Stories are selfish.

No, not shellfish. SELFISH!

If one thing is certain about life, it’s that each of us will only ever see it through our own eyes. Go to the ends of the earth, climb the highest mountain, take a rocket into orbit. It will still be you, your eyes, your ears, your hands and other senses, at the centre of every moment of your life.

Stories are great because they let us, for a little fragment of time, get some idea of what it is to be somebody else. A great novel, a powerful play or movie, a storyteller by a camp fire, can all transport us into another human experience. That’s why “storyteller” in any form is one of the highest callings. And also the hardest.

“It’s not just others stories help us become aware of. They’re the best route we have to our own self awareness.”

How do we take one human being and help them see through the eyes of another? Helping you to find answers to that question is the aim of the Rhetoric of Story. Stories aren’t just make believe, they mirror the fundamental way your mind makes sense of the world. It’s not an exaggeration to say that stories are the operating system of human consciousness. And if you know how that operating system works, you can use that knowledge to tell powerful, compelling stories.

We all tell a story about our world, and we put ourselves at the heart of that story. So to captivate an audience, every great story has a self at its core. The hero. The protagonist. The central character. The self is given many names. These are the eyes we see the story through, the ears we hear the tale with, the hands that hold the world. The self isn’t just IN the story. The self IS the story. And we experience the story through them.

With a strong self at the heart of our stories, we can take audiences on adventurous flights of fantasy like Star Wars, or into the vivid romance of Wuthering Heights. The greatest storytellers show us how stories themselves are selfish, twisted by the limits of our perception, leading to the flawed tragic heroes of Oedipus or Hamlet. It’s not just others stories help us become aware of. They’re the best route we have to our own self awareness.

Learn more about the Rhetoric of Story.

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Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.