By Nicola Rakuljic
Storytelling is not confined to just books. Rather, it is the “activity of telling or writing stories” (OxfordDictionaries.com) and can therefore be utilised in a vast array of mediums: verbal, visual, written, and sometimes a mix of all of them. Today, we see stories everywhere as a mix of all of these mediums through movies, television shows and even visual novels.
What you may not know is that the vast majority of these stories, no matter the medium, have one of 7 main narrative archetypes that are utilised.
‘Overcoming the Monster’ is a popular trope where the hero must destroy a monster of some kind, regardless of whether it is a physical monster or a metaphorical monster, to restore balance to the world.
‘Rags to Riches’ is possibly the most common archetype where a modest and moral character achieves a happy ending when their natural talents are displayed to the world.
‘The Quest’ is when the hero travels in search of a priceless treasure and must defeat evil.
‘The Voyage and Return’ is when normal protagonists are suddenly thrust into a strange world and must make their way back to normal life.
Comedy involves “some kind of confusion that must be resolved before the hero and heroine can be united in love.”
Tragedy stories are usually self-evident, in which the story goal is not achieved and the hero doesn’t resolve inner conflict happily.
The last narrative archetype, Rebirth, is when the villain redeems themselves.
Some of your favourite ‘unique’ stories may not be so unique or ground-breaking after all.
[narrative archetypes sourced from https://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/7-story-archetypes-and-how-they-can-dramatically-improve-your-marketing]
These archetypes make overall storytelling a lot simpler to break down. However, when stories are told in different ways, they can take on completely different meanings.
Different Types of Storytelling
Verbal storytelling is when you tell a story to someone, and these stories heavily focus around vocal delivery; after all, the words you stress can change the whole meaning of the sentence. Take for example this sentence: I never said he stole my wallet. A weird sentence, but the meaning changes depending on which word you stress. Try it. I never said he stole my wallet. I never said he stole my wallet. I never said he stole my wallet. It works best when you say it out loud, and this technique is called contrastive stress.
Podcasts are an example of verbal storytelling: it all focuses on the way the words are said, not just what the words themselves are, and also tend to focus on emotive language. Here is a link to an article with 100 great podcasts to listen to if you’re interested: https://www.vulture.com/article/best-podcasts.html .
Visual storytelling is when a story is told through images and other visual media. Photography is a good example of this, as the well known quote is that pictures are worth a thousand words. Visual storytelling is most commonly used through comics, digital marketing, and so much more.
Written storytelling is when a story is told through written means; books, articles, blogs, and so on. This type of story telling focuses on stylistic techniques and language devices, which create an image of the story in your head without being entirely confining by telling you everything. Written stories provide insight into the character’s thoughts, especially when 1st person perspective is used.
There are so many examples of written storytelling; just pick up a book!
These mediums of storytelling can be used in conjunction with each other: for example, games can have movie clips, blending visual and verbal storytelling, and newspapers have images and text, a mix of visual and written storytelling. When used like this, these stories are enhanced, making the reader or viewer more engaged with the story.
One such example of the mixed medium of storytelling that I recently became interested in is Critical Role, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, livestreamed on Twitch. Now, yes, Dungeons and Dragons, D&D for short, is a tabletop game that grew in popularity in the late-1970s and 1980s, but it is still a good medium of storytelling. In D&D, you create a story with your friends, controlling only your character. You have no idea how it is going to turn out in the end, because almost everything is decided by what you roll on your dice. You roll to attack, you roll to defend, you roll to persuade people, convince people. Everything is based upon luck. Which means that D&D, in its essence, doesn’t have a set narrative archetype. The story may begin with the Overcoming the Monster archetype, but ultimately end as a Rebirth archetype, because the people you’re playing with desperately want to be friends with the villain.
The ongoing campaign of Critical Role has already seen this shift; they started out strangers, just wanting to make their way in the world, so it started as a Rags to Riches. They got a few jobs, and it became a Voyage and Return, and then it became Overcoming the Monster. However, they are now at Rebirth, as they’ve become allies with the enemies of their homelands.
This is just one example of a medium that shifts through the narrative archetypes whilst also blending storytelling mediums.
There are definitely many more examples of stories that blend different mediums together. Just remember, no one medium is better than another, regardless of what you may think when you’re sitting in English analysing another book. They each have their own assets, and different people are drawn to different mediums.