There is a storyteller hiding in many of us. This skill often doesn't see the light of day as we tend to keep such hidden traits concealed. We often view the past as uninteresting for children and even adults. That was my impression from historic exhibitions that spoke of times before our modern era. Today, I believe people in the past spiced up their life through storytelling. When we think about life thousands of years ago, we can imagine families gathering around the fireplace, sharing stories late into the night. And stories would be told. By the grandma about her earlier life and wisdom. By the father, how they with their skill, could hunt down the deer they feasted on earlier. By the mother, that told about how she struggled to avoid some suspicious looking men passing by, while picking mushrooms. And as it was close to the bedtime, stories about mysteries and events long ago teased the children's minds and ignited some imaginative dreams later while asleep.


Consider the brilliance of storytelling: it requires no light, just bonding together by a warm fireplace. You can convey knowledge to the next generation, empowering children by enhancing their intelligence and skills. Furthermore, it raises the social skills within them and prepares them for an adult life where reading other people and understanding their point of view is important. Reading books is vital for academic success. But that doesn't mean we should only rely on reading. It can also include spoken words. Like many inherent traits, storytelling has likely been with us for millennia and enables the genetic game of life. As it is also beneficial for us humans. There are likely genes for enabling these features. Hence, there is probably a variation in our ability and willingness to explore storytelling. However, I think that these skills are much more widespread than we might think and we all more or less can express this art if we try. Our social memory has simply more or less forgotten this art, that is still lingering in some cultures. One possible culprit is that we have so many genius writers and content creators today, whose work is easily accessible, that we don't pursue this path. We've also obviously lost role models in our family or near social context. People who could encourage us and show us the way. This might well have been my story - or non-story - in another universe.

Personal Experiences

My daughter never slept much from an early age. We had to work hard to put her to sleep at the right time. When something worked, like taking her with me in the night, in the woods. Walking with her embedded in a child harness and snug blanket. That worked a few times, but then somehow she got immune to the "treatment". This forced us to find something else to do. Maybe we should have let her stay awake longer. But what society told us about what was good for children made us continue our struggles.

One night I got an idea. Why not try to tell her a story when it's pitch dark? Could that help her fall asleep? One can't read without light. I wondered, is it difficult to use one's imagination? Then I remembered that my father had done just that when I was younger. I don't know when, but the image of that was stuck somewhere. It was not something fancy and I did not think I needed to reproduce those fantastic writers that we have around us. So I gave it a shot and she liked it. She really liked it. Sure it was not great "literature". And she did not fall asleep faster. But it was really cozy and she asked me the next day to continue. After this we grew together exploring the space of storytelling.

As with any human skill, we don't immediately master it; it requires inspiration to begin, and with time and effort, we can achieve higher levels of proficiency.

One little episode taken from my life can showcase a little how to take advantage of storytelling and create a little magic in life - outside bedtime.

It was a January in Sweden, my homeland. Despite our northern location, heavy snow is rare. This year, however, we had about a meter. I was home with my daughter and son, who was only a few years old. A friend of my daughter was with her and also some neighbor kids. It was a nice sunny day, below freezing temperature. At this time of year the sun is always low and the day starts to fade between 3pm and 4pm. It was one of those magical days where the snowscape could be taken from a Disney movie and invited us to go out and explore it. So why not? I packed hot dogs, juice, wood for a fire, matches, and a shovel.

We all bundled up in warm clothing, and I told the children that we would go on a small hike in the woods. After distributing things, I took my son on my shoulders and plowed a path through the snow up into the woods, which is located on the backside of the house. We forced our way through the white landscape, avoiding getting snow in the neck when it fell from the trees. We continued through this woodland winter saga, where sun flares jumped from crystal to crystal and danced around us, igniting sparks of beauty in our minds. We continued for about 500 meters until we got to a clearing. An open place with a grill area all surrounded by larger stone formations and magnificient pine trees that lend themselves for exploration, climbing and play. I let the children loose, and they immediately began sliding downhill on their backs where it was suitable. It was wonderful to watch how well the kids could take advantage of the area, knowing how to make the most of it, to play and have fun.

I dug out the place for the fire in the middle of the clearing, placed the wood and started the fire. I love how the clothes smell of smoke when we get home from these events, from being outdoors. Where we enjoyed life around a fire. Anyhow, as the day continued, the fire turned into a slow glow, and I called for the children to start grilling. And then the usual dance: where one needs to avoid too much smoke, with food that drops off the grill stick and needed to be rescued, some kid who wanted help. In the end, we ended up with a still, and contemplatable moment, and my daughter asked me to tell a story. Storytelling has given us so much joy in life and sometimes we even experienced something magical, so why not.

Yes, there were no books to read from and I didn't think of using my phone. I reached instead for a more primitive version and used my own imagination. The details today are not that vivid but I looked around me and let the wood and features in the surroundings inspire the story about some creatures that lived in the woods, "barkvättar" - simply a small mythological creature that lives in piles of bark (vätte).

The children sensed the warmth from the fire and the voice of a father that filled the air. The last afternoon light and the fire glow was all reflected in the eyes of the children who seemed far away, chasing the story. A story that played with their imagination and created feelings that we all belonged to the moment. We all felt how the historical past entered our world. Like if we were at a stage in a theater, where the public sits in the pitch black surrounding. And we were all illuminated by eons of voices, that whispered its warmth; again. It might not have been the best and most imaginative story but as I come to understand it, made an impression on the children. Years later when my daughter met her friend again after they lost contact, she told her that she still remembered that moment, where she got to feel an ancient form of creativity - All around a warm fire place and learned about a new form of life.


