Storytelling 106: 5 times in a day

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.

Storytelling 105: how to remember your story

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.

Storytelling 103

The right and the wrong way to learn to tell a story.

When you have chosen a story to tell, you need to remember it! There are lots of different ways to remember a story and practice it for telling. The wrong way is to write it out word for word and memorise it, particularly if they were not your words to start with. While there are what I think of as literary tellers, those for whom the words chosen hold the meaning, for most Storytellers the meaning of a tale is what resonates for you.

There is a story of mine that has had startling different meanings for other people when they hear it told, than it has for me. There have been stories I have heard that I hear differently to what resonates for the Teller. It is what resonates for us that draws us to particular stories and what we focus on in the re-telling.

When we listen to stories, images are created by our minds. It’s why I use props for the preschool age as they are not yet adept at imaging images and don’t yet have the connections and categories of images that language in stories can evoke. Props assist the casting of the story spell. There are people who are not visual and need the flow and rhythm of the story to create meaning. This is not common but does happen. One Storyteller recounts the time when an adult, listening intently to a tale, suddenly jumped and exclaimed, “What was that?” It was the first time he had had the experience of seeing something in his mind. To think, this is what storytelling can evoke.

The passage of the story from the Storyteller travels through the experiences and life story of the listeners. Just as art is in the eye of the beholder (or beauty, whatever), a told story slips past the busyness of an everyday conversation into an intimacy with the listener’s imagination.

So, if we focus too much on including particular words and phrases, unless we are very very good (and I can think of one or two) Storytellers, we can lose the connection between Teller and Listener to create the possibility of a tale that is just for them.

When I create a new story, it takes a while. An idea bubbles around in my head and bits and pieces add themselves along the way until I find myself telling parts of it to myself. At this point I might write the story down. Once written, I leave it. The story is now part of my conscious mind and the images it evokes begin to link together. As I like to draw, I often sketch the tale in no more than 6 pages with one image per page. When I know a story well, I tell it as it unfolds in my mind. I do not skip from page to page but I am right inside the story telling it as it happens.

There are several ways to learn new stories, whether other people’s or ones you have created yourself. We will discuss that next time.

Storytelling 102

So, how do you move from being a storyteller to a Storyteller?

I am assuming that you know what storytelling is. It is spoken word story that can be told in a variety of styles. My own style is dramatic. There is also trance and physical and a myriad versions in between. There is not exactly a wrong way to tell a story and yet there is. We’ll talk of that another time.

Stories have been handed down through generations and are at the centre of cultures. We tell stories every day, whether anecdotes of family happenings, incidents at work, online news or gossip. The important verb here is ‘tell’. We tell the stories. This is the cornerstone of storytelling and the important thing to remember. We tell stories. Yes, there is spoken word poetry, readers’ theatre and read stories. What Storytellers do is tell stories. How do you remember those stories? We will discuss that later.

I first came across Storytelling at Wonderwings Fairy Shop in 1992 when I dragged a number of friends along to an adult Storytelling. The party room was set up as a forest with a treed mural on the wall and mushroom cushions on the floor. We were served fairy bread and champagne. There was much laughter as we settled in, with some discomfort, unsure of what was to come. I was looking forward to whatever it might be. The Storyteller was Matteo, still telling today, and despite one friend’s determined efforts to distract and actively critique him, he told traditional folk tales. I was fascinated. I loved being told stories. When we pottered about the magical shop afterwards, my friends muttered to me, “You could do that!”

What? Tell stories, for a living? Surely not. I did enquire of Annie, the shop proprietor, who  told me of the Storytelling Guild (now Storytelling Australia Victoria). The idea persisted and I began attending the Storytelling Cafe nights. I was fascinated by the different styles of Telling and the plethora of stories told. It came to crunch point for me. It was time to tell a tale.

The first story I told was the Magic Stones. Having no idea how people went about learning stories, I did it my way. I read many many stories until one struck me as resonant. Once I had the bones of it, I began telling it to myself. Hours of practice saw me ready and finally I stood to tell a tale at the Storytelling Cafe. I was terrified. I told. I survived. I was elated.

Feedback later was that although my style was apparently far more dramatic than most, my story had been enjoyed. Whew. Did I consider myself a Storyteller now? No, I did not.

I have noticed that when people embark on a new endeavour, they are reluctant to name themselves Artist or Writer or Storyteller. Within a year of my first told tale, I produced a solo show (because why tip toe in when you can jump with both feet?). It went well. Over the next ten years, I told in early childhood centres, primary schools, libraries, with adults, ran workshops, facilitated groups and travelled across Victoria with my beautiful storytelling trunk.

Somewhere in that time, I stepped from storyteller to Storyteller. Once a Storyteller, always a Storyteller.

Now, how do you remember stories? We’ll talk about that next time.

 

Storytelling 101

I have been a storyteller for over forty years.

From the age of six I can remember asking my mum for stories and repeating them to myself and others. In my teens, I became the holder of family stories. In my twenties, I began to keep the stories and tell them for the young people I worked with.

As I journeyed through life, I held and told the stories of my workplaces, my family, myself, my children, my life. That is what storytellers do, we hold and tell the stories of our world. Does this make us all storytellers?

Why, yes it does. We use stories to make sense of our lives, to learn and to share. We share our experiences through stories and share stories to capitalise on our experiences.

So what makes a Storyteller different to a storyteller? It depends how far you want to take it.

By the time I was in my twenties, I found that friends were asking me to tell stories of shared experiences. By the time I was in my thirties, my colleagues were giving me stories so I could share them with new staff. As I built my storytelling business, I worked at a large chain warehouse for a few years. Staff from other sections would share incidents that occurred then ask me to re-tell those stories. I worked in the nursery and two of our favourite stories concerned customers who had come asking for unusual plants. A woman came in with her husband and child and explained that she needed a plant that would grow above a metre and half tall and would climb up the fence over a shrub she already had planted there. The plant she wanted had large white flowers and big leaves that it lost in winter and she racked her brain to think of the name. As she spoke I began mentally flicking through the climbers in our stock, when she exclaimed, “Oh! It’s a clitorus!” Surprised silence. “Oh no! That’s exactly what I didn’t want to say!” she was horrified. I laughed, “You mean Clematis?” “Yes, that’s it, a clematis!”, she agreed, red with embarrassment. She bought three. Then there was the man who came to examine olives, insisting that he wanted the one with orange centres. We didn’t laugh then and there, just explained that the one he wanted were pickled and stuffed olives that you could only buy from the supermarket.

From Paint there was the story of the hospital that called wanting to know what was in Cabot’s decking oil as someone had used it for fake tan; and the Hardware story of the irate customer who explained she had laid out the nails from the liquid nail tube but they would not harden to nail in; and on it went. Why me? I remembered the stories and told them with such relish that even those who knew them well, enjoyed hearing them again.

I worked as a travelling Storyteller for ten years, growing my business and developing it into a Storytelling agency. I sold it when life moved me in other directions. Once a Storyteller however, always a Storyteller.

I hold the stories for my children and begin to hold the stories for their children. I hold stories I have been gifted, stories I’ve read, stories I’ve heard, stories I’ve created. Many, many stories live inside my head. My developed storytelling mind lends itself to interesting connections which serves my current employment well.

How do you make the shift from storyteller to Storyteller. I’ll tell you next time.