Last weekend, at the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Conference, I presented a workshop on Story Kinship: Exploring Your Personal Connections to Non-personal Tales. Here's a condensed version:
What parts of YOU or YOUR OWN LIFE connect with this non-personal story?
Liz Warren's book, The Oral Tradition Today, Susan Klein states:
"When something within a folktale resonates with your own story, it calls to you to be its voice. And then the responsibility begins. You do whatever you need to do to get to the root of what it means to you and the truth that resides in the story."
I believe this is true for all types of stories one chooses to tell, not only folktales. By telling a story, we show parts of who we are. We must know all the pieces in the story to which we connect. That gives the story life.
Look at the setting, the Place. What's your connection? Look at the theme or the Point of the story. How does that connect to you? What's the struggle; the Problem? Where in your life can you relate? Look at all the characters. How do you relate and connect with each one?
"But wait, I don't connect at all with the antagonist, the villain in my story."
Ah, don't speak too soon my young friend. First, ask yourself if there has been anyone in your life that you might cast in the role of antagonist. You could model your character after that person. Or maybe, just maybe, there is a part of you that could imagine having that much anger.
Human beings are not 100% good or evil (characters may be, but humans are not). We are all made up of different "parts". We all have many different parts inside of us, both positive and negative. The negative parts may be small, but it is important to recognize them. You may not think you have anything in common with a murderous villain.
Hopefully, you have never murdered anyone, but perhaps you have been so angry at someone that you felt huge rage at them. Or perhaps you have been bothered repeatedly by the incessant buzzing of a thirsty mosquito, and when it finally lands on your arm, you give it the hardest slap you can - MURDERER! - Use that feeling for your character!
You must find ALL the personal connections to your story, then make conscious decisions about how you can reveal those parts in your story. How can you use specific language, your voice, body, gestures, facial expressions, etc. to reveal the parts of yourself in each character or scene?
All of this gives your story life. Give your audience the gift of the different parts of you and your life!