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Why Do We Tell Stories?

Why do we tell stories?

As a writer, I am constantly thinking about this. Stories are everywhere. They are in the office chit-chat on a random Wednesday morning. They are flurries of words between energetic kids, recounting a wild soccer match or telling about a sister’s sleepover. Storytelling is practically an art form in small towns – down at the local café over one-dollar coffee, at the post office during a quick morning errand, at the corner bar with Garth Brooks wailing in the background, in the milk section at the grocery store.

Sharing stories is a pastime. It is an innate desire within us.

I would even go so far as to say that telling stories is a need.

But why?

If we think about it hard enough, most of us have been sharing stories since we could talk. Stories are communication, and communication is a form of connection.

In 2020, I took on the role of editor for a slick magazine that covers Sublette County, Wyoming, where I grew up.

I had tons of story ideas. I scoured back issues like a thirsty dog, taking in the people, the places, and the stories behind them.

I am passionate about the place where I grew up, and I can think of no cooler mission than to share stories about that place with people in my circle.

But just because I love these stories doesn’t mean that others magically will.

Writers often fall into this trap – the trap of not thinking outside of themselves when it comes to the stories they share. We get so excited about our own creativity and our own ideas that we fail to consider the world outside of those ideas. We forget or don’t think to ask:

  • Who else might be interested in this? and
  • Why should anyone else care about this?

In my own excitement over telling stories about my home county, I started to wonder: Why do I love stories about this particular place so much?

The answer wasn’t hard. Each story I read in Sublette County Magazine whet my appetite for my home stomping grounds a little more. The more I read, the more I realized how much I missed this place where I was blessed enough to grow up – the grey-blue mountains that stretch like mighty trophies across the horizon, the silvery sage brush and deep green pine, the rough-and-tumble life of eeking out a living in a place where only the most hearty plants grow and only the most hearty souls flourish.

Ever since I had landed my first real “writing” job as a reporter for my local newspaper, The Pinedale Roundup, as a teenager, the stories from my home county had been my favorite stories to tell. In the years since I left Sublette County – first for college, then for marriage, a career and a family – I have lived in multiple states and communities of all sizes. But I don’t know any of them quite like I know my home county. No matter where I was, I seemed to still gravitate to those stories from my childhood and the people and places that helped shape me.

But to make these stories matter to people besides me, I have to give potential readers a reason to care beyond my own nostalgia. Nostalgia is warm and lovely, but it’s personal. Just because I have sweet memories of so-and-so or such-and-such place doesn’t mean that anyone else will.

One of the best nuggets of writing wisdom I’ve heard is this: A first draft is telling a story to yourself. Revision is telling a story to everyone else.

Often, the first step to sharing a meaningful story is to get it down for yourself. This lays the groundwork for expanding your story to a broader audience.

I love what ghost writer Alex Abramovich says in a podcast interview with Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy. Abramovich says: “One thing I’m pretty sure I know about writing is that if you have the capacity to surprise yourself while you’re doing it, you might be able to surprise and delight the reader.”

Still, the question doesn’t go away: Why do we tell stories?

I think the question is so persistent for me because there is no easy answer. There is no one answer.

We tell stories to remember.

We tell stories to compare.

We tell stories to teach and to learn.

We tell stories to entertain and to be entertained.

We tell stories to connect.

At its heart, storytelling is communication. And communication, I believe, is the first step to connection.

Why do you tell stories? What stories do you want to hear? What stories need to be shared? Let’s connect!

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