But wouldn’t it be simpler, a more efficient use of time to just…tell them? Why waste time with a drawn-out story? Just say “Hey, don’t go into the forest alone” or “Leave some bread by the hearth.”
Stories not only give context, the “why” behind a lesson, but they also present the information in such a way that the listener will be more likely to internalize what you are trying to teach.
How? Stories pull on our emotions. They make us feel something in a way that a boring list of facts doesn’t.
Think about your childhood memories…the ones you remember, not the ones you learned from parents and other relatives.
Chances are, most of those memories are punctuated by some sort of emotion, whether it is the feeling of joy at meeting your first pet (mine was a puppy named Basil), or sorrow and apprehension when you first moved away from your hometown. These are memories that you will never forget, because they are part of your personal story, and they spark within you a powerful emotion.
Stories do the same thing. A story aims to make you feel something. Pull you in, entice you to become part of the tale and provide you with an experience as opposed to simply presenting you with a list of things to remember. Lists have no soul. No heart. A story does. It creates connections to our existing memories and bits of understanding and roots itself into our consciousness.
What’s more, stories cement themselves into our minds by triggering areas of your brain that typically only fire when you yourself are experiencing something. That means that if you are reading a description of a delicious smelling pastry or someone kicking a ball, those parts of your brain connected to smell and muscle movement will actually activate in a sort of neurologically-induced empathetic reaction.
You can read plenty of other articles and studies about this…like this one!
This means that a story like Hansel and Gretel, which connects to emotions and the feeling of fleeing from an evil witch, will be a much better way to teach children not to go into the forest alone. And the seemingly odd custom of leaving bread and milk by the hearth is now given meaning when linked to stories of fairies.
It is also reasonable to assume that stories we create ourselves, whether through writing or in a D&D game, will leave an even stronger imprint in our memories compared to a story we experience passively! So when you are crafting a story or an adventure, think about what you want your audience (or D&D players) to feel and remember. Remember: you are doing more than simply telling a story. You are weaving an experience that they will carry with them long after the story ends…
…if a story ever truly ends 🙂