What's in a story? Thoughts from our Communications Director


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”  

Joan Didion, The White Album, 1979.

“Once upon a time” …  four words that indicate a beginning.

“The end” … two words that solidify a finale.

The first is an invitation. The latter closes a door.

But what’s in the middle? What happens inside? What is a story?  

“I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way – what happens to somebody – but I want that ‘what happens’ to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing – not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens.”

Alice Munro, A Conversation with Alice Munro, 2010.

Parables, fables, fairy tales, legends, myths, sagas. Stories have many names, but in essence, they’re all the same.

They begin, luring us in. They rise and then they fall. They transform. They end. And sometimes they linger.

Or at least the strong ones do.

Stories have been used for millennia to communicate. They’re told and retold, edited and reworked, and used by generations to teach lessons, to share information, to remember, to forget, to warn, to entertain, and to inspire. They’re malleable, changing over time, as societies and cultures shift and evolve.

Some stories are nuanced and require reflection and thought. Others are more overt and straightforward.

Regardless, all stories are open to interpretation by the audience. In that sense, our stories serve as our mirrors.

“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution -- more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”

Lisa Cron, Wired for Story, 2012.

Stories empower us. When we claim a story as ours, we’re telling the world who we are and what we value.

Stories make us laugh. They make us cry. Some bore us to tears. Others move us to action.

Stories have power and value. They have benefits, and they have consequences.

So… what’s your story?

How are you telling it?

Who will remember it?

“I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us. ”

Chris Cleave, Little Bee, 2008.