Making a storyteller

I recall vividly my first lecture at university, the beginning of a 3 year long course where nothing would be drilled into me further than the importance of storytelling, where we were told that,

“Storytelling is intrinsically human, there is nothing we are more driven to do than tell stories.”

“Think about it. Each time someone asks about your day and you tell them? That is storytelling. Or when you explain how you met your best friend or significant other? You guessed it, storytelling. Or when you read the news, you bet that’s storytelling!”

But the story that’s really hooked me this week is the current Netflix phenomenon, ‘Making a Murderer’. Now that is sparking storytelling. Many have told the story of missing evidence not presented, many have told the story of their own emotions while watching the series, many a news reporter has told their accounts and told and retold the story of the trial and of ‘what happened that day’.
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Another thing that is intrinsically human is our curiosity and nothing sparks that more than a crime. As humans, as morbid as it may be, we love a crime. And to make a story from a crime is simple. Who, what, why, when, where? These are all questions we ask when a crime has been committed and they’re also the same questions we ask when telling or hearing a story. So, combine the two and that’s how Netflix have struck gold with the series. We also love an underdog, I’m not sure why that is but a lot of us like to root for the little guy.

Every part of the story told plays on the things that engage us as humans, it appeals to our sense of morbid curiosity, our joy for being ‘sofa detectives’ and our ability to be completely taken in by a good story. And that is exactly why, I believe, the show has taken off and why Steven Avery’s January request for an appeal has been more successful.

But what’s interesting, and what has been criticised, is the way they’re telling that story. It’s, seemingly, one sided. ‘Portraying’ Steven Avery as an innocent man. Now say what you will but is that not the point of being a defence attorney? To tell the story from their side, to portray the evidence that could inspire ‘reasonable doubt’, which is all that is needed for a jury to (in theory) conclude not guilty. The show is clearly in a position of defence, they are clearly appealing for people to see the ‘reasonable doubt’ because their story isn’t every single fact with no bias, that would be boring, long-winded and, honestly, nowhere near as compelling a story.

Whether you think that is right or wrong what you cannot deny is that they absolutely know the story they want to tell, they know how to sweep the audience up and they know how to get their point across. They are successful storytellers. And this could be the very reason that, perhaps, Avery could see a retrial soon, despite previous failed attempts. And, perhaps, could result in his freedom. It’s maybe too early and too presumptuous to argue that but I think the power of the series has made many people interested in the case and root for his freedom, which is a powerful thing indeed.

And let’s not forget that it was the story told by the prosecution that got him in prison to begin with because a conviction is based on the trial, the story told by Kratz was clearly incredibly powerful too for the jury to convict despite, my belief, that reasonable doubt was present.

So, when told well, a story can change lives.



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