Awhile ago I wrote about the tree mural I was painting on my wall to create a family tree. I finished it. It is three metres high and four metres wide. Now it is finished, I wonder what on earth I was thinking. I’ve got the family photos ready to go on it but I think I will just look at it awhile.
Here’s a Storytellers’ Secret: if you tell a story you want to remember five times within 24 hours, the story is yours. The trick is who will listen to your tale?
When we embody a story, it uses all our senses plus our reading of our audience to embed it into our cells. Gesture, facial expression, patterning of words, repeated refrains, all assist in embodying the story. This resonates far deeper than memorising a story (which we would never do, would we?). When a story has been taken into cellular memory and each movement in the tale gives rise to the next part of the story, we have the story’s soul.
Every Storyteller I know, including myself, has been asked if a story they have told is true. Every story holds an element of truth. It is why different stories resonate and stay with us. There is something in the tale that is true for us. When we tell a story and it resonates for our audience, we can feel it. It is a moment of intimate connection, where we are one.
Storytelling is physical but it’s impact is non-physical and why it can resonate with your audience (this leads into philosophical discussion, which storytellers love). When practicing a story, it can be difficult to find an audience who will listen to your tale five times in one day. If you have obliging friends and family, use them. Their reactions to the story will assist you to refine it and take it into your cellular memory.
What if you don’t have people who will listen or feel too self-conscious to ask? I know I will sound somewhat pompous here but, put your ego aside. When I tell a story, it is not about me. Yes, I use my skills and talents and mostly my own stories. However, I tell particular stories because I feel an urge to tell them. Storytelling is a calling, it is the story that is important.
I once was asked to perform for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers. As an adopted child, a foster carer and permanent carer, I felt I was the person to choose and perform these stories. I would have passed the gig onto someone else if I had not felt strongly about it. I carefully chose stories where the child in the story was encouraged to be her very own self, despite any opposition, by the parents who had care of her. It hit the mark. (If you want to know more about me as a parent and carer, read the blogs under Parenting, Introspectives and Musings.) This is an example of why I feel Storytelling is a calling.
Back to the question, what if you don’t have people to listen to you tell the tale? Record it, listen to yourself, re-record, listen again five times. If you listen with how the story sounds and how you want it to sound, embellish the parts you wish to stand out, you will have a story to remember. At your first opportunity, tell your story to another human (dogs and cats get distracted). Ask them what they hear in the story and never tell your audience they are wrong. People bring themselves to art and see what it is they do and in the case of stories, hear what they hear. They do not have to hear what resonated for your, your truth, they get to hear their own.
Now you know how to choose a story and remember it, it is time to begin. Let me know how you go.
One of the many challenges for new Storytellers is how we remember our stories. I wrote previously about choosing stories that resonate with you, have particular meaning for you, that you want to share with others. We have also spoken about not memorising stories. So, how do you do it?
Once I have caught or created a story, I write it out in full, then edit edit edit, until I have encapsulated the tale within three sentences. The process of doing this begins to embed the story into my memory and highlight the sections that resonate especially for you. Then put all the writing away.
Storytelling is a visual and audial experience. It is how we tell and how we share the stories. I often draw six images that tell the story and then practice telling the story just using those images. When I have done this enough, I put the drawings away.
By this time, the story is firmly embedded in my mind and I am starting to develop the characters and embody the story through gesture and facial expressions. I will often do this in front of a mirror. This is quite confronting for some tellers, so do not feel obliged to do it. However, I want to know what my audience will be seeing. I have also videoed storytellers I have mentored so they can see what they look like when they tell. We need to put ego aside when telling a story. Being able to watch yourself tell for improvement is a good thing.
My last method is to record the story. We all know that we learn songs on the radio through repetition. When I have a story sounding and looking like I want it to be, I record it. Then every practice in front of the mirror, in the car as I drive, while I’m making dinner, embeds and embodies the story deeply into my memory. I have even mimed to my recording in front of the mirror to save my vocal chords and keep practising.
Every time we listen to our story, it embeds into our memories. I highly recommend recording your stories and re-recording until it sounds just the way you want to tell it. I have played my own stories, until I am word perfect. (Playing them in the car, with accompanying facial expressions and gestures, can attract attention from fellow drivers. I’ll tell you about the driver who followed me and my driving octopus for many kilometres another time.)
The biggest hint I can give you is practise, practise, practise; and when you have had enough, practise some more. Never tell a story you are unprepared to tell. It disrespects you, the story and your audience.
When we tell stories, the well-practised story rolls off our tongue as we interact with the audience and assess, remember, adjust and respond.
The biggest test of all is to take a deep breath and tell.
Let me know how you go.