The Open Road Still Softly Calls

Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven't forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. —Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

The call to adventure, for something new, for something exciting, for something else, calls to every one of us. The open road, the path less traveled, the starry sky above our heads, all of these things beckon to us, to our innateness as human beings. These calls to adventure are strong, lodged deep in mind, body, and soul, and great storytellers know how to pull at those strings, tug at those urges. Herman Melville once wrote, in Moby-Dick, "As for me I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I long to sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts." The storyteller, with their language, characterization, dialogue, and world-building, can rip readers from their seats, their mundane surroundings, and musings, into new worlds and universes.

Those who choose storytelling as their mode of expression, whether using traditional or newer media, have familiar tools, tools that would be surprising comfortable for everyone, including the novelist, the game designer, the interactive storyteller, and even the short story writer. The storyteller’s job is quite difficult to pull off correctly. In fact, if Alastair Reynolds is to be believed, most stories are failures. Most fail to take off; most fail to product what was expected of them, and few accomplish what the storyteller originally sought out to create. A great storyteller can adapt to the medium in which they are writing for, crafting something that is both believable and enjoyable. A great storyteller, whether working with traditional or newer media, knows that a good story is a hard-fought war: It is a balance between craft and art, between author dreams and publishing realities.

Storytellers can engage their audiences using tools familiar to even the least seasoned of storytellers. Telling a damned good story doesn’t require a fancy degree (I’m look at you, M.F.A.!), and it doesn’t require someone to be well-read, groomed by the muses to gift the world with stories. Hell, most of the greatest storytellers I know have hoed their craft through practice, receiving feedback from their audiences. A great storyteller is tuned into their audience, knowing when to strike at hearts and minds.

The finely tune storyteller knows that change, that a break from mundanity, is what creates a stir in their audiences. As Sagan once put it, “The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.” The open road, the change from the boring, everyday normal has a considerable tug in the hearts and minds of readers. Maybe it has to do with our species’ inclination to ramble, moving from place to place. Sedentary life hasn’t set well with many. We live in a time when mental health crises are becoming more and more pronounced. We live in an age where alienation, loneliness, and sense of purpose and connection are cheapened commodities, bought and sold to us in neat little packages, with very little meaning.

Storytelling’s call for adventure is more important now than ever before. Storytelling can connect us, truly connect us, to others. It also can break down boundaries and arbitrary dichotomies within our world, whether virtual or meatspace. Storytelling has the capacity to change people, but it also has the ability to remind us of our humanity, especially in times when our humanity is being stripped away from us and sold off wholesale.

The open road still softly calls, and it is our responsibility to sound the call to our audiences. It’s our duty to help those who are within eye- or earshot. That is the burden of storytelling. We can’t merely be entertaining. We have to be more, and we have an obligation to those who listen to, view, or engage with our storytelling artifacts.

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Gregory M. Rapp

Gregory M. Rapp

A writer of fiction and nonfiction, a blogger, an avid reader and writer, and gamer.
New Mexico