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Story Telling Animal: Best Excerpts And Advice

Why are we so enthralled by stories? What is it about stories that can completely influence our way of life and our behaviours? What makes us, after watching a good movie, to want to be the protagonist and behave like him?
These are some of the questions that Jonathan Gottschall explores in his book “The Storytelling Animal” and tries to go as deep as he can to show us that our lives are basically one big story and how this fact differentiates us from the other creatures.

Recommended as one the few books to read if you want to become a storyteller, abit difficult to read in the beggining but well worth it. If nothing at the end you’d have at least read a book.

Below are 20 short takeaways that seem to summarize what the author wants to say in his book.

Beware though,

the takeaways are actual excerpts of the book. The reason being I wanted to keep the genuine meaning and feel and voice of the author and avoid smudging it with my own personal biased interpretation. The closer the information is to it’s source the better. If you want more, then I suggest you read the book; it’s about 200 pages.

What can you do with the excerpts?
Tweet them, instagram them in a beautifully looking picture, or just think about them. The choise is completely yours. I’ve also marked the ones that I like the most in red.

If you want to see how a good story moves people together, go to a movie theater, sit in the first row and observe the people behind you. If the movie is good, the people will respond to it like a single organism. They will flinch together, gasp together, roar with laughter together, choke up together. A film takes a motley association of strangers and syncs them up. It choreographs how they feel and what they think, how fast their hearts beat, how hard they breathe, and how much they perspire. A film melds minds. It imposes emotional and psychic unity. Until the lights come up and the credits roll, a film makes people one.

The ancient effect of story on people and society. Story, in other words, continues to fulfill its ancient function of binding society by reinforcing a set of common values and strengthening the ties of common culture. Story enculturates the youth. It defines the people. It tells us what is laudable and what is contemptible. It subtly and constantly encourages us to be decent instead of decadent. Story is the grease and glue of society: by encouraging us to behave well, story reduces social friction while uniting people around common values. Story homogenizes us; it makes us one.

On stories in dreams. Consciousness is altered in dreams but not extinguished. We just have a limited ability to remember the adventures we consciously experience throughout the night.

On stories in wrestling and sports. Pro wrestling is pure fiction, but it only exaggerates what we find in legitimate sports broadcasting, where an announcer—a skilled narrative shaper—tries to elevate a game to the level of high drama. Olympic coverage, for example, is thick with saccharine docudramas about the athletes’ struggles. So when the starting gun finally sounds, we are able to root for the competitors as struggling heroes in an epic battle—we are able to feel more fully the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

A quick question to ponder upon – Throw your mind back into the mists of prehistory. Imagine that there are just two human tribes living side by side in some African valley. They are competing for the same finite resources: one tribe will gradually die off, and the other will inherit the earth. One tribe is called the Practical People and one is called the Story People. The tribes are equal in every way, except in the ways indicated by their names. Who will win?

On fiction: Fiction is an ancient virtual reality technology that specializes in simulating human problems.

On the stickiness of movies. Movies feel so authentic to us because they mirror neurons in our brains that re-create for us the distress we see on the screen. We have empathy for the fictional characters—we know how they’re feeling—because we literally experience the same feelings ourselves. And when we watch the movie stars kiss on screen? Some of the cells firing in our brain are the same ones that fire when we kiss our lovers.

Stephen King on drugs and creativity. In his memoir, Stephen King writes that he is skeptical of the “myth” associating substance abuse and literary creativity. Yet before getting sober, King drank a case of beer a day and wrote The Tommy knockers with cotton swabs stuffed up his nose to “stem the coke-induced bleeding.” At his intervention, King’s wife dumped his office trash can on the floor. The contents included “beer cans, cigarette butts, cocaine in gram bottles and cocaine in plastic Baggies, coke spoons caked with snot and blood, Valium, Xanax, bottles of Robitussin cough syrup and NyQuil cold medicine, even bottles of mouthwash.


On split brains – A scientist cut a tissue connecting the left and right brain to see whether the left and right brain would be able to communicate afterwards. The left brain being in charge talking and other similar functions and the right brain being in charge of nonverbal and spatial tasks.

  1. In one experiment, Gazzaniga and his colleagues showed a chicken claw to a split-brain subject’s left brain and a snowy scene to his right brain. They then asked the subject to select from an array of pictures lined up in front of him. Again, due to the odd way the brain is wired, the right side of the human body is predominantly controlled by the left brain and the left side by the right brain. With the right hand, the subject chose a picture of a chicken (because the side of the brain that controls that hand had seen a chicken claw). With the left hand, the subject chose a picture of a snow shovel (because the side of the brain controlling that hand had seen a snowy scene)
  2. The split-brain subject was then asked why he chose those two images. The first part of the subject’s response made perfect sense: “I chose the chicken, because you showed me a picture of a chicken”. The subject was able to respond correctly because the image of the chicken claw had been fed to the left hemisphere, which is the verbal side of the brain. But the right side of the brain is mute. So when the subject was asked, “Why did you choose the shovel?” he was not able to give the correct response: “Because you showed me a picture of a snowy scene. Gazzaniga and his colleagues varied these studies in all sorts of clever ways. When they fed a split-brain subject’s right hemisphere a funny image, the subject would laugh. A researcher would then ask, “Why are you laughing?” The subject’s left brain, which was responsible for answering the question, had absolutely no idea. It was not in on the joke. But that didn’t stop the left brain from inventing an explanation. The subject might claim that he had just remembered a funny incident. In another study, a subject’s right brain was flashed an image of the word “walk.” The subject stood up obediently and started walking across the room. When a researcher asked where the man was going, he spontaneously fabricated—and believed—a story about being thirsty and wanting a Coke.

