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Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Tell a Story


Man is eminently a storyteller. His search for a purpose, a cause, an ideal, a mission and the like is largely a search for a plot and a pattern in the development of his life story -- a story that is basically without meaning or pattern. --- Eric Hoffer, philosopher


There are many folks out there who believe they can’t tell a good story. Yet people are natural storytellers – it’s in our DNA. Everybody has told stories, but perhaps they didn’t think of themselves as storytellers at the time. Parents should start thinking of themselves as storytellers. It’s okay!  You don't need heaps of social courage to talk to your own kids!

Telling a story well takes a little preparation. A little. Here’s my advice.

1. Pick a story. If it’s a story from your own past, you already know it. If you are searching for a traditional story, take advantage of the Internet and the public library to find a story that suits your needs. Read the story a few times. If you can find different versions of the story, even better.
2. Decide what element or elements of the story you want to highlight. Is it the physical courage of the hero? The moral courage? Emotional courage? What about the story appeals to you? Is it from your cultural tradition or a different one? What drives you to select this story for your child?
3. Spend a few minutes with a thesaurus and reacquaint yourself with all the wonderful synonyms and metaphors for courage and fear. Reflect on your own experiences of courage and fear and try to feel again the physical sensations you experienced. You can add these to the story to bring it to vivid life.  Keep reading for more Storytelling Tips!
4. Practice telling the story to yourself, freely adding details to enliven the tale. If you feel self-conscious do this in the car or the bathroom or somewhere else you have some privacy. If you forget bits of the story don’t sweat it. Stories are flexible and adaptable, and you are authorized to tell the story in your own way.
5. When you feel you are ready, and you have your child’s attention – at dinner, at bedtime, in the car, or anywhere you can talk without interruption -- you can say, “I remember a good story,” or “I read a good story,” or “Let me tell you a story I think you’ll like,” or anything else you can think of to announce the storytelling mode. The storytelling mode can be entered with very little preamble, and most kids are ready to listen at a moment’s notice.
6. If you want to engage your listener more thoroughly you can ask questions at turning points of the story: “And what do you think happened next?” “Who do you suppose was waiting inside?” “How do you think he felt?” You can even ask your child to supply some of the details: “Can you guess what color shoes the queen wore?”(the answer is always correct, by the way) or “Do you know what day it was?” The more deeply engaged your child is in the story, the more power it will have.
Copyright Ilyssa Tonnessen, Dreamstime.com
This “storytelling mode” I’m talking about is almost magical, and I’ve seen it time and time again when I’ve visited schools to talk with kids about being an author. There is a discernible change in the quality of listening whenever I get to a part of my presentation that involves telling a story. I see it in K., as well. It’s as if children only listen to grown-ups with one ear most of the time (Blah blah blah) but instantly switch on the second ear for “Long long ago…” or “Once, when I was little…” which in my case amounts to the same thing. It makes me feel sure that if there is something important to teach, like courage, it better include a story!

Some good storytelling resources are here and here and here...

4 comments:

  1. I remember my Dad telling me marvellous true stories when I was young and nothing made me smile more when he was able to tell them to my own children. He ran out sometimes so he told them "True Lies" !
    As a former Deputy Head I think storytelling is so important to develop language skills and vocabulary but also to build memories that last a lifetime.
    Sue Atkins
    Author of Raising Happy Children for Dummies"

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  2. So true, Sue, on the lifetime memories. Thanks for joining the conversation!

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  3. Cracking entry in your blog found whilst poking around looking for something else. Love Sue's comment as well. Fab.

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  4. Thanks so much Piginthepoke! It is readers like you that inspire us. Keep digging around our site and finding the hidden jewels...and sharing with us your wisdom, too. Blessings from the lion mamas!

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