A compilation of all the TIPS in the newsletter.
   
#371 - 7/29/2019
tips
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#368 - 5/27/2019
Memorialization
Here's a tip from 2015

What stories do you have about memorialization? Preserving the memories, how do we do it? How have you done it?

In the early days of the Apple Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs and the team that created the Macintosh wanted to memorialize their work. The world had never seen anything like the MAC. Do you remember that iconic, classic commercial with the Orwellian society; the girl running with the hammer and smashing the big screen? Did you know that it was only shown on TV once, on the Super Bowl? Only once!

The original MAC was inspired by Job's study of calligraphy, and it had many cursive fonts, a far departure for the few static fonts that the PC or even the original Apple had. But the manual didn't list all the fonts. The team knew that the users would play around with the keyboard. With some seemingly random combinations of different keystrokes, one could get some very interesting characters on the screen.

But they wanted to memorialize all of their efforts. How could they do that? They had their signatures etched into the cabinet that held all the parts. Most people never saw it. But for the dreamers, the nerds that ventured to open up the cabinet, they would find the names of the creators, etched on the inside in stone (or plastic), so to speak, for all eternity.

How can you "etch yourself" into your story?

  Read the whole story here


#367 - 5/20/2019
The Golden Triangle - Know Your Audience
Here's a tip from April of 2014. It seems to go along with my confession above.

We're all familiar with the "Golden Triangle" of storytelling. In order for storytelling to take place, one has to have a Teller, a Story and an Audience. They are all equally important, and the relationship between all three is of utmost importance.

But wait, there's more! 

This graphic "map" for storytelling should be your guide for all performances, both planned and unplanned. Colleague Pam Faro wrote a blog (read it here) that has some great questions about each of the elements. And, as she says,

"Often, it’s the case that specific answers are not even what is needed – but the questioning process itself is what leads you forward, deeper and farther into your story selecting, preparation, and telling!"

Here's my "story" example:

Some time ago, I was at Delux, the gourmet burger restaurant owned by my friend Lenny Rosenberg (32nd and Camelback for those who might be interested). 
 
We were in his office, and on the way out, passed by the private dining room where a group of eight business women were having a dinner meeting. Lenny stepped in to check on them, and pulled me in. He introduced me as “a great storyteller”. The ladies couldn’t resist asking me to share a story with them. –
NOW – What do I do?
 
I had about five seconds (maybe six) to decide if I should tell, and then what story. The quick questions:
 
Teller? – Me. Lenny had already pumped up my abilities, and we had already shared a laugh or two. Rapport had been established.
 
Audience? – High-powered, strong, decisive (and by the sound of their laughter, fun-loving) business women.
 
Story?The Castle of the Faithful Wives (clever, strong women who save the lives of their families).
 
So I asked them (a calculated measure to see if they were really ready for a story), “Would you like to hear a story about strong women?” — I think I had them in the palm of my hand.
 
I kept it short, two to three minutes, and made sure that the reveal of the “women carrying their husbands away from the castle, on their backs” was both humorous, and drove home the point of clever, strong women.
 
They laughed, cheered in triumph, and gave me (and the story) a great round of applause.
The Golden Triangle was glowing bright.
 

#366 - 5/15/2019
Using Action in Story Coaching and Practicing Your Stories
In coaching, it is my style to use “action techniques” where possible and appropriate, as it heightens the experience and can be extremely clarifying. I do caution coaches who might not have experience using action techniques. Putting people into action (vs. just thinking and talking) is very powerful, and clients may end up needing a great deal of emotional support.

Recently, in a workshop, one participant wanted to work on a story that sparked strong emotions. She wanted to be cautious about both her own emotions, and those of the listeners. She was concerned about getting “too” emotional, or being “completely detached”. 
 
As she spoke, I heard the concept of two “opposite feelings”, I used action by having her use the available space, and put out two chairs to represent each of the ends of the spectrum between those two states of feeling. 
 
I then asked her to stand “on the line” between the two chairs where she wanted to “begin”. She did so, as she spoke some of the story. Then she moved a little toward one end and continued with her words. She moved farther on (not all the way to one side) to the place on the line where she felt she (and her listeners) could “end” the story safely.
 
This physicalization of the intellectual concept helped ground her with concrete choices about her demeanor and words at each point in the story.
 
Another Story: Two chairs used in a different way. 
In my Community College class, a student wanted to know, “How do I tell a story with two major characters who would never come together in life except for this one incident. Both of their parts of the story are important.”
 
I asked him to put out a chair for each of the characters, and use the space to show how close or far apart they are in the story. He placed them about three feet apart. I asked how, as a narrator, he thought he could tell about each of them. 
 
He moved from one to the other, speaking about each when he was behind that specific chair. I acknowledged that he could be the narrator and tell the story in this way, moving back and forth between the two. I asked if he was willing to explore other options and he agreed.
 
I then asked him to “sit” in one of the chairs and “be” that character. From that chair, he spoke in the first person, “I am Jarod.” He then continued on with more information about himself (as that character) that gave us a sense of who this was. When I asked him to sit in the other chair, he said, “I am John,” and then was silent. As he spoke the name, I could tell there was a great deal of emotion. I stopped the exercise at this point. After the class, he said this helped him to clarify that he would tell from the point of view of the narrator, as it might be too difficult to take on either of the roles (and two days later he told an amazing story!).
 
