Monday, October 31, 2016

Evolution of a Storyteller

Several weeks ago, I was set free. A huge report and a backlog of blogposts hung over me, so my first reaction was desperation. That was soon joined by fear and despair, which surprised me. But dependency is like that—insidious and ignored until the trap closes.

There weren’t twelve steps to recovery, just one: my computer began to self-destruct. All by itself, it filled its tired old hard drive, whirring loudly and feverishly (literally). Hours of diagnosis and treatment revealed the only cure was a new one. But it was Friday afternoon so I lived computer-free all weekend.

Well … not quite. I read email and news on my iPad. But it wasn’t the internet that had a hold on me. It was something much bigger, more encompassing—the storytelling imperative.

I fell off the wagon as soon as I got a new computer, but I’m not ashamed. I had no choice. Storytelling is an innate drive—we evolved to be bloggers! Our brains are wired to explain and learn via stories; we remember more when we hear a good tale. Empathy may play a role, and certainly our social nature contributes (more here).

But does effective communication fully explain a writer’s need to create a coherent, satisfying, pleasing story that is just right? Think about that feeling of intense satisfaction when a discouraging mess finally emerges as a masterpiece to be joyfully cast into the blogosphere … even with no guarantee that anyone will read it!

Evolution makes us do it. We’re rewarded emotionally because stories provide a strong adaptive advantage. When we make stories out of what we experience, we make sense of things. We can predict what’s going to happen in similar situations, and increase our chance of survival. Knowledge accumulates; stories beget science.

But this story about storytelling doesn’t tell it all. Many of our stories hardly qualify as useful for survival. Are we caught up in some kind of runaway selection? Does the powerful reward of making sense of things lead us to daydreams, fiction, rationalization, gossip, delusion, spirituality, blogging?
“Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives, a form of existential problem-solving.” (from The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling)
In any case, now that the new computer is set up and personalized, browser downloaded, image editor installed, password manager connected, printer software updated, files transferred and organized, and pictographs uploaded, I’m happily back telling stories … though work has top priority, of course ;-)
“Writing is a sustaining thing … If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t know what to do. Without it I’d probably croak.” (from great storyteller John McPhee's interview in the Paris Review

Are you driven to tell stories? Why?

Blog posts make good memories last longer.


  1. Oh, yes. So much truth here! "We evolved to be bloggers!" and "When we make stories out of what we experience, we make sense of things." Well-said. And, yes, "Blog posts make good memories last longer." Indeed! Enjoy your new computer!

    1. Thanks, Beth. Seems bloggers totally understand this situation!
      I was not happy to spend that kind of money but now that I have a fast new machine ... pretty nice ;-)

  2. With stories, we make the moist basic connection with other humans. It's what we do! We are the storytelling animals that could.

    1. Perfectly said, Richard :-) And you help us ... hooray for publishers!!