Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator


Tips for Storytelling

Let's talk about storytelling this time. When you stop to think about it, everyone is a storyteller. Every time you open your mouth to tell someone about a book you read, movie you saw, something you did or witnessed - you're telling a story. But storytelling is more than just saying words - it's the way you say the words that counts.

Stories are all around us - everyday happenings, your imagination, personal stories, and of course, those you read. I'd like to devote this article to how to extract a story from a book and develop it into a story to tell.

Obviously, the first thing you need to do is find the story you'd like to tell. That might mean reading many stories until you find one you fall in love with! After reading it the first time, read it again - it shouldn't be too long or complicated (they're hard to learn and tell until you've become a real pro.) Read it out loud and listen to it - hear the language, envision the characters and setting. Does it have a clear beginning, middle and ending? Is it tellable? (Not all stories are good ones to tell - especially if the language is unfamiliar, or there are dialects to deal with.) Is it appropriate to tell to an audience?

Now re-read the story and sequence it in an outline form, or on cards, from beginning to end. Jot down any special phrases you want to make sure to incorporate. You'll use this outline as you learn and embellish your story. You don't want to memorize it! Think about what could happen if you're interrupted - you'd probably lose your place and have to start over again! But if you know the sequence of your story, you can easily pick up where you left off.

Adapt the story. As long as you keep the thread of your story in tact, you can make changes - change the gender or age of characters; change the setting or time frame; add or subtract episodes; add dialogue; add imagery; add or take away characters.

Work the story. Pare the story down to the bare bones, and rebuild it by adding descriptions, dialogue, and any other things you want to incorporate. Break the story down into segments or parts - as many as you feel you need. Take the first part and tell it until you're satisfied with the way it sounds. Then move on to the second segment and work it the same way. When you're satisfied, "attach" it to the first segment and tell both parts. Continue in this manner - working each part independently, then attaching it to the previous parts - until the entire story has been worked.

Practice, practice, practice the story. The more you practice telling it, the better prepared you'll be to tell it. Practice telling it into a tape recorder so you can hear how you sound. Practice in front of a mirror so you can see how you look. Tell it to a couple of friends and get their feedback. Gradually broaden the size of your audience, each time getting feedback. Don't be alarmed if your story changes - you'll never tell it the same way twice, and change is usually for the better. It is said that a story isn't yours until you have told it 20 times! You can tell it in the shower, in the car, in the privacy of your room, while on the treadmill or wherever you can find a few spare minutes alone.

Add facial expressions and gestures that will enhance the story. Continue telling the story from beginning to end and be aware of "trouble" spots that might need to be tweaked. When you're secure with it, start working on more stories to tell until you have a decent repertoire.

Promote yourself as a storyteller and entertain others. Organizations, schools, libraries, private parties, and associations often seek storytelling as entertainment. So, not only is storytelling fun, but it can be a nice source of extra income.

Good luck!

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