Again, the action of physically “sitting” in each chair made him more aware of each character, his connection to each and of the options of telling the story in the first person, from either or each of the roles, or from the narrator.
 
A Third Story: More chairs
In the next class, one student wanted help with choosing from "which point of view" to tell the story. His story was a biography of the first African American baseball player, Jackie Robinson. He said that there were so many possibilities and characters that he didn't know where to start. I asked him to place chairs in the room to represent each of the possibilities: Jackie Robinson; Jackie's mother; his father; his friend; his coach, Branch Rickey; or the narrator. He placed them in the following configuration. Note the closeness of certain chairs and the distance of others.
----_______________--
I believe one can already see "clues" as to the importance of each character and relationship to Jackie. I asked him to sit in one of the chairs. (Note here that the client decides where to start.) He began with the mother's chair and spoke "as her". He subsequently chose each of the other chairs and spoke "as that person" from each one, telling about who they were, their relationship to Jackie, and their point of view. I asked him to step back and look at "all" the chairs, and then eliminate the ones he felt would not be a good fit. He removed Father, Friend and Narrator.
 
I asked him to just sit in each of the remaining chairs once again to see which felt the most right form which to tell. He then said that, "sitting in the mother's chair felt the most connected to the emotions of the story." He now had a starting point, and a point of view, from which to craft the story!
 
Storytellers: You can do this on your own!
The good news is that you can do this on your own. Use chairs to represent different characters or different emotions in your story. Use the space and placement of the chairs to understand the relationships between the different people or things you are symbolizing. Move along the lines to get a "feel" for the distance between each, and what they represent. (Try a chair for Goldilocks and each of the bears...perhaps there are chairs for Goldilocks' parents too? Perhaps the "walls" of the bear house?)
 
Sit in the chairs and "become" each person or concept. Speak out loud about who or what you are. Use your body to sit the way that character or entity might sit (or stand) to show what they are feeling or what they signify.
 
Don't just THINK about your story.
 
MOVE; STAND; SIT; CROUCH; HIDE; JUMP; TWIRL; HUNCH - The ACTION will inform you about your story.

#365 - 5/7/2019
Patterns
A favorite tip from April of 2018.

There are all sorts of different patterns in our lives: ripples on a pond; sounds of a bird chirping; mosaics in an art piece; the waves on the ocean; speech patterns in your language and don't forget the patterns of the hero's journey!

These and many other patterns that are played out in the stories we tell; both in the patterns of life and the story itself, and often in the language we use.

All of these patterns are a part of your story. Patterns are important, so we can recognize and relate to them in the story and also in our own lives and stories. So, in some ways, it is our job to represent these patterns in a way that will assist the listener in recognizing theme. How can you highlight or emphasize these patterns for and with your audience?

  • Repetition
  • Call and response
  • Descriptive language
  • Use of metaphors and similes
  • Alliteration
  • Assonance
  • Sounds
  • Gestures and body movements
  • Facial expressions
  • Rhyming
  • Pauses
  • ...and many more

Here's a phrase that most of us know, "But wait, there's more!" This could be used effectively in a story where someone continually screws up or, perhaps, comes out smelling like a rose. The phrase merely emphasizes that this is a pattern that happens over and over. Double down with this phrase by using call and response with the audience!

Here's another example:

It was a tiger, a tiger, stepping in time. One could see right through him...waiting...waiting...to commit his carnivorous crime.. His stripes were moving, growling and howling, making ripples in the forest. Waiting...waiting...waiting to dine.

Look at your story. Look for and listen for the patterns...then use them!
 


#364 - 4/29/2019
The Language of Latka
Thinking a lot about words and language in my storytelling classes. So I thought it might be fun to re-visit a tip from 2013. Enjoy!

Remember Andy Kaufman's character on Taxi? Latka Gravas. He was from "the old country" and spoke a strange language. There were only a few words that were defined like:
"Yaktahbay"  - behind/butt
"Nik nik" - sex
"Ibi da" - "yes" or "that is so"

Most of the language was gibberish, or at least sounded like that. But you could always understand what he (and Carol Kane as Simka) were saying due to their facial/body expressions, intonations, etc.

Try this as an exercise, and do it with a coach, friend, group of friends or at a trusted story circle or guild gathering.

Tell the story in gibberish. "Blah, blah, blah" or whatever. Use your body, face, voice, and anything else you can to convey the meaning of the words, just don't use the words. Jeff Gere from Hawaii has used this exercise with pairs. The pairs tell each other a story, then choose one of the stories to "tell" to the group in gibberish.

 

Remember that this is an "exercise" so, go "over the top" with your gestures and everything else. You can always pull back later, in a real telling. But in this exercise, be outrageous and have fun!

Then, get feedback from the group. What did they think the story was about? Could they distinguish between different characters? Did they get a sense of the setting? Did they have a sense of time passing? What they tell you about what THEY thought you were saying, doing or conveying will be invaluable!

Oh yeah...one more thing...You might want to think about performing a story this way for an audience! What, you say? Outrageous? Crazy? Can't be done? Donna Washington tells the story of the Three Little Pigs with NO words at all...just sound. And it works!

Now go back to your words and do ALL the same movements and gestures. Now you should have a great story!


#363 - 4/22/2019
One of These Things is Not Like the Others
Here's another great tip from September of 2012.

