Types of Storytelling: 4 Ways to Communicate Through Story

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 14, 2020 • 3 min read

Storytelling is an ancient art, used to better understand the world we inhabit. Ancient civilizations would seek out storytellers, works of visual art, and written fables to witness tales of hard times and happy endings. Understanding the different types of storytelling is essential to telling your own story.



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4 Types of Storytelling

In order to learn how to tell a great story, you first must understand the origins of good storytelling. These are the types of storytelling that we have used to tell better stories since the dawn of human history:

  1. Oral storytelling: One of the oldest storytelling forms is the spoken word. Members of ancient societies would captivate each other by sharing stories via song, chant, and the recitation of poetry. These oral traditions would be passed on through generations. This form of storytelling could be a vehicle for any type of story. In Ancient Greece, people would flock to a great storyteller like Homer, who would forge an emotional connection with his audience as he told them a great story of epic battles and lost love. On the other hand, oral storytelling is a way for real people to tell stories from their own lives. With the advent of new forms of technology like radio and podcasts, the art form of oral storytelling now has the ability to reach millions of people—from New York to Beijing—all at once.
  2. Visual storytelling: Humans have told visual stories for tens of thousands of years, as visual media represents a simple way to tell a good story. Ancient cave paintings depicted animals, figures with human characteristics, and real-life stories with themes of survival on cave walls. As society progressed, the evolution of storytelling progressed along with it. The hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt communicated information and told a complex, engaging story composed of pictographic symbols representing both sounds and characters. This art of storytelling has evolved even further through the modern mediums of film and television, which offer an advanced, powerful way for a good storyteller to tell a compelling story.
  3. Written storytelling: As long as there have been written words, there have been written stories. As societies developed alphabets, oral and visual forms of storytelling were transcribed into written short stories and epics. A classic example: Aesop’s fables, which have their origins in the oral tradition but were collected and transcribed centuries later. The invention of the printing press ushered in an era of mass communication, in which different forms of story types—from fairy tales to newspapers to novels—reached global audiences and altered the history of storytelling forever.
  4. Digital storytelling: Technology is a powerful tool that has transformed the way that we tell stories. The rise of television, film, and radio has given great storytellers a wider platform than ever and has, in turn, led to the rise of new and innovative storytelling techniques. The internet allows us to have access to a seemingly endless library of compelling stories from throughout human history with a simple click of a button. In particular, the rise of blogging and social media—though technically still modes of written storytelling—have reframed the kind of stories we interact with on a daily basis. Millions of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook users tell their own personal stories with their own points of view every day. With social media, we are all storytellers, trying to make sense of our own origin story one post at a time. With each tweet and status update, we sharpen the storytelling skills that we’ve been practicing for millennia.

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