Types of Storytelling

As long as there have been humans, there have been stories. The ways in which humans tell stories, according to Walter Ong in “Orality and Literacy,” has changed dramatically over history. Stories can be told using different methods, from words and letters to sounds, pictures, and even the teller’s and listeners’ bodies.

Telling Stories Out Loud

Oral stories represent the oldest type of storytelling. These are stories relayed through spoken words, from a speaker or teller to an audience of listeners. Think of stories told around a fire, or perhaps stories about your weekend you share with co-workers around the water cooler. Some classic examples of oral stories include fables such as “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Writing Stories Down

Written stories mark another old type of storytelling. These are stories relayed almost exclusively through written words, consigned to paper by an author or authors and read in private by individual readers. Think of novels, written plays, or short stories such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” or Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” This type of story might also include written histories such as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.”

Showing Stories With Pictures and Sound

Multimodal stories can include both oral and written components, but will also include other forms of expression in their telling of the story such as pictures, sounds or videos. Think of graphic novels and comic books that combine written words and pictures, or TV shows or movies that include spoken words and moving images. Multimodal story types include movies such as “The Godfather,” comics like “Calvin and Hobbes,” and even illuminated manuscripts such as original copies of “The Canterbury Tales.”

Enacting Stories Through Play

Computer game designer Chris Crawford argues that video games signal a shift from stories as things that are passively received to things that are actively created. For Crawford, an interactive story's audience isn't distanced from the story as she would be with oral, written or even multimodal stories. Instead, the audience is immersed in the story, and the story is told through the audience's enacting of assumed roles. Think of dinner mystery parties in which guests participate in the unraveling of the story, or of massive, multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft in which gamers can create story quests.

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