What alternatives to traditional storytelling exist?
March 30, 2018 9:36 PM   Subscribe

Most cultures love to tell stories: spoken or written accounts of specific individuals who go on a quest/endure a challenge over a linear time frame, culminating in a resolution. But what other kinds of story-like practices have been reported in human societies past and present? An example might be the lists in Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book. Other made up examples: stories about concepts not people, stories with no time axis, stories with no ending; stories made of material objects; stories in Q&A form; etc.
posted by dontjumplarry to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The concept of Kishotenketsu went viral on Tumblr a while back (from this post, I think).
posted by Polycarp at 9:57 PM on March 30, 2018

Also—whoops, posted too soon—when I was a kid I used to collect basketball cards, and from there I developed another hobby: I would draw basketball players I'd made up, and then draw a bunch of rows and columns right next to them, which I would fill with fake basketball stats like the ones I saw on the back of the cards. Games played, points per game, rebounds, assists, etc. 10 or 15 seasons for a full career, though I drew a lot of rookies and bit players, too.

Each one was a story based on the stories I read in books and heard during basketball games, told in the most compressed way possible—a player would be benched for years (3.2 points per game, 6.1, 4.8, 9.2) and then get a shot when another player was injured (81 games, 75, 22) and explode into the spotlight. Another players might start his career as an all-star but lose his athleticism early and reinvent himself, after a few lost years, as a super-sub. Sometimes I'd draw the main players on an (entirely fake) team together, and each one would get his own set of stats, and if you looked closely the numbers would all interact.

I never wrote any words, and the pictures were never comics—just one big "panel." But the numbers would play the story back in my head.

I thought this was just a weird thing I did as a kid, but when I got to college several of my friends—who had been the same kind of little sports nerd I was—reported doing the same thing. (One of them, who was a big college sports fan, would draw entire tournament brackets, seed teams, and make up the outcomes as he went.) Bill James, the great baseball writer, has talked about doing the same thing. (Sometimes he even builds articles around the practice—mashing careers together, imagining how many different ways a player's career could have gone after a certain season, etc.)
posted by Polycarp at 10:08 PM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

South Indian temples are (and forgive the pun) storytelling incarnate! Like this one in Madurai and this one in Chennai They're fantastically beautiful but mainly serve to pass on the stories of the Hindu gods and goddesses.
posted by lois1950 at 10:37 PM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

check out Robert Bringhursts's books about Haida mythology
posted by kokaku at 11:35 PM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tabletop RPGs and their combination of rule systems, scripted encounters, player initiative, random chance, and DM interpretation

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books and interactive fiction games. More recently, open-world, multiplayer, and/or procedurally-generated game worlds that let players act out their own stories individually or collaboratively.

My Magical Skiing Adventure, Problem Sleuth, 17776, and other multimedia web projects loosely based on fan participation and feedback, with the apex being the sprawling saga Homestuck.

Tarot cards, oracle bones, Ouija boards, and other kinds of semi-structured divination.

Creepypasta, often-anonymous spooky stories shared virally and elaborated upon online. Famous examples include Slenderman, Candle Cove, and the SCP Foundation universe.

In terms of experimental fiction, two authors come to mind:

The multilayered narratives and text-layout experimentation of Mark Z. Danielewski's novels (House of Leaves, Only Revolutions, The Fifty Year Sword, etc.)

Italo Calvino's postmodern trio of Invisible Cities (fictional Marco Polo's allegorical, plotless descriptions of fantastical cities), Cosmicomics (scientific concepts form the basis for gently funny stories), and If On A Winter's Night A Traveler (um...)
posted by Rhaomi at 2:18 AM on March 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Check out lukasa memory boards. They are a really fascinating way some african cultures remember spoken history - each bead is a "trigger" for a part of the story.
posted by any_name_in_a_storm at 3:56 AM on March 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Medieval church decorations, perhaps especially stained glass windows, tell stories from the bible.
posted by crocomancer at 4:29 AM on March 31, 2018

I can't find it in a quick Google, but someone else will come along and know what I'm talking about--there's a wiki for an invented governmental (?) research institution which basically contains "experimental parameters" for various "scientific experiments" involving beings with superpowers, supernatural phenomena, and the like. It's quite creepy.

Basically, any form of knowledge repository can be exploited to give a picture of a world.

On the more high-culture end...Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire is told, to the extent it's told, almost exclusively in footnotes to an imaginary poem. Ander Monson's Other Electricities is "a glittering mosaic of short stories, lists, instructions, poetic obituaries and illustrations of radio schematics" about a small town in the Upper Peninsula. Zadie Smith's NW contains traditional narrative stretches but also a lengthy concluding section in which the story is broken up into very short chunks, some of which are completely non-narrative.
posted by praemunire at 9:25 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Praemunire - I think that's SCP linked to by Rhaomi above
posted by crocomancer at 9:46 AM on March 31, 2018

Indonesians use music and shadow puppet plays to tell mythological stories. Hindus and Hawaiians use dance to tell stories.
posted by irisclara at 9:48 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure it fits the bill, but how about the scrollable XKCD worlds/timelines, like Click and Drag or maybe Earth Temperature Timeline. Just a thought.
posted by forthright at 11:49 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

My first thought was Trajan's Column and its spiral mural depiction of Roman military campaigns against the Dacians, imitated by the Astoria Column in Oregon which depicts the Lewis and Clark Expedition and other events from Oregon history.

It seems as though many board games going back to the Royal Game of Ur and Ancient Egyptian Senet (FPP) may function as a sort of storytelling.
posted by XMLicious at 8:12 PM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hip-hop, our modern day poetry, perhaps? Not all of it is storytelling, but some of it certainly is.
posted by el io at 2:08 AM on April 2, 2018

« Older Five Days with my Family in Flagstaff   |   This tub has got to go... okay, how do I do this? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.