I recently coached a client who told a story about three sisters. The first two sisters were drawn into a spell and eventually killed. The third sister survived. Why?

There are many stories that have this motif. In the Three Little Pigs, it is the eldest sibling that has the wisdom to build his house out of bricks. In The Magic Pomegranate, it is the youngest brother whose innocence and sense of wonder make him the hero. He believes the Pomegranate has magical powers, so he doesn't eat it; he saves it for the right moment.

It's important for the audience, and the teller, to know "What is different about this character?" What separates him/her from the others? Giving your characters specific traits, virtues or emotions that elevate them and allow them to triumph where others could not, adds so much more depth to your story. It should be more than "the third time's a charm" that allows them to conquer evil or cheat death.

Remember, the story is not just about the sequence of events. It's about the emotions underneath, and how the characters (even in a personal story) respond and react that makes us relate to them... and makes the story interesting.


#362 - 4/17/2019
Tell Stories You Love - But Wait, There's more
Here's an important tip from back in 2013

Long-time teller Antonio Sacre has said: "Want to be a storyteller? Choose a story that matters to you & ask if there's anyone else besides friends & family that would want to hear it."

I have often said that the one piece of advice most often offered by seasoned tellers is, "Tell stories you love!" But that's not enough. You have to tell a story that the audience will love. How can you know? You can never know 100% for sure, but here are two criteria that you should use.

Does your story have a universal theme? 
Is it something that most people can relate to? Would the audience be interested beyond the specifics of your story? Here's an example:

At one open mic, a young woman told a personal story about the time her mother was left at a gas station on a family road trip. It had the beginnings of a universal theme, getting stranded, forgetting one of your group. The problem was that the girl stayed focused on how her family always thought this was so funny, and it had become a, "Remember the time when Dad, left Mom behind?" story. There was no place that she brought the audience in. She didn't find a way to translate what everyone was feeling into universal terms. She just kept saying, "It was so funny." Not to us.

Is this story appropriate for this audience?
Know your audience! You most likely wouldn't tell a Blue Beard variant to a group of six-year olds. Is your story something that this particular audience can relate to? What are their expectations? Are they there to be entertained? Are they a business audience, wanting to learn something new? Are they senior citizens, wanting to hear stories that remind them of their lives? Make sure you pick and tailor your stories to your audience.

Here's a little tip. If you practice your story with your family and friends, and they love it, find someone who fits your potential audience demographics and tell them the story. If they are rolling their eyes, and about to turn into a zombie, it's time to change your story.
 


#361 - 4/8/2019
Rhyme, Rhythm and Meter
Been thinking a lot about telling stories through poetry. A lot of people don't like mixing the two genres but I do. Here's a tip from November of 2013 (and reposted about a year ago) that I believe can be useful for storytellers.

Did you ever work on a story, have it pretty much “done”, but then think, “It’s still not quite there?” It might be the language, and/or the phrasing. Here's an exercise for exploring the language of your story: Turn it into poetry, then back into prose. Don't be nervous. . .it's only an exercise.

Let’s use The Three Little Pigs, as it already has some of the existing elements of meter and rhyme.
Little pig little pig, let me in, let me in.
Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!
First, break the story down into scenes or segments, and then turn each piece into a four-line stanza (or several). Use poetic structure, rhyme, rhythm and meter. Make it simple, but use literary/poetic license with the syntax and grammar.
 
Here’s an example, as the wolf goes to the house of sticks. The underlined words are stressed. Yes, it is a bit sing-song, but that’s the point of the exercise.
The wolf approached the house of sticks
With the two little pigs inside.
He could smell the scent of their porcine flesh
And was ready to eat their hides.
 
He disguised his voice and knocked on the door
The piglets began to squeal.
They knew the wolf was inviting them to dinner
And that they would be the meal.
Now, turn the stanzas back into sentences. Don't make it sing-song, or force the stressed syllables, but use the rhythm of the words.
The wolf approached the house of sticks, with the two little pigs inside. He could smell the scent of their porcine flesh and was ready to eat their hides. (speed up here get increasingly louder) He disguised his voice and knocked on the door. The piglets began to squeal. They knew the wolf was inviting them to dinner, (perhaps a long pause here) and that they would be the meal.
And remember that rhymes don't always have to be at the END of a sentence or phrase, 
The wolf would gut the hut of sticks
With the pigs in their digs inside.
He was bent on the scent of their porcine flesh
And meant to put a dent in fresh hides.
Using rhyme, rhythm and meter can help the flow of the language, and the imagination of the listeners!
 

#360 - 4/1/2019
Shame on Me for Not Turning it Into a Story
You know that old adage: "Fool me once, shame on you... Fool me twice, shame on me!" 

Well, it's really, "Fool me once, I should turn this into a story!"

Self-deprecating (make sure you spell and pronounce that correctly) stories can be of great value. Stories where you are fooled or become the butt of a joke AND you show you can take it act as great demonstrations of strong character.

These types of stories are especially effective in business settings. But wait, you are thinking that you don't want to show your employees that you are a fool. Just the opposite (well, not a fool so much as that you can be foolish). The leader who can make fun of herself/himself and show that she/he is human can gain respect and admiration from her/his employees.

