We love TED here at FWR–which, in case you haven’t encountered it before, you’re welcome, and I hope you didn’t have any work to do this month. This is an old TED talk, but one I hadn’t heard before and one I’ve been thinking about–particularly because it challenges the concept of storytelling.
I was told to come here and tell you all stories, but what I’d like to do is instead tell you why I’m suspicious of stories, why stories make me nervous. In fact, the more inspired a story makes me feel, very often the more nervous I get. So the best stories are often the trickiest ones. The good and bad things about stories is they’re a kind of filter. They take a lot of information, and they leave some of it out, and they keep some of it in. But the thing about this filter, it always leaves the same things in. You’re always left with the same few stories. There’s the old saying, just about every story can be summed up as, “A stranger came to town.” There’s a book by Christopher Booker, he claims there are really just seven types of stories. There’s monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth. You don’t have to agree with that list exactly, but the point is this: if you think in terms of stories, you’re telling yourself the same things over and over again. […]
So what are the problems of relying too heavily on stories? You view your life like “this” instead of the mess that it is or it ought to be. But more specifically, I think of a few major problems when we think too much in terms of narrative. First, narratives tend to be too simple. The point of a narrative is to strip it way, not just into 18 minutes, but most narratives you could present in a sentence or two. So when you strip away detail, you tend to tell stories in terms of good vs. evil, whether it’s a story about your own life or a story about politics. Now, some things actually are good vs. evil. We all know this, right? But I think, as a general rule, we’re too inclined to tell the good vs. evil story.
Watch Tyler Cowen’s whole TED talk below:
- Anne gives a roundup of some of her favorite TED talks by writers
- See more writers on writing: Chuck Palahniuk and Ann Patchett