Talking the Talk: the Social Impact of Storytelling

Last week, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how much of our conversations are becoming dominated by discussions about TV shows. The article talks about this change and debates whether spending twenty minutes at a party arguing over the ethics of various characters in Game of Thrones or the sexual couplings in Girls is a good or bad thing.


(amusing picture courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

And it got me thinking about how storytelling has evolved over time. Now, I’m not talking about the journey from cave paintings to webisodes. I was thinking about the changes in what books people read and what shows they watch – and how they bring the media they’ve digested into social settings.

For instance, many Americans (such as myself) no longer have patience for books that have a slow start-up and then ponderously make their way toward the finish. Many books we consider classics cannot be replicated nowadays because no publisher would take them on. Everything I read about writing stresses the fact that editors and agents judge a manuscript by the first fifteen or so pages. Those same sources reiterate time and time again how important it is for authors to start with a strong hook that delves right into things. Readers – the majority, anyway – want to jump right in to the point where things are getting interesting, to have a fast-paced narrative that hooks them and keeps them at the edge of their seat.


I’m one of them. When I reread The Eye of the World months ago in anticipation of the final book in the Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light, I kept having to restart because it begins so slowly – in my opinion – that other books kept distracting me. I couldn’t help but wonder: if Robert Jordan had tried to get a publishing contract for this book today, would any editors have taken a chance on him? What about Tolkien? What about any of the “greats”?

Meanwhile, television shows are more accessible than ever, with more variety than ever. As it becomes more and more difficult to get movies into Hollywood, television is beginning to provide a viable alternative. TV shows are starting to trust us to follow complex plots, multifaceted characters, and long story arcs. I, personally, love this transition in television. There are some things that are better as a TV series than a movie, and we are able to see a lot more character growth if we have years of weekly segments rather than two and a half hours.

It’s pretty clear that the types of stories we seek and the way we want them told to us has changed as our culture has changed. Over the past few decades, society has become less patient. We want things as soon as we know we want them – which is now. The number of Attention-Deficit Disorder diagnoses are through the roof, too, which means that it takes more and more to grab our focus and keep it there.

So it actually made sense to me that we are not only watching more TV, but also talking about it. Storytelling is social in nature. We want to share our experiences and reactions with others. Because of this, there will always be a hunger for a good story. How it is told – and in what form – may change, but the very human interest in stories isn’t going anywhere.

Now, who wants to debate the merits of Sherlock versus Elementary with me?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s