I tell my story of being duped by the other dancers in a show I did where I was the only one with one black shoe and one brown shoe on stage. This story shows that I could laugh at myself, and that I could change. It shows that I am vulnerable and human.

That's how I would want people to see me.

Since today is April Fool's Day, think of a time you were fooled. Think of a time someone played a joke on you. Could you take it? Were you able to laugh it off?

Time to tell us that story!


#359 - 3/25/2019
Connections to Stories - Pick a Time or Event
Here's a tip from one year ago!

On Sunday, I watched the movie of Fiddler on the Roof. Some parts I liked, some I didn't. But here's the thing, a FLOOD of memories came back to me...all connected to Fiddler. I was in a National Touring Company of Fiddler on the Roof in 1969. Yikes, that was 49 years ago. But more important than how long ago, are all of the stories for the six months I was on Tour...AND...all of the other stories that were connected, in any way, to my Fiddler experience.

I could tell you stories about my roommate and now life-long friend Jeff. I could tell you many stories about things that happened while on tour. Like the time Herschel Bernardi (who replaced Zero Mostel on Broadway) visited us on-stage at the end of the show.

There are many connected stories:

  • The "Fruma Sara - Humma Humma" story; an apocryphal story that turned out to be real with my friend Margey Cohen
  • Another Margey Cohen story from our Dinner Theatre production of West Side Story
  • A story about a New York producer who taught me the value (monetary) of stage hands.
  • The Time Theodore Bickel came to an Equity meeting and played us a concert
  • The time I met producer Hal Prince and he said, "If it doesn't serve the play, take it out."
  • Many connections with choreographer Tommy Abbott and other shows he had done.
  • Spending six weeks in Los Angeles, with more and more connections and stories.
  • My "chance" encounter with Dee Wallace-Stone (the mother in E.T.) and our "date".

The list goes on and on. I could spend an afternoon (at least) telling Fiddler-related stories. The string-of-pearls would reach from here to Broadway!

So, here's my tip:

Pick one time, one period, one event in your life. Then see how many stories are connected to that one thing. The stories may be directly connected, but then one story might branch off into another whole set of connections and stories. Make a list of the stories. Better yet, make a diagram that shows all the stories and all the connections. Now there's a plethora of personal and fact-based stories!


#358 - 3/18/2019
Don't Wait for a Story to Find You
Ah, the great question that haunts storytellers, old and new: Where do you find a story? It's not a easy, black and white answer. For newbies, it's daunting to even know where to begin. My Community College students have to tell a Folktale as their first story. I have given them a dozen resources on the Web as to WHERE to find stories. But I also have to help them understand HOW to find a story that suits them. They often need a little coaching help.

One student said he couldn't find a Folktale that resonated with him because he is "not like other people. It takes me longer to think and make decisions." I said, "So you feel DIFFERENT than other people?" "Yes", he said. "Then perhaps you could search for a story about a boy who feels different?" He agreed.

In that light, here is a TIP from August of 2013.

Storytellers are repeatedly asked, “Where do you find your stories?” This question is asked by students, just starting out in the community, and also by listeners who seem to be amazed at discovering there is more to telling than reading aloud from a children’s book.

All too often, I have heard the response, “I don’t find stories, they find me!” This is quite an “artsy” response, and one that I have come to abhor! It does the student absolutely no good, and it only persists to mystify the art form.
 
Tellers have to work hard to find stories that are a good fit. It takes long hours of searching through titles, topics and motifs. And then more time to read through many stories and many versions of the same tale before finding “just the right fit”. So, where does one start?
 
As always, you start with you. Who are you? What makes you tick? What do you love? What do you hate? What’s your background, ethnicity, heritage? What are your tenets and beliefs? Etc., etc.
 
Knowing yourself is the first step to finding stories that are a fit. Do you revel in your heritage? Then stories that deal with that is where you start to look. Do you hate injustice? Then tales of justice is a stepping off place. Are you a romantic? Romance is one of the oldest themes in storytelling and there are hundreds of tales to find.
 
On the practical side, you then have to use resources that can assist you in finding those kinds of stories. The first place most of us go is Google. Not a bad place to start, and it often leads you right where you need to be.
 
In addition to Google, there are many sites that deal solely with stories and storytelling. Some very good ones are listed in the Resources section of this website.
 
Lastly, other tellers are a great reserve of knowledge. Even seasoned tellers ask each other, “Does anyone know a story about…?” So, newbies, don’t feel shy about asking a colleague where to look for what you need.
 
I will admit, that occasionally, I hear something or remember a piece from my past that triggers a response and I think, “That story was just waiting to be told.” But for the most part, don’t sit back and wait for a story to “find” you. Get out there and start looking for yourself!
 

#357 - 3/12/2019
Where are you? BE THERE...now you can begin.
Recently, a colleague told me about reading this tip in my book and that it helped them when telling their story. So, here it is for you!

Chekov said, “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

In the same vein, before you begin your story…take a moment to BE in the place where the story is. 

Like most concepts in story, this takes practice. Don’t try this on stage for the first time. Practice it each time you begin to rehearse your story.
 
Don’t just visualize the place, BE there. Stand quietly; it may help to close your eyes. Look around, what do you SEE? Do you see beauty and light, or darkness and hate? HEAR the sounds that are there. Are they pleasant and comforting, or harsh and disturbing? Breathe in the SMELLS.  Are they sweet or acrid? Use your body to SHOW what it is like to be in that place and time. Do you stand tall, or do you shrink in fear? BREATHE in again. Look around and SEE what is there again. BREATHE in once more…now…begin to tell the story.

