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You Can Become a Storyteller

By Dr. Flora Joy

Family get-togethers and children's parties are the perfect time to gather a crowd and share stories. Whether they're stories steeped in tradition or simply perfect for the occasion, every story has the potential to awe, amuse, and entertain your listeners. The key is in the telling. Both novice and seasoned storytellers can always enhance the storytelling experience by following a few simple steps. While our guide will get you started, remember that what you bring to your tales --your own experiences, knowledge, interests, and character -- is what makes your storytelling truly unique.

Choosing A Story
The first step in becoming a storyteller is to find a story that you will truly want to tell. If you aren’t “sold” on the story, it will show when you tell it. Your body language will reflect how much you like (or dislike) the story. To find your first story consider the following:

1. Start With the Library
There are many volumes of story collections in the 398.2 sections of practically all libraries. Most librarians are very eager to assist you in selecting some anthologies that might fit your interests. Also ask your librarian to show you some popular children’s books as possibilities. Be aware of the fact that you may find yourself reading dozens (or even hundreds) of stories before one reaches out and “grabs” you.

2. Look In Your Own Life
Look in your own life for any possible personal stories you might want to craft. Be careful, however, because many new tellers tend to make these personal stories much too loooooonnnnnnggggg for most audiences. If the stories you tell will likely be ones that you create about your own life, listen to the personal stories designed by the professionals and see how they have made them appealing to listeners (but never tell their personal stories as if they happened to you).

3. Examine Your Own Story Collections
Even stories you loved as a child may prove interesting possibilities.

4. Listen to Professional Recordings
Listen to story recordings done by the professionals—but don’t “borrow” their stories. They’ve put in countless hours to craft and deliver these stories to perfection and to put their own unique flavor in the telling. However, you can learn from how they have crafted their stories, and soon you will have your own story ingredients and flavors.

Learning the Story
After choosing a story, follow the method many professional storytellers use to learn the story. Read the story over many times until the story’s “voice” becomes very familiar. Then practice with the first part of the story until it feels right coming from your voice. Continue with each section of the story until you’ve reached its end.

Memorizing can get you into deep trouble - try to put the story in your own natural language.Many of my students have asked about memorizing a story. Although some tellers memorization as their method of learning a story, the short answer for beginners is: memorizing can get you into deep trouble. If you are depending upon strict memorization, something can cause you to “lose track,” then you are in a bind with your listeners. Consider trying to put the story in your own natural language so that if you ever get “stuck,” you can continue with your own conversational patterns. Do keep in mind, however, that literary material should remain true to the original language. Also, a very few authors will not agree for their stories to be told unless it is “word for word.”

Knowing when you’ll be ready/able to tell your first story depends upon how adventuresome you are. Many storytelling workshop leaders suggest that you “tell the story to the wall” several dozen times before you have a “real audience.” Others suggest that you begin with a very small audience and admit that your story is a work in progress (so they won’t expect perfection).

Audiences won't laugh at you - they are on your side.  They want you to succeed.Don’t worry about having butterflies, or feeling lots of apprehensions about your performance. Please know that this feeling is “human,” and even the professionals who have been telling for years have these same butterflies. Just act confident and by so doing, you’ll give the audience the feeling that you are in control. Even if you know that your knees are shaking, the audience won’t know it (unless you “announce” it).

Audiences won’t laugh at you -- they are on your side. They want you to succeed. They wouldn’t be listening to you if they didn’t want to hear some good stories.

Finding Your Audience
Now that you’re ready to tell the story, find listeners who will serve as an audience for your initial storytelling practice. In a non-apologetic manner, tell these listeners that it is your first performance and that you are honored they will be your audience. After your story, you might ask these listeners what they liked about your story and encourage them to discuss your performance with you. When you are ready, ask them for suggestions that might improve your story delivery. This type of feedback should wait until you are ready to hear it. It’s OK just to “tell” the story a few times without seeking anyone’s opinion. The Storytelling Olympics The Storytelling Olympics Many areas across the nation have local storytelling guilds that are designed specifically for the purpose of helping tellers fine-tune their performances. Call or visit the National Storytelling Network (800-525-4514) to see if one is located near you.

After you have performed for a few small and comfortable groups, challenge yourself by finding a larger audience. This could be a local school, a neighborhood scout troop, or a group of people in your community that would appreciate hearing your stories. Before you “tell” in these more challenging situations, review the feedback you received from your smaller groups, and practice, practice, practice, and practice some more.

When you think you have worn out your first and only story, start looking for new stories that appeal to you. Keep reading... and reading... and reading. Have fun in this new story selection process, but keep in mind that you may have to drop some stories from your repertoire because you wound up being uncomfortable for some reason when you told them.

Tell, tell, tell, tell, and tell some more. It’s the repeated experiences of telling that allow you to tweak and refine both your storytelling content and delivery. As you are progressing through this honing process, explore some of the helpful handbooks about storytelling. Again, your local libraries will have several of these that you may examine.

One of the main goals of the storyteller should be to enjoy the process.One of the main goals of a storyteller should be to enjoy the process. Although much can be learned through the academic content of the stories, the pleasure of telling and the fun the audience will have listening are key.

If you’re ready to discover the world of storytelling, try one of the following two stories from How and Why Stories: World Tales Kids Can Read and Tell ...

How & Why StoriesTwo Brothers, Two Rewards
A Story Told in China, Korea, and Japan

The Turtle Who Couldn't Stop Talking
A Story From India


About the Author

Dr. Flora Joy is a Professor Emeritus of Storytelling at Eastern Tennessee State University. She is the founder of ETSU's Storytelling Master's Degree Program in Storytelling and the founder of the National Storytelling Youth Olympics.

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