One of my favourite novelists was the American writer, Wallace Stegner (1909-1993). My favourite Stegner novel is Crossing to Safety, a beautiful story about an academic writer at the University of Wisconson, Madison, and the important relationships that he has throughout his life. Stegner also wrote On teaching and writing fiction, and from that work comes the following extract:
“In one sense, every word is a symbol. Letters on a page or a certain sound in the mouth convey a meaning to us: “tree” is four letters and a certain sound, but it is also a thing with bark and leaves” (page 28). Words carry both meaning as text and also as pictures.
It is therefore not surprising that storytelling has been such a powerful and prevalent communication method for such a long period of human history. Stories are expressive and sometimes their meaning requires some discovery. At the same time, stories can establish an emotional relationship that enhances the power and effectiveness of the message. Of course, politicians, marketers, advertisers, writers, poets, and movie makers have known about this for some time.
Of interest to me is the use of storytelling as a way to communicate within organisations. I will come back to this topic in later posts where I will look at some key thinkers in the field of storytelling (or narrative) as part of a communication framework. In the meantime, I recommend Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety” as a darn good read!