Quotes on the benefits of storytelling

What writers and others say

“Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that to go on living I have to tell stories, that stories are the one sure way I know to touch the heart and change the world.”
— Dorothy Allison, American writer, speaker and member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers

“Facts tell, stories sell.”
— Anonymous

“We tell stories in order to feel at home in the universe.”
— Roger Bingham, British science communicator, writer, and public television producer and host

“We’re supposed to be tellers of tales as well as purveyors of facts. When we don’t live up to that responsibility, we don’t get read.”
— William Blundell, author of The Art and Craft of Feature Writing

“Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today to mourn the death of Story. As you may have heard, it’s kaput — or, at the very least, terminally ill, wracked by videogames, wikis, recaps, talkbacks, YouTube, ADD, and the rise of a multiplatform, multipolar, mashup-media culture. … Beginnings, middles, and ends are headed for the attic, next to the box marked VCR Rewinders/Beastmaster Franchise.”
— Scott Brown, author, in “Story Bored” for Wired magazine

“Stories … protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the 20th century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories — that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narrative-in many fields of knowledge-because it is impossible to live without them.”
— Bill Buford, nonfiction writer and former fiction editor at The New Yorker

“‘History’ is mostly ‘story.’”
— Ken Burns, whose 19 films have garnered him a Guggenheim Fellowship, three Peabody Awards and four Emmy Awards

“tick-tock: Moment-by-moment developments. … In journalism parlance, it’s a story that recounts minute-by-minute the breathless details of a single event.”

“Most journalism is written in reports or articles, not stories. The goal of reports is to impart information. The goal of stories is to impart experience. Reports use language that points you there. Stories use language that puts you there.”
— Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar, The Poynter Institute

“Reports convey information. Stories create experience. Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader, crossing boundaries of time, space, and imagination. The report points us there. The story puts us there.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute senior scholar, in Writing Tools

“Dogs sniff each other. Human beings tell stories. This is our native language.”
— Steve Denning, author, The Springboard

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
— Joan Didion, author, in The White Album

“To be a person is to have a story to tell.”
— Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), author of Out of Africa and other novels

“Anecdotal leads … are to storytelling what a stripteaser is to sex. An anecdotal lead excites, but the story never delivers what it promises.”
— Donald C. Drake, pioneering science and medical writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer

“Narrative is writing rather than just reporting. A reporter gathers information and regurgitates it — sometimes projectile-vomits it — into the computer. A writer arranges the information in a way that draws pictures, evokes tears, holds the reader’s attention. A good writer does this without emotional manipulation and forced phrasing, but like telling a story over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.”
— Suzy Fleming, features editor, Florida Today

“Narrative is a simple thing, at bottom: chronology with meaning.”
— Jon Franklin, who won the inaugural Pulitzer Prizes in two journalism categories as a science writer with the Baltimore Evening Sun

“Whenever you find yourself laughing at a situation or shaking your head or saying to someone, ‘Listen to this,’ you’ve probably got a story.”
— Ken Fuson, a reporter for The Des Moines Register

“Most journalism trades in stories so dull and familiar that it makes the world smaller and stupider than it really is.”
— Ira Glass, National Public Radio storyteller

“What have I learned from talking to all these famous people? That there’s a major story behind everyone.”
— Merv Griffin, talk-show host, game-show creator, entrepreneur, quoted in Esquire

The “human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”
— Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business

“Stories are what make us human. Opposable thumbs? Other animals have those. Ability to use tools? Ditto. Even language is not exclusive to human beings.”
— Andrew Hinton, information architect at The Understanding Group

“Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.”
— Alan Kay, Hewlett-Packard executive and co-founder of Xerox PARC

“Why was Solomon recognized as the wisest man in the world? Because he knew more stories than anyone else.”
— Alan Kay, vice president, Walt Disney Co.

“As a lonely kid growing up in poverty and in the shadow of a violent alcoholic father, I found peace in books. Storytellers became my heroes because they provided escape, because their characters made me feel less isolated, more connected with the human experience. … A storyteller finds order in the apparent chaos of life, and order is a light in the darkness.”
— Dean Koontz, bestselling author of The Husband

“The story — from Rumplestiltskin to War and Peace — is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
— Ursula Le Guin, American fantasy and science fiction author

“Story rather than datum is the basic unit of journalism.”
— Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University

“The internet has evolved a new species of magpie reader, gathering bright little buttons of knowledge, before hopping on to the next shiny thing.”
— Ben Macintyre, writer at large for The Times, in “The Internet is Killing Storytelling

“Although businesspeople are often suspicious of stories … the fact is that statistics are used to tell lies and damned lies, while accounting reports are often BS in a ball gown. … If a businessperson understands that his or her own mind naturally wants to frame experience in a story, the key to moving the audience is not to resist this impulse but to embrace it.”
— Robert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting

“The belly craves food, she thinks, the tongue craves water, the heart craves love, and the mind craves stories.”
— A character in David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

“Sprinkle relevant anecdotes through your stories like chocolate treats to entice the reader to keep reading. We have to work hard if we are to hook readers and keep them.”
— Daryl Moen, professor of journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and former editor of three daily newspapers

“Medicine, I said, begins with storytelling. Patients tell stories to describe illness; doctors tell stories to understand it. Science tells its own story to explain diseases. This story of one cancer’s genesis — of carcinogens causing mutations in internal genes, unleashing cascading pathways in cells that then cycle through mutation, selection, and survival — represents the most cogent outline we have of cancer’s birth.”
— Siddhartha Mukherjee, oncologist and author of The Emperor of All Maladies

