What is Storytelling?

StorytellingStorytelling, as Robert McKee succinctly tells us, is the creative demonstration of truth.

A story is the living proof of an idea, the conversion of idea to action. A story’s event structure is the means by which you first express, then probe your idea … without explanation.

The Moral Theme in Storytelling

This idea, I would further argue, must contain a moral premise – a guiding moral principle that traces the consequences of character actions in the story. We can also think of this as the theme of the story.

Think about the crime genre. What idea, or moral premise lies at its core? How about: Crime does not pay?

But how does the writer embed this theme? Hopefully not through trite and on-the-nose dialogue. Do not write:

“You see, Frank? I told you. Crime does not pay!”


Rather, show a character committing a crime, or crimes, then expose the consequences.

The television series, Breaking Bad is an example of powerful storytelling that exposes how crime, in this instance, manufacturing meth, draws in those directly involved to lie, betray and murder.

Additionally, great storytelling explores the theme or moral idea from several angles. The protagonist represents one angle. The antagonist another. The supporting cast of characters still more. The author’s judgment, arguably the defining angle, is revealed only at the end of the story when the theme is proved – when the protagonist, representing a specific moral idea, wins or loses the conflict to the antagonist.

In my novel, The Land Below, for example, the correctness or incorrectness of Paulie’s decision to leave his apparently safe existence in a converted underground mine, a decision which will result in his being banished from the community, can only be established at the end of the novel.

If things go well for Paulie and his followers, then the theme of the story might be: Courage, imagination and steadfastness lead to freedom. If things go badly, then the theme might be: daydreams and stubbornness lead to defeat.

As with all stories, the outcome can only be established at the end. It is only then that the reader can definitely say what the story has really been about.


Storytelling is the process of narrating events that prove a moral theme.

4 thoughts on “What is Storytelling?

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Great post very insightful. I agree that moral questions dictate genre in any story be it via book , stage play , film or television. Professor of myth and legends Josef Cambell explains that all forms of myth’s can be seen as metaphors for life. The outstanding example would be classic fairy tales. All the classics are timeless ( No matter if they are dark life action films or cartoon parodies ) because they pose a moral question. ( Red Riding hood = don’t talk to strangers, Rapunzel = Don’t isolate your child)

    Author Stephen King says ” write what you believe to be true”. Classic stories are the result of writers who take a personal world view , transform it into a moral question and produce something that’s universal.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Agreed, Gerhard. Yes, it’s the moral in the premise that helps to make the story universal.


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