To put the storytelling in a the current social context. A discussion about how it compares to other means of mediating stories and information follows:

  • Traditional vs Modern Storytelling, Storytelling is certainly thriving today, with the art being refined to ever higher standards. Modern technology has allowed us to access stories even while driving or exercising. Internet content in a myriad of forms are available on all platforms. But we often forget the magic that comes from a family member - sharing a story in person. If people just knew how little it takes to create some magic in a child's mind, through some naive storytelling by someone close, I think we would gain something significant back in life. As illustrated above, storytelling is a strong bonding force as there's a tangible connection, a raw, emotive link, when a family member crafts a tale specifically for you. The modern version enables us to enjoy stories in new form and enrich us in many ways. But we also loose something as these usually are temporally content that we loose sight of the second after we here or see it. Text based content, is a very important companion to storytelling as a book, or through a modern reader. It has the superiority that you can go back and forth quite easily - here a modern reader/blog could improve this ability and link out to an exploration and the text that is unmatched by a book like linking its content to an AI discussion about the text, or other resources that are just an HTTP address away. Anyway in today's social turmoil it has never been more important to supply textual contents and make sure people can appreciate and take advantage of text as this makes it easier to see through lies and weaknesses in arguments and discussions. Modern content like video, podcasts, sound books and so on has it place and makes it possible to enjoy stories and content in places where it was not possible before. It can still empower our imagination and also be a complementary tool when visual information has the highest potential to convey the message. There is also an artistic and creative feature in all these contents that are fresh and enjoyable. One important factor are that the video medium is very efficient to connect with a stranger than through a book. For good and for bad as this is a such a strong force that it can fool you to accept information that has little substance and the knowledge how to manipulate via video and also voice content is widespread.

  • Storytelling vs Reading, While reading to children has its own set of benefits, and certainly should be encouraged, there's an unparalleled magic in spontaneous storytelling. It's a dynamic dance between the teller, the listener, and the environment. The story adapts and evolves, influenced by the bark on the pine trees, the eyes of the animals in the wood that glimmers in the shadows, or the curious questions from young listeners. This form of storytelling, steeped in adaptability and interactivity, forges bonds stronger than any pre-written narrative can, as it’s a unique creation of shared imagination and experience. With storytelling there is an enforcement of creativity in the process to mold a story together and shape it. Children love to come back to the store and characters and paint it in new colors. A book is fixed in its content. The mutual creative process probably means enhances the intelligence and ability to be active in ones life. I also envision the bonding as a bit stronger. However a mix of both reading and storytelling is probably the best. Usually your child's favorite book will come to life again later when you together invent a new version of it. And you as a storyteller may take up new words and techniques and ideas how to tell a story.

  • AI and Storytelling, Interestingly, the newly developed AI offers a different approach to storytelling. It is adaptive, allowing children to co-create stories with their parents. One can instruct the AI with ones own sentences; how one wants the story to unfold; what it should contain; and what style it should be in. Then one ask for the AI to generate a story and it is actually amazing how state of the art AI can create stories. This can certainly complement pure old storytelling in interesting ways. However, I would argue that we should still try the spell of our own imagination. There are pros and cons:

    • Pros, Playing it well, perhaps learn from how the AI tell stories; you can start exploring yourself. And then in a reinforced loop also guide the AI in a way that makes you the author and also the magician in life that summons the pictures and feelings the child experiences while listening. In my experience, the child will sense and love you for what you try to do with your own imagination and it really is a strong bonding force.
    • Cons, The general risk with AI is that it might overshadow the essence of being human, our creativity. Especially if none of our skills are required anymore. Your child, in the worst case, will not admire you, but instead, the phone/tablet/computer becomes the beacon of joy in life. In the short term the AI is not as skillful as humans, and there is usually something that is lacking in the stories, like personal touch and correct emotion. Also, the strong emotive connection to her memories of a human told story is hard to match. It's also hard to adapt an AI story as it goes while telling it. Finally we always have our brain with us. Needing to fumble with the phone or tablet can be clumsy and it is not as easy to capture the moment.


Today's media often drown out our voices. By merely consuming, we risk losing our ability to communicate and risk feelings of loneliness. Our voices reinforce the bond we have with each other; let feelings, like love and affection loose and lift us. Storytelling and reading out loud for each other is one ingredient that can help us navigate this world and stay afloat. As I tried to show in the personal note, how storytelling is a tool in your toolbox to create a strong bonding and captivating moment with people you hold dear; and you always have this tool with you. Also, as a personal note, my own storytelling shaped me from a shy teenager to a person that could, spread some joy through simple stories about life and experiences while we have the famous Swedish fika; it is not only dragons and magicians that are summoned in a good story, life itself is also richly conveyed through that lens. I believe that many feel that something is lacking in today's society. We are still hunters and gatherers where storytelling thrived, perhaps if we could bring back some of that, to our modern life, we would grow as humans and feel more satisfied with it. Finally, as many likely have this ability to tell stories: Try it out, lay down in darkness with your child and start light up the minds with your own words. Trust me, it is very rewarding.

Further reading

  • The Moth - A non-profit group dedicated to the craft and art of storytelling. Their site and podcast feature true, personal stories told live without notes.

  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - Harari delves into the role of shared stories and myths in human societies and how they shape civilizations. Connects to the idea that this has been a thriving feature of our life in historic times and before.

  • The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim - An exploration into why we tell fairy tales and their psychological importance, especially for children; This connects well to the narrative in the text and also my personal reflections on how storytelling has impacted my own life.

  • TED Talks - TED often has speakers who delve into the art, science, and importance of storytelling.

  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King - While this is a book about writing, King often touches upon the essence of storytelling and its impact.

  • Search for "Storytelling for Social Change" and you will find a lot of interesting ideas how storytelling can impact the society in a positive direction. I touch on this briefly in this text which is more focused on the impact on the family.