“Maybe instead of strings it’s stories things are made of, an infinite number of tiny vibrating stories; once upon a time they all were part of one big giant superstory, except it got broken up into a jillion different pieces, that’s why no story on its own makes any sense, and so what you have to do in a life is try and weave it back together, my story into your story, our stories into all the other people’s we know, until you’ve got something that to God or whoever might look like a letter or even a whole word.”
— Paul Murray, author, in Skippy Dies

“Stories are the most powerful form of human communication.”
— Peg C. Neuhauser, author, Corporate Legends and Lore

“Most businesspeople describe their dreams and strategies — their stories — just as they’ve been doing it for decades: stiffly, from behind a podium, and maybe with a few slides. Call it Corporate Sominex.”
— Daniel H. Pink, business guru and writer, in “What’s Your Story?” Fast Company, January 1999

“What’s unsurprising today would have seemed preposterous just fifteen years ago: an English-speaking thirteen-year-old in Zaire who’s connected to the Internet can find the current temperature in Brussels or the closing price of IBM stock or the name of Winston Churchill’s second finance minister as quickly and easily as the head librarian at Cambridge University. When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”
— Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

“The lesson of preindustrial societies is storytelling. All our employees should be storytellers.”
— Anita Roddick, founder & CEO, The Body Shop

“The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
— Muriel Rukeyser, poet and social activist

“Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.”
— Roger C. Schank, cognitive scientist

“Narrative is the poetry that connects the numbers, the music to go with the math.”
— Casey Seiler, entertainment editor, Albany Times Union

“Stories are the way to capture the hopes, dreams and visions of a culture. They are true as much as data are true. The truth of the powerful and irresistible story illustrates in a way data can’t begin to capture. It’s the stories that make you understand.”
— Carl Sessions Stepp, professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

“Just mention two words — ‘good Samaritan’ — and everybody instantly gets the point. People remember the principle because they liked the story.”
— Tom Selsa, editor, Amoco Torch, quoted in Ragan’s Editor’s Workshop

“Just because we already knew the outcome doesn’t mean we wouldn’t enjoy reading a good yarn about it. But we wouldn’t be satisfied with a good yawn.”
— Art Spikol, president of Art Spikol Inc.

“Don’t tell too much. Don’t tell Exactly What Happened. Exercise a little discretion; decide what’s necessary and what isn’t. The sign of a good researcher, some might say, is getting all the facts, but the sign of a good writer is selecting only the ones that are going to help the piece.”
— Art Spikol, president of Art Spikol Inc.

“A good storyteller knows how to get attention, inject a little suspense, exhibit a little of his character’s character, and dangle a carrot. On paper, at least.”
“The facts are not enough. They never are.”
— Art Spikol, president of Art Spikol Inc.

“Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend on it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. …  Most of our experience, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories.”
— Mark Turner, cognitive scientist and author of The Literary Mind

“I like a good story well told. That’s the reason I’m sometimes forced to tell them myself.”
— Mark Twain, American writer and wit

“Great leaders — religious, political or business — realize [the power of stories] and are good storytellers. Jesus spoke in parables. Krishna and Rama came to life through the stories they told. The Torah, Judaism’s founding legal and ethical religious text, the first five books of the Old Testament, is not a boring list of rules but a set of moral lessons and commandments intertwined with a wealth of life stories.”
— Sangeeth Varghese, founder of LeadCap, a leadership organization in India, and author of Decide to Lead

“Many top executives, trained at conventional business schools, eschew storytelling and stick to a tight-jacketed professional approach. They lay out their vision, goals and results using data points, graphs, Excel sheets and PowerPoint slides. They transform the boardroom into a bored room.”
— Sangeeth Varghese, founder of LeadCap, a leadership organization in India, and author of Decide to Lead

“[S]torytelling can be the most powerful way for a chief executive to sketch a vision and align people behind it.”
— Sangeeth Varghese, founder of LeadCap, a leadership organization in India, and author of Decide to Lead

“Explanatory talk and statistics appeal to the intellect, but people aren’t inspired by reason alone. Compelling stories convey loads of information while also appealing to our emotions, ensuring that we not only listen, but get engaged and inspired.”
— Sangeeth Varghese, founder of LeadCap, a leadership organization in India, and author of Decide to Lead

“God made man because He loves stories.”
— Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Peace Prize-winner

“If you pick up a can of soda, your brain goes through a whole cascade of processes having to do with the motor commands to your arms. What it looks like to grab the soda can, what it feels like in your hand and arms…. And what we found is that as people are lying in the scanner reading about picking up a can of soda …, their brain processes differ in ways that are similar to the differences that we see in responses to real experiences.”
— Jeffrey Zacks, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis

“When they’re reading the story, they’re building simulations in their head of events that are described by the story. And so, there’s an important sense that as they build that simulation that it’s significantly like being there.”
— Jeffrey Zacks, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis

“We’re used to thinking that virtual reality is something that involves fancy computers and helmets and gadgets. But what these kind of data suggest is that language itself is a powerful form of virtual reality, that there’s an important sense in which when we tell each other stories that we can control the perceptional processes that are happening in each other’s brains.”
— Jeffrey Zacks, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis
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    It's “the most powerful form of human communication,” according to Peg Neuhauser, author of Corporate Legends and Lore.

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