#356 - 3/4/2019
Beginnings
Here's an oldie, but a goody, from 2012!

Julie Andrews said it best in the song, Do Re Mi, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start... "

Once upon a time is certainly an acceptable beginning. Let's see if we can go beyond the utilitarian, though, to something that will grab your audience and make them want to know more. Here are some examples: 
There was only one thing that could keep Cassandra from going out that night.
     We want to know what that one thing is.
The world is a dangerous place, and wooing a young girl is just as perilous.
     We want to hear about the danger.
Sampson was a great warrior, but today was not a day for victory.
     We want to know what went wrong.
Ezmeralda was truly beautiful, but she was cursed from the day that she was born.
     We want to hear more about the curse.
Let the audience know a little about the story, just enough to tease them. Make them curious about the characters, or about what will happen. The thunder and lightning frightened Amelia, and she knew that danger would visit her before the night was over. Don't we all want to know more about what happened? What was the danger, and even more important, "How will she survive?"
 
What’s the best thing that could happen to your protagonist? Tell us what that would be, then tell us that it didn’t happen that way in the story. Then...tell us why in the story.
 
Or you might tease the audience with, "The end of this story will surprise you. But in order to be surprised, we must start at the beginning."
 
Remember, your goal is to set the scene, and make the audience want to hear more!

#355 - 3/1/2019
Want Some Great Tips and Stories?
If you do, check out Kindra Hall's web page! The Valley's own author, storyteller and business consultant, Kindra Hall has left Phoenix for the Great White Way of New York. Yes, she moved her family to the Big Apple, and is still making it Big!

Kindra has written several books and courses on storytelling and she has a NEW book coming out in just a few weeks!

She has a great blog and produces many video blogs (vlogs) about storytelling and business storytelling. She has some great tips and great stories as examples!
  Check out her blog here.


#354 - 2/18/2019
What Might Have Been
There have been some posts of late on Facebook regarding the lives we might have lived. What would they have been like? What would we have done, if we had turned to the left instead of the right, just at that moment?

Gwyneth Paltrow starred in a movie called "Sliding Doors" that used that premise. Some years ago, LynnAnn Wojciechowicz told a story at a guild meeting. Not a "true" story, but one about how she "hoped" things had turned out in her family. It was quite compelling.

These types of stories are "fantasy", of course. But they can be quite good stories, and are considered "kosher" as long as he teller lets the audience know the nature of the tale you have crafted. Make sure you don't leave out this IMPORTANT part.

 


#353 - 2/11/2019
Do Not Saw The Air Too Much With Your Hand
A reprint of a tip from September - 2016.

The quote above is from Hamlet's speech to the players, Act 3, scene 2. Only a fair instruction for using gestures.

I've been thinking a lot about gestures lately. My students have asked about them. I did a search and I was surprised to discover that I have never really had a tip about them before in depth. This is strange, as I believe they are a huge and integral part of telling.

The dictionary defines a gesture as:

A movement of your body (especially of your hands and arms) that shows or emphasizes an idea or a feeling.

Now, that covers a lot of ground! How does the beginning teller decide about gestures? If you look at the definition, you can reverse the process. You can ask yourself,

What movement of my body (or my hands and arms) would show or emphasize this specific idea or a feeling?

If I am talking about a bird flying up in the sky, I would probably look up - not just with my eyes, but with my head, and maybe even turn my body and shoulders upward to emphasize.

If I followed the flight of the bird across the sky until it landed on a nearby branch, I might use my hand and arm to indicate its path, ending with pointing at the exact point of the bird's destination. I might also show with my body, perhaps a small step or a lean backwards to show my surprise at how close the bird was to me now.

At this point, you may want to look at Sean Buvala's wonderful video about gestures. I have recommended it before. Sean speaks about the three elements of gesture: Intend, Activate and Linger. Also, look at the gestures Sean uses for the flight of the bird, and the piece of cheese falling to the ground. Then come back to the next paragraph and we'll talk a little more about gestures.

Sean's gesture for the flight of the bird was different than my suggestion, but that's OK. YOU must decide for yourself (perhaps with the help of a coach) what the best movements are to emphasize an idea or feeling.

I believe there is another part of using gestures that is important: It is that gestures start somewhere - go somewhere - linger (as Sean states) - and then usually come back to somewhere (resolve themselves).

Bill Harley says, "Relax, breathe, take a moment to find your home. This is what you will always come back to." This is usually your arms at your sides. For Sean, it is with his arms slightly bent at the elbows. In the second part of the video, Sean's "home" is with his forearms resting on the table. Most of the time, your gestures come back to (or resolve to) home. But sometimes, like when the fox snatches the cheese, one gesture morphs into the next. But as Sean says, it is still a conscious, intentional decision about what gesture one is using.

So first you must ask yourself what gesture will emphasize the idea or feeling; then, make a conscious decision to use it. Understand where it is coming from; where it is going; make it intentional; activate it; linger and then resolve it.

Rehearsal and practice is the place to "play" with different types of gestures until you get them "right" for your story.


#352 - 2/4/2019
Create Your Own Stage! - A How To Guide
How will you create your next stage?

