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- Preparing a story
- Responsibilities of the storyteller
Storytelling is not difficult. It is a basic human instinct. In fact it is one of the things which makes us distinct. Through stories we are able to recall the past and anticipate the future. The earliest story was probably something like , " I wouldn't go behind that rock, mate. There was a sabre toothed tiger there yesterday. Aargh!"
More mundane was the story which began, "Last year I dropped some seeds there - and now look at that plant - I might try that again."
Anyone can tell a story - listen to the conversations around you in the pub or on the bus. Sadly though, we have been bamboozled by the slick - and commercially rewarded - storytelling of films, tv and the printed word into thinking that we have to be 'professional' - trained and paid - to tell a story well.
I hope this website will inspire you to have a go. Tell stories to your children and grandchildren on car or train journeys. Tell stories in school or in church if you are a teacher or priest. (How can you not ? Stories are your stock in trade.) Most of all tell stories to yourself. See what resonates with you, because if you love the tale you tell, so will others.
PREPARING A STORYThis is no more than a rough guide to the process I go through when I prepare a story. The most important thing is to engage your own imagination. If you 'know' that the castle is on your right , so will your audience. If you have felt the high and low points of the story, so will they.
Don't worry about remembering the story word for word. I usually make sure I have the structure right and memorise the opening and closing , but the rest of the story takes care of itself. A story is a living word. It exists in the space between your mouth and the listener's ear. Let it have a life of its own and it will thank you for it.
First, engage your imagination.
Now consider the content of the story
- Imagine the scene of your story?
- What can you see and hear?
How will you tell the story?
- Is there anything which surprises you or puzzles you?
- From whose point of view will you tell the story?
- How will you begin and end?
- Is there a " punch line”?
- What kind of detail do you need?
- Are there details you want to omit?
Now tell the story to yourself a number of times.
- How will you involve your audience?
- Are there any possibilities for joining in with words or actions?
- Are there repetitive patterns of words or actions within the story?
- How will you use your body to help tell the story? ( you are the visual aid)
- Are there points at which you could ask questions? E.g., "how do you think they felt?"
- How did it feel to tell the story?
- What do you need to work on?
After you have told a story with a group, you might like to explore it, playing with its ideas in art, drama, movement or discussion.
Your audience might want to talk about;
They might want;
- which part most affected them
- who they identified with
- what might have happened differently
- what they would have said, thought or done if they had been there .
It is important that you do not give the impression that there are "right" answers in these matters, but rather that you encourage reflection on the answers that people actually give.
- to "interview " the characters
- to imagine a past for the characters and tell some stories about it.
- to imagine what happened next.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE STORYTELLERKevin Crossley-Holland, in his booklet "Different - but oh how like! ", lists five responsibilities which storytellers must consider before they tell a tale. He writes about the world of the teller of folk tales, but his words are just as applicable to the teller of biblical stories.
Crossley Holland says that storytellers should;
1. Spend time inhabiting the world of the traditional tales.
Having a decent working knowledge of a wide range of stories gives an ability to spot recurring motifs and to compare similar stories from different sources. For example there are countless versions of Cinderella type stories from around the world, which tells us something about the universality of the themes the story explores - sibling rivalry, the feeling of not being seen for who we are etc. If you are going to tell Biblical stories it really helps to have a broad idea of the shape of the Biblical narrative, and how the individual tale fits into the wider story.
2. Know something of the culture from which the tale comes.
This helps you avoid misunderstanding ideas and behaviour within the story, and therefore "exoticising the humdrum [or] reinforcing divisive cultural and national stereotypes" Crossley-Holland p.10. Things which seem insignificant or peculiar often fall into place when you know the background. Knowing things like the attitude to women, or cultural taboos may make all the difference to the meaning of the story.
3. Enter the tale and let the tale enter you.
You need to know the story before you tell it! What is it saying? What does it mean? (It may have many meanings) Which parts are crucial and which incidental? What does it mean to you? Imagine yourself in the story before you tell it and see it in your mind’s eye as you tell it.
4. Be aware of the craft of communication.
Language matters. Story language is often simple and direct. It isn't the same as that found in written fiction. Avoid over elaborate description. The present tense and active mood are your best friends. When you include detail, make sure it is important or you will clutter your story.
5. Be aware of your audience.
You are not just telling a story. You are telling a story on this occasion to these people. The story may be as old as the hills but in a sense it is recreated and made new at every telling. The audience is actively involved in the telling of the story. You can see when they want more or less, when the pace needs to change, when people are moved, excited, bored, or frightened. This last emotion is especially important in children. You may unintentionally scare them because you have not appreciated that they do not understand, or do not have the experience to set into context what you are telling them.
For more on narrative theology and on the use and abuse of story, see books by Trevor Dennis, Marina Warner, Jack Zipes and William Bausch.
STORYTELLING RESOURCESJack Zipes. Creative storytelling. Routledgel995
Practical and inspiring suggestions for using stories with children.
William J. Bausch Storytelling: Imagination and Faith. The Theology of Story
Trevor Dennis. Lo and Behold. SPCK 1991
Sarah Laughed SPCK 1994
A look at Biblical stories from the perspective of narrative theology.
Marina Warner The Beast and the Blonde; on Fairy Tales and their Tellers. Vintage 1994
Rich detail on the history of stories and their tellers – fascinating reading.
Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment. Penguin 1988
Stories and psychotherapy A classic.
Thomas Moore The Care of the Soul ( and other books). Piatkus 1992
Interesting comments on mythology and personal growth
Kevin Crossley-Holland. Different - but oh how like.
Lion versions are usually good. I particularly recommend those written by Bob Hartman
William R. White
Stories for the Journey (Augsburg 1988)
A thematically organized collection – good if you have to do an assembly on a topic and need a story that fits.
.There are any number of collections. A good source is cheap bookshops which sell remaindered books, and supermarkets. Folk tales have no copyright - so basic editions are often available dirt cheap. They might need a lot of work to update language etc. but will give the basic structure and content of the story.
The Society for Storytelling.
P.O. Box 2344 Reading RG6 7FG
There are stacks of these – the internet is really one giant hearth, and is ideally suited for storytelling.
Try the Society for Storytelling website for starters – – lots of links to other sites
Cafe Credo (Storytelling and faith)
Cafe Credo Storytelling group on yahoo (I am moderator of this group which is open to anyone to join. We ask for a donation of £10 to help with costs.
Cafe Credo Facebook page
Society for Storytelling
Practical advice on storytelling
Tim Sheppard's story links