). We elect them after meticulously scanning their words, lives and portfolios through their campaigns and speeches. We put faith in their promises, hoping they’ll improve our countries and therefore make our lives better. Electoral campaigns have now become like courtship between lovers: “If you marry me, I promise I’ll make you happy. I will never make you cry.”(Well, experienced people know that nothing is more unsure).
Frankly speaking, we can’t really choose wisely even if we’d like to. It would be convenient if there could exist an instrument to measure sincerity… A sincerometer? (Goodness… I said that word randomly, but I googled and it does exist, though that machine hasn’t been invented yet).
2- Purpose and functions
The main intent for storytelling is to exert an influence on and / or to suscite a certain reaction in the reader (interestingly, the word “influence” etymologically means a power or a flow that can change someone’s behaviour or destiny). Of course, there are other goals as well. Let’s look at each one.
- On this earth, human beings are not eternal. Be it through literature, music or graphic art, we pass down the legacy of our lives from generation to generation. Coming to think of it, we are able to create a certain sense or eternity by remaining in history.
Remembrance. It might be faint in comparison, but it is the ultimate form of immortality that we humans have reached. When we pass away, we will not be present to witness how well-remembered we are or if we are not forgotten. Nonetheless, we don’t want to leave this earth without at least having the comforting feeling that someone we left behind will think about. As many people as possible, the better. It’s one of the reasons why we perpetuate stories. And the best of all the stories we leave behind is the story of how we lived.
- Another reason is that we tell stories to leave traces of things we cannot or do not want to say openly.
- Lastly, elaborate brainpowers use stories to subtly change people’s minds. While some have good intentions, some of them can be dangerous… I was reminded of Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf”. We all know the disastrous consequences that it provoked. Just the thought of it made me shiver… And wonder: did he change people’s minds, or did his writings make stronger the secret convictions they already had in their hearts unconsciously? Both he and his followers had the firm conviction that they were in the right, even though their beliefs brought a bloodshed. Ironically, when I searched the book on Google just this week, 80% of those who read it like it… which implies that after all that happened, there are still people who agree with him today. 80%… By the way, why is his book still being sold freely up till now?
That is how powerful someone’s influence can be. On how many occasions did we change opinions because TV or social media said so? Or buy something we didn’t plan to? Or come to like / dislike something we didn’t before?
Even more, we are thinking creatures and talking creatures, so it is impossible to live in society without exchanging points of view with others. Our convictions are made or broken everyday. Emotions and intentions are invisible forces imprinted in all that we see, hear, or what we say or do. And they hold a tremendous power of influence. Our bodies are static, but thoughts and ideas are dynamic and constantly shifting, causing societies to mutate. And the more powerful someone is, the more their opinion prevails over the rest and leads them to dominate other people.
In previous centuries, we used to complain that we were subject to obscurantism and we fought hard to break free. Nowadays, artificial intelligence, advertisements and algorithms dominate our lives and dictate our behaviour. Probably, it’s just the methods that are different…
Leaving the socio-political scene and coming back to literature , I am personally not fond of works that contain a lot of gore, violence or nudity, both as a reader and now as an author myself. The amusing detail is that they are usually classified as “adult content” (seems to imply human nature gets worse as we grow old). I’m not criticizing preferences here, but only expressing opinions.
Whether it is from sincerity or manipulation, no text is effectless. Like little magic spells, they will suscitate either hate or admiration (just to name a few emotions). Be careful of what you set your eyes on, and what you expose your heart to. And if you write, may your works bring good influence unto humanity. As an aspiring writer myself, I feel the weight of that responsibility. I hope my writings bring out good.
Forever overthinking, forever meditating,
1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storytelling some of its purposes: Using narrative to manage conflicts/ Using narrative to interpret the past and shape the future/ Using narrative in the reasoning process
3- 4 P’s of Storytelling: People, Place, Plot and Purpose. https://vimeo.com/blog/post/storytelling-the-stillmotion-way-part-1/
Commentary on Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”.
Age of enlightenment vs obscurantism
Etymology and origins of the word ‘influence”