Wherever you may be performing, you must create an atmosphere that is conducive to the process of storytelling. Whether it be on a stage in an auditorium, a classroom, a breakout room at a conference, under a canopy at an outside fair, or a street corner where you may be busking, How can storytellers create a space where listeners will feel welcome and want to join you in creating a story? And remember, this must happen BEFORE you tell your first story. There are several things to consider. The first, and most important, as always, is: who is your audience?

Your audience: Is your audience mostly adults, children, teenagers, mixed? What are the demographics, or "make up" of the audience? Are they from an urban or rural area, the deep south, the bible belt?  Are they middle-management executives or a group of church-going housewives? One must always consider the audience, not only in choosing stories, but also, how you will be perceived. And this starts even before you walk into the space!

Your introduction: How will you be introduced? Who will introduce you? Have you written an introduction? Will the MC be reading it word-for-word? Do they know you? Will they be speaking off-the-cuff? What are the things you WANT the audience to know about you? What are the things you DON'T WANT them to know? Will this audience welcome you if they are told you recently won an award for the "sexiest story slam", or would it be more prudent to leave out that information? I dislike having the MC "read" an introduction; I also dislike reciting a long list of accomplishments. I prefer to spend a few minutes with the MC to make sure they are comfortable letting the audience know the two or three most important things about you. And make the "last" thing that the MC says be on the lighter side, or even a humorous, perhaps cryptic statement. 

"And before becoming a storyteller, Mark travelled all over the country as Winnie-The-Pooh - and perhaps he will tell you a story about that! Please welcome, Mark Goldman."

Your entrance: How will you come into the space / walk onstage? Where will you be just before you come into the space? I absolutely abhor when performers come from the farthest place away from the stage, walking slowly to the front! Don't make your audience wait for you. Be close to the stage when the MC is about to finish the introduction, so you are there, ready to go. If the MC is center stage, it's always nice to connect with them, with a handshake or hug, or even a simple nod/bow to them. Those first few seconds, yes - seconds, as you enter or come on, tell the audience something about you. Have energy, smile, maybe even nod, point or wave to a friend in the first few rows. Be warm and inviting. Show the audience they can expect something wonderful.

Engage your audience: Smile! Greet them warmly. If appropriate, it can help to thank them and let them know you are happy to be in their city, or with their organization. Share something that connects you to them: "Over the years, I have adopted three shelter dogs, and it's great to be here with you folks who work so hard to rescue and find forever homes for all the animals." Now I have them in the palm of my hand.

Children: An entirely different animal than adults! You will want to decide if they will sit on the floor, in chairs, in rows or a half circle. What will be the best configuration? If it's a classroom, discuss with the teacher(s). If it's outside, choose a place with the least distractions. Keep your entrance and beginning short and sweet. "You all look great today. Are you ready to hear some stories?" Don't keep them waiting with long-winded explanations about storytelling. Don't give them time to get distracted. Get to it! 

Your story intro: Now you need to set the stage for them to listen to your story. If you are at a storytelling conference, and your audience is made up of all storytellers, you may not need an intro to your story. You may want to simply take a moment, breathe, and then begin the story. Or perhaps you want to engage the audience, to make sure they are with you. A question or statement can work as a teaser to get them interested and want to hear more.

Children: "You all know that stealing is wrong, right? Do you think someone can 'steal a smell'? Well, let's listen closely as I tell you the story of Stealing Smells"

Teens: "Have you ever been accused of stealing something, but you didn't do it? I know I have. Sometimes it's hard to prove you didn't do it. And sometimes people won't even listen to you. You know, I've got a story about that. It's called Stealing Smells."

Adults: "Stories come from all over the world. And sometimes, one story can originate in many different places and cultures. The story I am about to tell you has origins in India, Peru, and even Europe. I would like to share with you my version of Stealing Smells"

Busking - Street Performing: Energy, Energy, Energy! - You will not only have to create the space, you will probably have to find and gather your audience - much like the circus "barker" who calls out to the passers-by.
"Ladies and gentlemen - gather 'round to hear
some fantastical stories!
Stories of kings and queens, witches and wizards,
the high and mighty, and the downtrodden too,
and maybe a story of people just like you!
Come near, come near, and you will hear:
stories that make you laugh, stories that make you cry,
and stories that make you remember
that look in her eye -
the feel of his skin -
stories for everyone - come closer, come in."
All of this has to do with you! You are the creator of your own stage. Let the light shine on you so your audience can see and hear your stories!

#351 - 1/28/2019
Metaphors
It's time for this tip again!

ˈmedəˌfôr,ˈmedəˌfər

noun

1.    a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
"“I had fallen through a trapdoor of depression,” said Mark, who was fond of theatrical metaphors"

synonyms: figure of speech, image, trope, analogy, comparison, symbol, word painting/picture
"the profusion of metaphors in her everyday speech has gotten pretty tiresome"

2.    a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.

"the amounts of money being lost by the company were enough to make it a metaphor for an industry that was teetering"


Ah, metaphors, similes, figures of speech! Words and language; great tools of the storyteller. When you listen to great story tellers or spoken-word artists, one of the first things you notice (hear) is the language they are using; the words, the phrases. Their prose is made up of poetic lines that peek the interest of the audience. They spark the imagination of the listeners. They paint pictures that fill the minds of those who want to know, "What happens next?"