The genius left brain and his ability to create stories based on lies and illusions just to convince himself. The left brain is a classic know-it-all; when it doesn’t know the answer to a question, it can’t bear to admit it. The left brain is a relentless explainer, and it would rather fabricate a story than leave something unexplained. Even in split-brain subjects, who are working with one-half of their brains tied behind their backs, these fabrications are so cunning that they are hard to detect except under laboratory conditions

Enter Sherlock Holmes. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrait, Holmes is a genius of criminal investigation, a Newton of the new science of criminology. Holmes has a spooky ability to look at a certain outcome—a corpse, a smattering of clues—and see the whole rich story that led up
The novel begins by introducing the narrator, (“my dear”) Watson—who is not so much a character as a literary device—whose job it is to highlight Holmes’s brilliance through his own conventionality. Watson first meets Holmes in a smoky chemistry lab, where the genius is perfecting new forensic techniques. Holmes—tall, lithe, haughty—turns to Watson and shakes his hand. And then, for the first of a thousand times, the wizard blows Watson’s mind. He says, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive
Sherlock Holmes’s usual method is to fabricate the most confident and complete explanatory stories from the most ambiguous clues. Holmes seizes on one of a hundred different interpretations of a clue and arbitrarily insists that the interpretation is correct. This then becomes the basis for a multitude of similarly improbable interpretations that all add up to a neat, ingenious, and vanishingly improbable explanatory story
We each have a little Sherlock Holmes in our brain. His job is to “reason backwards” from what we can observe in the present and show what orderly series of causes led to particular effects. Evolution has given us an “inner Holmes” because the world really is full of stories (intrigues, plots, alliances, relationships of cause and effect), and it pays to detect them. The storytelling mind is a crucial evolutionary adaptation. It allows us to experience our lives as coherent, orderly, and meaningful.

Our mind is addicted to finding meaning – The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence. It is addicted to meaning. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t. In the same way that your mind sees an abstract pattern and resolves it into a face, your imagination sees a pattern of events and resolves it into a story.

On acceptability of fiction – Fiction drives home the message that violence is acceptable only under clearly defined circumstances—to protect the good and the weak from the bad and the strong.

Unreal immunity – Emotions and ideas in fiction are highly contagious, and people tend to overestimate their immunity to them.

Storytelling from a different perspectivePpl mix the powder (the medicine) of a message with the sugary jam of storytelling. People bolt down the sweet jam of storytelling and don’t even notice the under taste of the powder (whatever message the writer is communicating).

Important lesson about the molding power of story. When we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to leave us defenseless.

On memories and their flaws – Memories are often pruned and shaped by an ego-enhancing bias that blurs the edges of past events, softens culpability, and distorts what really happened. Put differently, we misremember the past in a way that allows us to maintain protagonist status in the stories of our own lives.

Psychotherapy. It helps unhappy people set their life stories straight; it literally gives them a story they can live with. A psychotherapist can therefore be seen as a kind of script doctor who helps patients revise their life stories so that they can play the role of protagonists again—suffering and flawed protagonists, to be sure, but protagonists who are moving toward the light.

A healthy mind tells itself flattering lies. And if it does not lie to itself, it is not healthy.

The importance of events and how they change history completely – Hitler is one of the few individuals of whom it can be said with absolute certainty: without him, the course of history would have been different. Historians have, therefore, speculated endlessly about whether the twentieth century might have taken a gentler turn if Hitler had been admitted to art school, or if he had not attended Rienzi that night in 1906 and gotten.

HUMANS ARE CREATURES of Neverland. Neverland is our evolutionary niche, our special habitat. We are attracted to Neverland because, on the whole, it is good for us. It nourishes our imaginations; it reinforces moral behavior; it gives us safe worlds to practice inside. Story is the glue of human social life—defining groups and holding them together. We live in Neverland because we can’t not live in Neverland. Neverland is our nature. We are the storytelling animal.




Creative Strategist. Owner of content production house BB Director, creative strategy studio viktori.co and nomadic travel blog Direktorium.org.Besides enjoying burgers, kickboxing, hiking, fishing and running, I enjoyed working with brands like Porsche, Flat-icons, Foodie Flashpacker, Drugwatcher and more.10 years of experience in creating strategies, ideas and implementing them. More than 10 years of experience eating burgers.

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