Your Brain on Storytelling: BOOM! Edmund Dulac The Mermaid The Prince.
Story Horder
As a child, I was a story horder. I couldn't get enough of them. I was very fortunate to have parents who read to me, and looking back, they were saints in this regard. I was voracious. I always wanted more, and I wanted my favorites again and again.

The original story of The Little Mermaid and its illustrations enthralled me. I can still feel the excitement and the magic of reading that story. I'd get lost in it. What a gift my parents gave me by reading to me, but I must have driven them mad.

I was the same with music. I became obsessed with songs. I needed to hear them over and over again, so that I could memorize them--somehow making them a part of me. "How Much Is That Doggie In the Window?" was one of my early obsessions. We would sing the song inserting the names of every family member I could think of in place of "that doggie." It was no doubt a bedtime stalling technique, but it was also delightful. I recall a lot of giggling, thinking of my family members in the pet store window.

I suspect my parents were relieved when I finally learned to read and learn my own songs, but it was short lived. They then had to endure my reading and singing to them endlessly.

Wired for Stories
It turns out that my parents gave me a bigger gift than I thought. According to the article, "What Listening to Stories Does to Our Brains," we are actually wired for stories. Telling them and and listening to them lights up our brains in powerful ways.

Researchers in Spain say that, "Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain, that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too." In addition, the brain of the person listening and the brain of the person sharing a story can become synchronized in the process of storytelling. You can imagine the ramifications of these brain responses, and likely one of the reasons we fall in love with comics, musicians, actors and writers--they're storytellers lighting up our brains and helping us feel what they are describing far more deeply than we realize.

In Practice

There are real world applications for this knowledge, and the article suggests a few:

--To bring others on board with your idea, tell them a story (Writers - Think synopsis and project pitiches!).

"According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.
The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind, is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds."

--Create greater impact and credibility (Bloggers!).

"...ask for quotes from the top folks in the industry or simply find great passages they [have] written online. It’s a great way to add credibility and at the same time, tell a story."

--Simple is better.

"Using simple language as well as a low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the situation and happenings in the story."

Some good advice, don't you think? When I consider these suggestions, it makes me think why the phenomenon of LOL Cats and the like on the Internet are so successful. These little vignettes are engaging our brains with a visual story, using simple words to invite us into a common experience with which we can identify. Add a little humor and we're hooked!

It may also be why story podcasts like Lightspeed, and radio shows like This American Life and Snap Judgement are more popular as they become so easy to access online. They're the modern day version of sitting around the old RCA radio listening to The Lone Ranger and The Shadow. Mostly what I come away with in this article, is to be engaging as a storyteller--to unabashedly share my enthusiasm of the story with my readers. I want for them, the excitement and joy that a great story brought to me as a child and still brings to me to this day.

Happy Stories to you, my friends!

Yours Always,

Fran Friel

Note: Thank you to Ginger Hamilton Caudill for the link to the original article; The Shadow cover borrowed from: