The Art of Storytelling

3 Units
Instructor: Jonah Willihnganz

We live by and through stories: family stories, national stories, stories of personal transformation and spiritual revelation. Stories are the medium of our lives, a vehicle for changing our lives, and thus understanding how they work and how to use them gives us enormous power, as almost any artist, politician, or executive will tell you. In this course we investigate a variety of storytelling forms to build a repertoire of tools for telling the stories that are important to us, whatever form they take—oral, textual, visual, sonic, or some combination thereof.

We will begin with what is arguably still the most common and influential form of narrative, oral storytelling. We listen to segments of Homer’s Odyssey, WPA oral histories from the 1930’s, and public radio’s This American Life, discussing what the fields of rhetoric, linguistics, and neuroscience have revealed about both the nature of narrative and our experience of it in oral form.

We will then look at forms of textual narrative, especially modern fiction and memoir, identifying the principal features that distinguish textual storytelling. Next, we turn to visual storytelling by exploring the “grammar” of forms such as the photo essay, text-less cartoon, and silent film, comparing their strategies to oral and textual forms. In the second part of the course we will turn to forms that combine the oral, textual, and visual—the feature film, the graphic novel, and video games.