Monday, February 10, 2020

At What Age Does Storytelling Begin?

Annamaria on Monday

Here's my question to you, my blogmates and writer friends:  How old were you when you knew you were a story teller?  When did you first know you wanted to write stories?

I have asked this question of scores of published novelists and short story authors.  Maybe one in twenty answered with a number over 15.  Almost every person I have asked has given an answer between five and twelve years old.  That is, they began to write stories pretty much as soon as they learned to write sentences. 

Some minor league research on this topic tells me that even before they can write them, for the most part, small children, beginning as early as three, can tell a story, a real story.  A simple one, to be sure.  But one that has a narrative thrust, even a problem to be solved, and an emotional payoff.  At what age children develop these skills varies from culture to culture, but every culture has stories.  And every culture, somehow, develops its storytellers, the people who tell their fellows of like background what it means to be them.

Okay.  So just about every three year old may be able to tell some sort of story.  But how does that inclination develop into what, for most of us novelists, begins to feel like a calling and evolves into a compulsion?

Recent research points to a genetic link to creativity.  Environment also plays a part, certainly. But a quick Internet search will lead you to many articles and papers on how creativity is also in the blood.

And for some of us, that creativity expresses itself in stories.

For me it feels as if writing stories came down to me with my hair and eye colors and the shape of my little toes.  This much I know for sure:  My father wrote stories.  I never knew that he did until close to his death.  I have a box full of his tales, fictionalized versions of his own life, written out in his careful hand on yellow foolscap.   He did this though he grew up in a house without books, the son of an illiterate mother, and never got a regular education past the fourth grade.  Two of my three brothers also grew up to write stories.  I knew I wanted to be novelist when I was nine.  One of my granddaughters, the summer she turned twelve, wrote a novella - the story of Macbeth from Lady Macbeth's point of view.  It looks to me as if this impulse came to all of us with our bone marrow.

From time to time, when asked about my path to publication (usually in a library appearance), I have recounted the ten years from the time my first novel was finished to the day it was published.  Several times, people have then asked me how I kept going.  "Why didn't you give up?" they wanted to know.  My answer to that question usually goes like this.  "If you held a gun to my head and said, 'I will kill you if you ever write another sentence of fiction.' I would say, 'Shoot me now.'"

I have had a number of much better paying jobs, demanding and satisfying ones.  But the job I have now is the only one that feels essential to who I am.  I could not stop doing it to save my life.

 So how about you, my story telling friends?  How old were you when you became an inveterate storyteller?


  1. Very interesting, Annamaria. Thinking back, I recall writing school essays that were actually stories. I was in secondary school and drove the teacher mad, but I may have written things before that.
    Recently I discovered an old science fiction story that I'd written at university. I remember I'd written it, but I didn't remember that I'd written it with somebody else. Collaborative writing also in the genes?

  2. Thanks for you input, Michael. Driving teachers mad seems to be a specialty of creative students everywhere!
    That collaborative writing might also be genetic is an intriguing thought. I only know one other writing duo—the fabulous Caroline and Charles Todd, but in their case, I imagine that they started making up stories together just about the time Caroline taught Charles to talk!

  3. I was born an invertebrate story teller. But that's far better than being a spineless politician.

    1. Yes it it!! You get admiration and affection. They—it is the dearest wish of my heart—will spend eternity in the -9.5 level of the Inferno! Traitors!!

  4. I wonder when Donald Trump first started telling stories...

  5. At the risk of a nasty backlash, Michael, I will tell you what I really think. He started making up stories as a toddler—like most people. His doting parents pretended to believe his fictions, resulting in his thinking he could always pass off anything he said as the truth. And he, therefore, never matured beyond a toddler’s character structure. There, I have said it and I stand by it.

  6. I don't remember when I first started writing down stories, but my earliest memories are of lying in my bed at night, saying my prayers, and drifting off to sleep making up stories in my head. Two of those three habits remain to this day.