How can you find this type of creative language; phrases that make your audience lean forward with their ears perked up like a coyote, listening to the front, side and even to the back? 

Here's an exercise that I do with my Community College classes, but one could do it on your own too.

Focus in on ONE object. I start with fruits and vegetables. Let's take an avocado. We usually go around in a circle, with each student taking ONE aspect, using each sense: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, describe the item using a metaphor or a simile. You can try each one by itself.

Sight: This avocado is as green as the rolling hills of Ireland
Touch: This avocado has the skin of an alligator
Sound: The wind whistles past this avocado, skipping lightly over it's bumps.
Smell: This avocado has the scent of dark green and light green all at once.
Taste: The thrice tastes of the avocado: The outside is rough and bitter; the inside is smooth and creamy; the pit is as hard as my ex-lover's heart!

After you have done this with several different items, focus on your story. Try to use each of the senses (one at a time) in a metaphor or simile to describe a character, a setting or an object in your story.

Jack was as lazy as the hare who took a nap in the middle of the race with the tortoise!
That cow would not give milk! She was as stubborn as an old mule and as dry as the desert could be.
Jack and his mom were so poor that even the rats went to bed without dinner.
The sight of those "magic" beans made Jack's head start spinning like a carnival carousel.
That con man saw Jack coming from a mile away; a brain as small as one of his beans; and a cash cow, money-on-the-hoof.
As jack and the cow neared, kicking up the dry, dusty road, the con man began to salivate with impending glee. That spot on the path became the oasis he had been waiting for.

Etc., etc., and so forth!

I use a thesaurus too, to find other words or phrases to spark a good metaphor!

Try with adjectives too: as tall as, wide, smart, dumb (as a box of rocks), beautiful, fast, creative, silky,, etc.

Use your "image engine": See Jack, staning there, with the cow tethered to himself. What's the image that comes to mind? What does he look like?

STORYTELLING STUDENTS: For extra credit - Send an e-mail to mark@storytellermark.com  before 2pm on Thursday Jan 31st with a metaphor or simile about our STORYTELLING CLASS. EX: Our storytelling class is a three ring circus with acrobats, jugglers, trapeze artists and a clown as the ringmaster! Note: You can't use a circus in YOUR metaphor. - Possible five points.


#350 - 1/21/2019
Lift Up Your Audience!
Storytelling Rule #1: Tell stories you love!

Storytelling Rule #2: Tell Stories your audience loves.

And as often as you can, lift up your audience!

Find stories that are joyful, happy, funny, heart-warming, etc. Yes, you can tell the scary stories; the ghost stories... but save them for that special night or performance. Most audiences want to be lifted up. They want to know that things turn out all right. They want to know that there is hope. So, tell those stories.

Sad or maudlin tales will leave the audience in a down mood. If the body of the story is that way, try to make the ending successful or uplifting. Did the protagonist meet the challenge? Did he/she overcome the hurdle? Did he/she slay the dragon? I hope so. If they didn't your audience may not come back for the next set, or show!

Yes, there are times when one needs to tell a difficult story. Certainly, in school, a story is a better way to relate history than a simple list of events. But even then, it is helpful to find an ending that exalts, or brings us back to a good place.

Life isn't always happy and uplifting, but that's part of the role of a storyteller.

Disclaimer: There are always exceptions to the rule.


#349 - 1/14/2019
Use Your Turn Signal...or Don't
To be safe on the road, it helps to signal your intentions. In storytelling, you my snt to signal your intentions... or you may not. You have to decide, "What's your purpose?"

Do you want the audience to know where you are going, or you want to keep them guessing? And, why would you want to do that?

I remember one of the first stories I ever heard from Donna Washington was the story Sir Gawain (What Women Want). I remember she began, and hesitated as she said, "This is the story of one of the knights of the round table, sir..." All of the kids in the audience began to yell out, "Lancelot!" Donna made one of those faces only she can make and chimed in, "Gawain! Who's telling this story, anyway?" She intended that pause like signaling in the wrong direction, so she could make a funny break, knowing that most people would think of Lancelot.

There are some comedians who do this on a consistent basis so the listener always feels a little off balance. Every time the teller signals right, they go left as a comedic device.

There are stories where you may want to signal correctly. Perhaps you could do some "foreshadowing" early on in a ghost story. This would let people know what might be in store later on. When you subtly signal that you are going right... and you DO go right, the listeners will be with you. You may even hear several audience members even say, "I knew it!"

Where and how do you want to lead your listener in the story? Then decide all the points along the way that you would do that... then signal.


#348 - 1/7/2019
Trust Yourself
Things are fine, just the way they are... maybe... and maybe not.

Trust yourself. Each time you tell a story, use that "inner" ear to listen to yourself. Was the story well done, the way you told it? Might you have changed a word or phrase here or there? Did you use a new word or phrase that you believe would work better for you and your audience in the future?

Usually, if you spontaneously come up with a new work, phrase, gesture, it means you are "in the zone" and things are working well for you. Trust yourself. This could be a new addition to the story. Or, often, after the telling, you realize something was a little off and you have an idea of how to change it for the better. It probably means you are right.

The workshop I did in Tucson went very well. But afterwards, I began to think of ways I could not only improve it but change it to make a whole new workshop.

