Why Our Stories Matter

Posted By on Jul 6, 2012 | 5 comments

I started reading a book a while ago and didn’t get to finish it. There was a hold on it at the library so I had to return it before I really made any headway. I had forgotten the exact title and after some Googling brilliant investigation, I finally found it again. I picked it up today and started from the beginning again because apparently giving birth to children causes permanent brain damage (i.e. memory loss).

It’s called Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer’s Guide, Edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. It is an anthology that gives advice from fifty-one of the most respected writers of narrative nonfiction in the country. Some names you might recognize are Susan Orlean, Isabel Wilkerson, and the late, great Nora Ephron.

In Part I: An Invitation to Narrative, there is a fantastic little section written by Jacqui Banaszynski, a Knight Chair Professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, that I may just have to print out and hang up on my bulletin board. She writes:

They say language makes us human. That notion is being challenged as we discover that apes have language. Whales have language. I welcome them into our fold. I’m not threatened by them, quite frankly, because I think that stories make us human. Only by telling them do we stay so.

Stories are our prayers. Write and edit them with due reverence, even when the stories themselves are irreverent.

Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning, so each tale stands in for a larger message, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.

Stories are history. Write and edit and tell yours with accuracy and understanding and context and with unwavering devotion to the truth.

Stories are music. Write and edit and tell yours with pace and rhythm and flow. Throw in the dips and twirls that make them exciting but stay true to the core beat. Readers hear stories with their inner ear.

Stories are our soul. Write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters. It matters that you do it as if that’s all there is.


Storytelling is as old as time. Culture, history, rituals…they all rely on storytelling to survive. They are what connects us.

I look forward to reading the rest of this book but I can already tell I’m going to buy this one so I can highlight the heck out of it.

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  1. Sorry I’ve been so absent lately. I read through your last five posts and enjoyed thoroughly (esp. the conversation about book reviews and book recommendations. Such a sticky situation!).

    This book looks fabulous, Hallie. The quotes you pulled out are inspiring and such a good reminder of the place of storytelling in our lives. (Congrats also on your big freelance article gig. Patience is a virtue)!

    And, re: the five-flavors blog, I agree with the rest: I love your blog and its variety. Keep up the good work, woman!

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    • Hey, I’ve been absent myself on yours! Summer has not been very laid back but kids’ sports are over until August except for a weeklong baseball tournament in Denver coming up. Thanks for all of the thoughts and comments! You know I always value your ideas! xo

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, Hallie. It’s an excellent excerpt from what sounds like a great book on writing. The quote reminds me of one of my favorites, Robert McKee’s STORY, though it’s less of non-fiction and more on fiction and screenwriting.

    Thanks for sharing, Hallie. Write on!

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  3. I’ll definitely need to check this one out — I love writing nonfiction, and this looks like it would have really helpful information. Thanks!

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