Would we be better storytellers if we started in school?

Alice in Wonderland

Photo: Russ Sanderlin (CC)

A friend told me about one of her earliest writing forays. As a girl, she was (and still is) a big fan of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” She wrote letters as the main characters to each other.

Utterly charming.

Children have terrific imaginations, and here is one funneling hers into character, dialogue and plot, a born storyteller.

Wouldn’t all kids benefit from practice telling stories?

British author Tim Lott thinks so. He makes the case for it in a recent column in the Guardian.

For stories to work, a whole array of measurable principles can be applied. We shouldn’t be asking children about fronted adverbs, but about act structures, character arcs, reversals and the qualities of protagonists (and antagonists). What is the difference between real speech and fictional dialogue? What constitutes a dramatic event? The list goes on and on.

The craft (not the talent) of storytelling can be taught – and tested – in the same way as grammar. This would be so much more valuable than parroting parts of speech (to this day, I know virtually nothing – formally – about grammar).

I’m not even sure what a “fronted adverb” is. I recall lessons on grammar and diagramming sentences from my school days, with extended exercises in writing essays and papers. But nothing along the lines of what Lott proposes.

As storytellers in marketing, we know all too well the challenges of creating compelling stories and characters. Had we started practicing these skills earlier, we might employ them without fuss or hesitation.

Lott makes it plain that he believes that these writing lessons aren’t purely subjective, that teachers can measure and test results. That’s not too hard to believe: My papers were graded on composition as well as factual accuracy.

After all, we live in a world of stories. Adding storytelling as a formal part of the curriculum could help all of us not only with myth-making, but also with critical thinking, the ability to determine what’s true and what’s made up.

Or as the Cheshire Cat says, “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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