Saturday, July 21, 2007

Schank: Chpt.2: Where Stories Come from and Why We Tell Them

The title of Chapter Two is an interesting starting point, but an even more intriguing question for a storm fool is quickly asked on page 29: "Where do we get stories to tell? Schank's initial response is: " Obviously, stories digest one's experiences. We tell what happened to us. But we also create stories." He addsa key point: "...not every experience that someone has had is worth remembering, let alone telling to someone else."

Schank then moves forward with a clear definition of the types of stories that are told, and his assessment of why people tell stories.

I. Types of Stories: This is very good set of observations and points that are well-crafted and supported with good examples. Per Schank, based upon the issue of where stories come from, there are five basic types of stories:

  1. Official Stories: Stories learned from an official place (schools, churches, place of employment, or the government). Basically, official stories are those that are a person is instructed to tell by our boss, parents, government, or anyone with authority. An official story is carefully constructed to clean up a version of events to avoid the possibility of getting into trouble. It is often the position of a group that has a message to sell. Schank makes two defining points: (a.) Details are left out to show the situation as less complicated than it truly may be. (b.) Intension of an official story is to make complex issues appear clearer than others may see them.
  2. Invented Stories: Per Schank: "Every story we tell has to have its basis in something that we have already experienced...the better we are at telling stories, the better we are at giving them the appearance of complete fiction....People can take past experiences, consciously or inconsciously, and modify them into stories where the original experience is completely hidden...Story invention, for children or adults, is a process of the massaging of reality.
  3. Firsthand Stories: Schank repeats the common thread that we often hear in the storytelling world: "...the art of storytelling involves finding good ways to express one's experiences in a way appropriate to the listener." Schank points out thatwe do not relate experiences that are common to all, e.g. on the way here I stopped at a stop sign. He says that good stories are about the unusual events that can not be easily predicted. Personal Take: When someone tells even a fairytale, they have selected it because it is close to their personal experiences, and modified it to fit the listener.
  4. Secondhand Stories: Basically, these are stories that we have heard (or read?) from other sources. Since they are not the teller's experience, "...facts are madeup to preserve coherence." Per Schank, the bottomline on secondhand stories is: "These stories often have clear points and are frequently remembered in terms of the points that they are intended to illustrate. Personal Take: A sonnet fits this mode.
  5. Culturally Common Stories: These are not as clearly defined as the first four. They are stories that have floated in our ocean environment like an island rather than a surf board. Schank's key points to me were as follows: (a.) Culturally, common stories are usually referred to rather than told. (b.) "A story's usefulness depends on how much of the original detail has remained over time." (c.) "A proverb is an ossified, distilled story, but it has lost so much of its original detail that it needs the hearer to supply some detail." (d.) "The opposite side of the coin (from an ossified distilled proverb) is that some stories get told in their least detailed form, making them understandable only to those who already know them." Personal Take: Shortened native-american story told in London., and, (e.) "A story shortened so that it ceases to be understood is no longer a story."

II. Why We Tell Stories Personal Note: This was for me a very interesting section, because it responds to many questions that I have been asking myself and that others have asked me. Following lists what I deemed to be Schank's key points that I should reflect upon:

A. According to Schank: "In order to understand why we tell stories, we must identify the goals that people have in conversation...We usually have three basic reasons for telling stories." Schank categorizes the three reasons as:

Category 1: Me-Goals (the intentions that storytellers have with respect to themselves)

  • "Tellers can have 5 intentions with respect to themselves: to achieve catharsis; to get attention, to win approval to seek advice, or to describe themselves." Personal Note: Been there and done that.
  • "..tell stories expressly to grab attention...often wants to impress listeners as being very funny or sympathetic or honest or powerful, etc.
  • "...the collection of stories we have compiled is to some extent who we are, what we have to say about the world, and tells the world the state of ourmental health."
  • "We can also tell stories to escape reality, to paint a picture that is more like what we would have liked to have happened than what actually happened."
  • "We also acquire personal myths from our parents, teachers, friends, enemies --in short from anyone who tells us stories about ourselves."

Category 2: You-Goals: (the intentions that storytellers have with respect to others) Per Schank: "When we tell stories intended for other people our goals intend to fall within five categories:

  • To illustrate a point.
  • To make the listener feel some way or other, in other word to tell an affective story."
  • To tell a story that transports the listener.
  • To transfer some piece of information in our head into the head of the listener.
  • To summarize significant events. Note: In this category, Schank says that the teller must reduce a tremendous amount of information into a form small enough to be absorbed.

Category 3: Conversation-Goals (the intentions that storytellers have with respect to the conversation itself): Succinctly stated by Schank: "When someone tells a story, he, or she, expects conversational politeness, a response of some sort. Therefore, when you tell a story in turn, you may have no point in mind other than to be responsive."

III. Summary of Schank's Conclusion: Good storytellers make their stories seem interesting, and cause positive responses in their listeners. Bottomline: "Intelligence means having stories to tell.", and cliche 'Experience is the best teacher' is quite true."

Personal Assessment of Chapter Two: It is an awesome eye-opener and clearly defines with practical examples the best path to follow as a teller, and that there will be many trails to choose to follow.

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