Defining The Art of Story Telling by Richard Steele


It is rather curious that while Steele named his essay The Art of Story-Telling he makes an incidental comment that story-telling is not an art but what we call a knack. If story –telling is not exactly an art, why does Steele call his essay The Art of Story-Telling? The point is that the word ‘art’ contains two meanings. First, it denotes a product of creative imagination, and in this sense a painting of Picasso is as much a work of art as a sonnet of Shakespeare. But the second meaning of the word denotes, according to Concise oxford Dictionary, ‘human skill as opposed to nature’. Steele sees the word ‘art’ in the title of his essay, keeping the first meaning of it in mind. But when he says, ‘story-telling is therefore not an art but what we call a knack’, he has recourse to the second meaning of the word. In fact, it is taken for granted that art is the manifestation of man’s innate power his genius; it follows that art is not opposed to nature, for genius it self is a gift of nature. However, by ‘knack’ steel means ‘genius’ which indicates that steel seeks to distinguish between nature (art) and nature (knack). According to him, story telling involves a faculty of nature; unless one is naturally gifted, one will not be cut a smart figure as a story teller.

Steele stars with the assumption that when a man looks creative imagination, he can not be a successful story teller. In this connection, he refers to Tom Lizard and his brother, Will the Templar. The former has the good fortune of having a ‘knack’ for story telling the result is that wherever he relates a story; he enlivens it with humour and dramatic charm and it is quite an essay job for him to entertain his listeners immensely. On the other hand his brother, will the Templar is, in no sense, a man of genius. The secret of success in impressing the listener is not known to him. Nevertheless, he goes to entertain people by telling a story. But as he stars his story, he only fumbles. To use Steele’s own words, “was in great pain for him when he heard him begin”.  The reality is that since the man is not naturally cut out for being a story teller, his attempt to please his friends by narrating stories goes in vain. So Steele illustrates the point that a story telling is not an art but a knack.

Though a genius alone is entitled to shine as a story teller, there are some salient features that characterize what may be called 'the art of story telling’. That is to say, even if a story teller is gifted with genius, he can’t function with out genius discipline. The method of good story telling is discussed category wise in the remaining part of Steele’s essay. First, story telling has something dramatic inherent in it. Hence the story can’t avoid conversation. Next, for the sake of economy, the narrative should not be obscure and quizzer. Next, the story teller can not do without giving appropriate of humour to his narrative. Besides, the story teller should move his limbs dramatically along with reflecting various impressions on his face according to the moods and sentiments of the character with which he identifies himself.

The second point is that the story teller should relate his expedition by extracting the essential and rejecting the redundant. He must throw light on the pleasing aspects of life, setting aside the disagreeable parts. In fact, the story teller must not be in duly serious and grave. Humour is the soul of good story telling. Thirdly, the story teller ought to avoid the practice of heavy digressions. Fourthly, the beginning of story is highly important. It must not indulge in long introduction. After all, obscurity is not what a story teller should prefer. Lastly, the story should end in normally, giving a Jerk of surprise to the listeners.   
  Ardhendu De    


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