Procrastination: Exploring the Art of Storytelling

Here in the twenty-first century, most societies around the world possess a highly developed culture of entertainment—books, movies, video games, and all the other modes of procrastination we enjoy when we should probably be doing something more productive. However, this love of escapism is nothing new; it has evolved over centuries of painting and poetry, make-believe and storytelling. In my first ever article for Student View, I have set out to provide a brief overview of, and some personal reflections on, the development of narrative and media from the past to the present.

Beowulf, a poem composed between the 8th and 11th centuries, is now a Hollywood blockbuster and successful video game.

Beowulf, an Old English narrative poem that was made into a Hollywood blockbuster, is an excellent example of the evolution of storytelling.

Many of us are familiar with the mythological stories of ancient authors—like Homer, Ovid and the Beowulf poet—which served to inspire and unnerve, to instruct and amuse their captive audiences. Such stories typically recount the courageous feats of an underdog hero as he challenges a giant beast, the tragic fate of two star-crossed lovers, or a cautionary tale intended to evoke our most deep-seated fears. Belonging to the sophisticated oral and written traditions of western Europe, these beautifully crafted expressions of human emotion and ideology thus provided the keystone for all subsequent artistic endeavours.

One of the most tangible things that sets us apart from animals is our compulsive habit of recording historical events, belief systems and literary ‘flights of fancy’ for the benefit of future generations. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that over the years we have significantly developed our inventory of storytelling techniques, to the point where we are no longer restricted to the poetry, song and dance of our ancestors. Our stories can now be immortalised in mass-produced books and e-books, digital artwork and animation, interactive video games and daytime TV, not to mention the multimillion-dollar movie industry. The world has never seen anything like it, and we have more options than ever before.

Each storytelling medium, whether traditional or cutting edge, is designed to stimulate the subject in different ways and thus possesses a unique appeal. Spoken narrative and song, for example, require the audience simply to listen and to use their own imagination in piecing together a story or accessing an emotion through the words, music, rhythm and rhyme. Books that lack illustrations rely on the reader’s interpretation of the written narrative to achieve a similar end. In both cases, the audience must play an active part in the creative process by paying close attention to the language employed.

A graphic novel, on the other hand, provides the viewer with an image or series of images, which they can use to flesh out the characters’ limited/non-existent dialogues. Film and television demand less input than either books or comics, though information may still be withheld from the audience at the director’s discretion so as to inspire debate or create suspense. Finally, at the other end of the spectrum, we have video games that produce effects comparable to film and television, but which allow the player to influence and even control a given situation—perhaps making a choice on the character’s behalf or determining whether they win or lose, live or die.

It is very hard to resist the pull of modern-day entertainment in all its spell-binding diversity. It offers a safe and exciting way to get our adrenaline pumping, a means to relax after a long and difficult day, an opportunity to learn, and, at its best, it allows us to derive something meaningful from the events it portrays. So the next time you find yourself putting off that wretched essay to read your favourite book or watch a much-loved film, you may now feel slightly more justified in doing so— you are just cultivating other talents by exploring the art of storytelling.

By Jason Ronson
Australia's Student Newspaper, trying to Improve Student Life. We publish articles written by students from across Australia and the world!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: