The Evolution of Storytelling

Storytelling is one of the oldest and most important art forms known to humankind. Societies have formed, communicated, and become immortal through this art form. Value systems, lifestyles, and cultures have been preserved or have changed with time because of the distinct stories that emerged in various human settlements. As stories were told from one individual to the next and passed on from one generation to the next, they traveled through regions. They became sources of information and cultural exchange.

The Evolution of Storytelling Timeline

Trust me, this timeline is as interesting as the stories themselves!

The Evolution of Storytelling Timeline

Folk Tales, Myths, and Epics

  • Storytelling originates with cave paintings on walls showing early humans interacting with animals.
  • It was followed by oral storytelling, which became folklore. These stories were based on myths of origin that were subjective to a particular town, village, settlement, etc. They were recited as ballads. Deities were praised through prayer.
  • This gave rise to the epics. Epics were narrated in the form of verses. As writing developed and manuscripts of stories started being created, religious writings started increasing. They were read as the words of God.
  • The epic tradition that commemorated local heroes was upheld in written texts. The Iliad and the Odyssey are great Greek epic poems written by Homer.
  • In India, the Vedas started being compiled. They had stories of Gods, creation, and the duty of humans on earth.

Pillars and Carvings

  • As civilizations evolved, kings had people carve writings on stone pillars and rocks to preserve their sermons.
  • Some of the carved writings were personal stories of these kings, including details of their wealth and the boundaries of their kingdoms.
  • The people of the town which contained the pillars and rock carvings could read their king’s achievements and idolize him. Tablets and scrolls were also made with stories written on them.

Education and Patronage

  • Stories were a good method of educating people morally and spiritually. Who wouldn’t like to become knowledgeable by reading stories?
  • However, since these stories were handwritten, the copies of stories were few and hence, precious. The knowledge of words and literature was restricted to a few elite members of the society, mainly the clergy and the aristocrats.
  • The rich members of the court started patronizing poets, writers, and storytellers. They paid them to write their own stories and include their philosophies and beliefs.

Travel and Trade

  • With the rise of merchants, trade, and travel by sea across borders, manuscripts traveled from one country to another. This created a global exchange of stories; people became aware of distant lands, their history, and their culture.
  • They realized that though the Gods they worshipped were different, their myths were similar with respect to their teachings and philosophies of life. The stories revolved around conflict resolution and ethical conduct. Though characters changed, the substance was maintained.
  • In the course of time, scrolls were replaced by books. Romanticism, particularly courtly romances, became popular.


  • Theatre developed as a cornerstone in the history of storytelling. Plays based on myths and certain human characteristics were written in various languages and performed for an audience.
  • They included rich dialogues, dances, songs, and narration. They enthralled a story-loving audience.

Stories of Bravery and Colonization

  • With the invention of the printing press, more and more copies of books started being published. The price of production decreased, making books easily available.
  • With the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Science and Development began. ‘Progress’ of humankind began. Journalism- another form of storytelling—emerged shortly after, paving the way for novels.
  • Novels have continued to be an important form of storytelling ever since the late Middle Ages. They benefited from the colonizing mission of the Europeans by telling stories of sailors abandoned on an island and adventurous British who discovered new continents.
  • Scientific papers on discoveries told a different story of the natives in various European colonies.
  • Authorship became a rewarding profession. Criticism (of the government-monarchy, mostly) through stories started developing as well.
  • Stories continued to be told in the form of poems, short stories, articles, and novellas, along with full-fledged novels. Sacrifices made by soldiers, seamen, and scientists represented a common theme.

Editing Stories

  • Editing emerged as an important profession alongside writing stories in the form of books and articles. It helped writers convey their stories in the most effective way, with the help of necessary words.
  • Long repetitive descriptions were cut short and made into concise paragraphs. Editing started being used to increase a story’s precision and finesse.
  • Instead of having a single author’s expertise, a book contains the brilliance of two equally important minds. Two perspectives were involved, one shaping the other.
  • The partnership of an author and editor became important for the readability of a book. All kinds of texts- stories, novels, articles, novellas, and papers needed editing and proofreading to improve their quality.

Modern Storytelling through Movies

  • Pictures tell stories visually. The invention of motion pictures was a revolutionary step in storytelling.
  • Stories started being told through various moving images on a screen. Audiences were able to escape their mundane lives in these stories, just as they did in novels.
  • As cinema developed to include sound and colour, it started replacing theatre as a form of storytelling.
  • Editors were needed to make good-quality films. This form of storytelling was capable of shocking audiences and still making them want more.
  • Stories continued to have cultural undertones that could be seen by an experienced eye. TVs started playing stories in households.

Digital Storytelling

  • The internet was an important step for humankind. It made the world a smaller place. As for storytelling, it meant newer avenues—putting out diverse content on various websites in the form of blogs for a global audience.
  • Digital storytelling is shaping the minds of the 21st century. It has become an irreplaceable mode of telling stories anywhere and at any time.
  • The focus is back on visual storytelling. WhatsApp and Instagram have stories like a montage of pictures, songs, and captions.
  • With a surge in gaming among young adults, digital stories have started revolving around games. Stories by Blank Marks are worth reading when it comes to Dungeons and Dragons and other games.

To Sum Up

As technology progressed, so did the forms in which stories were told. Haven’t we truly evolved from the pictures on cave walls to digital stories on different websites and social media handles? However, interest in reading, listening, and watching stories continued despite changes in the content of the stories. The themes developed with time, influenced by contemporary events. The evolution of storytelling over the centuries makes me look forward to the future!

-Masha Evans


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