Is the value of narrative lost?

4 minute read

Storytellers are a special breed, a personality trait that dates all the way back to cavemen and women. Shakespeare is among the most famous of storytellers with his stories reworked over 400 times for screens big and small. A modern bard works her way around a room, passing on the “best story” she heard last week, with a warm smile and flicker of excitement in her eyes. Their unique ability to tell a tale in an exciting, vivid, and engaging way is an enviable trait if you don’t possess it, and it’s a trait that spans verbal and written word, to pictures to video. A story, whether encased in a single photo or a 300 page novel, is only as good as the person conveying it, which is why storytellers are an integral part of our social system.

These special somebodies help their audience connect to the story being told, which is of value in art, business, and emotional kinship, yet we don’t recognize great storytelling as often as we reward Instagrams of food. What is the value, in today’s like/favorite/retweet culture, of a really great storyteller? I’ve rated each of these aspects with 1 to 5 Shakespeares, with 1 meaning a great loss of narrative.

Standing out online

When social media first became prevalent, it was the Wild West. Users posted whatever they wanted, without backlash from others in their network, because everyone was trying to understand the medium. Now, as this awesome scene from the movie Easy A points out, no one cares if “Roman is having an okay day and bought a Coke Zero at the gas station.” Today’s social networks need you to create stories worth reading to cut through the clutter, and this requires storytelling.

Is the value of Narrative lost? I North by Northwest Boise




Art attack

Novels, plays, paintings, etc. absolutely need (and have always needed) a storyline to be memorable, and this hasn’t changed. Art has luckily withstood time and change, and grown to include digital versions of traditional arts – eBooks, digital paintings, etc. It’s unlikely this would change in the future, as story is central to these formats, but then again it used to be an important aspect of music.

Is the value of Narrative lost? I North by Northwest Boise




Where it isn’t

Pop culture is really waging a war on the art of storytelling these days. Thoughtful and well-made indie films tend to make less than blockbuster movies about board games with little-to-no storyline. Singer Ariana Grande sings what is literally nonsense, yet has been in the Top 10 on Billboard for the past nine weeks. Moving artistry in film and music is rarely rewarded in today’s culture, which unfortunately favors explosions over enlightenment.

Is the value of Narrative lost? I North by Northwest Boise




Where it’s crucial

Advertising is really the space where good storytellers are rewarded – Commercials that are just images with non sequiturs don’t tell stories and don’t stay with customers. On the other hand, the much lauded Dodge commercial “Farmer” from the 2013 Super Bowl told a beautiful story by way of voiceover that matched its lovely photos (fun fact: a few of those photos were taken by Idaho photographer, Andy Anderson). Advertisers that engage in multi-channel campaigns especially need to understand the art of storytelling to keep their call to action straight across outlets.

Is the value of Narrative lost? I North by Northwest Boise




In our business, storytelling is an essential factor (and our area of expertise) in the success of a video project – a piece with a cohesive narrative is more likely to create success than a video with random words streaming across that don’t move a viewer forward. Unfortunately, that often isn’t understood until after money has been spent on a video missing a tight storyline.

What do you feel is the value of storytelling in society today, specifically in the arts and advertising sectors? This has only touched lightly on a few areas, so I would love to see a discussion in the comments below!

(Images via, via)


steph profile for web

About the Author

Stephanie Norell is the Marketing Director for North by Northwest’s Boise office. She loves horror movies and Pinterest, adores the classic film Xanadu, and “enjoys” disseminating her thoughts for trolls to discuss online.


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