Trust yourself. Trust that you are working well in the moment. Trust that your ideas are valid. Trust that you can make changes for improvement. Trust that it will all work out right in the end!


#347 - 12/31/2018
Tally Ho!
Two tips this week!

First, get a pad of paper (like legal or letter size). You are going to make a "Tally Sheet" of everything you have done in storytelling; not just this year, but since you started as a teller. You can separate categories like, telling at the library; telling at schools; telling at slams etc.

You can estimate, for instance: if you tell almost every month at your guild meeting, put down 10 - 12 marks for each year you have done that. If you tell every other week at a swap or open mic, make 26 marks (OR write the number 26 for each year).

Did you win an award? Mark it down. Take a class? Mark it down. Did you attend a workshop? Mark it down. Did you facilitate a workshop? Mark it down. Try to think of EVERYTHING you did concerning storytelling. Mark them down. Did you read a new story, craft a new story, give someone a suggestion that helped them with a story, spent a luncheon talking about story, ANYTHIING?

Then, add up the tally and write down that number in LARGE numbers on the sheet.

That's a indicator of your life in storytelling. It's quite a lot, huh?

BE PROUD. Be proud of all the things you have done that have helped to form your journey as a storyteller!


#346 - 12/24/2018
Here's a Holiday Gift for You All
This week's tip is in the form of a link to a great website and a great post. One of my tips is ALWYAS do as much research as you can. Well, here's a ton of links regarding crafting historical (and other fact-based) stories! Colleague and friend Karen Chace has accumulated a number of wonderful liinks regarding crafting these types of stories. I have checked out many of them and they are great!

If you are planning a historical or other fact-based tale, these are links you should bookmark!. In fact, you should bookmark this page from Karen as it is an invaluable resource!

Here's the link:
http://karenchace.blogspot.com/2018/12/making-history-come-alive.html

For even more go here:
http://karenchace.blogspot.com/2018

PLUS: It's searchable on almost ANY topic! 

Thanks Karen!


#345 - 12/17/2018
Building Your Repertoire
rep·er·toire
repə(r)ˌtwär/
noun
a stock of plays, dances, or pieces that a company or a performer knows or is prepared to perform.

In light of the TIDBITS below, I am reposting this TIP from 2016.

When we start out as a storyteller, we usually begin slowly, choosing stories one at a time. Finding stories that we "love" isn't always easy to do. I remember taking days of searching and reading stories on line and in books until I found the first story that I liked and thought I could tell.

Just a note here: In storytelling class, we begin with Folktales or Fairytales because they already have the basic structure that beginners need to learn. Next come Legends that still have a structure but deal with larger concepts and archetypes. Then, we progress to Fact-Based where we need to choose and add structure to the "elements" of the story. Personal stories come last (even though we think they are the easiest to tell) as they need more structure and attention to theme and emotions.

By the end of our first course, we should have 4-5 stories that we are "ready to tell" when the need arises, or the call comes in. Aye, there's the rub... when the call comes in... what then? What if the client wants a set of stories that we don't have? Christmas stories; Earth Day stories; stories for children; stories of exploration or adventure; etc. Whoa...now what? Time to start building our repertoire!

What kind of stories might we get a call for? Since Christmas is almost here, let's start with Holiday stories. What stories will fit a particular season or time? Christmas; Hanukkah; Easter; Thanksgiving; Memorial Day; Earth Day; Sadie Hawkins Day (look it up); etc. Remember that some stories can fit into several categories. For instance, a story about what we are thankful for might fit BOTH Thanksgiving and Christmas. An Earth Day story might also fit into stories about Values or Making Choices.

While searching for stories you "love", remember that you must also have some sort of affinity for the potential audiences you might have. If you DON'T connect with a particular audience or "type" of story, then DON'T tell that story, and don't tell to that audience. Pass the gig along to a colleague. I don't do Sacred Stories. I would pass that along to Sean Buvala or Donna Martin. I would pass on Irish stories and pass the gig to Liz Warren, or Laura Rutherford. But when the Jewish Community Center calls...I am there in a heartbeat!

Don't forget that listening to other tellers is a great way to gather stories. You certainly will not want to tell a story the same way that someone else does but find a way to make the story your own. Find three or four different versions of the story, then pick and choose which parts you like. Delve into why you love this story, what connections to your own life can you discover? Then you are ready to claim it and make it yours.

Make sure you find a way to keep a list, or keep track of all the stories you tell, and the ones in progress. You can use a simple pencil and paper, a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, etc.

You may want to try my Storytellers Database. This is an online program that allows you to keep track of all your stories, when and where you have told them, and what the themes and content of the stories are. Check it out, there are short video tutorials to walk you through the process step-by-step. Here's the link: Storytellersdb.com.

As you move along in this process, you will be building your repertoire with many different stories that will fit for many different situations. Your "blocks" will begin to be different from each other, and they will begin to pile high.

Two things to remember as you add one block, one story at-a-time. to your collection - my first two rules of Storytelling:

  1. Tell stories that you love!
  2. Tell stories that you believe your audience will love!

#344 - 12/10/2018
Re-Charge Your Storytelling Engine

Stuck? Can't think of a story idea to craft? It happens. Here's a tip from 2013 that may help.

How many new storytelling students have voiced that lament? How many of US have ever felt that way? Even experienced tellers get "tellers block" from time to time. Here are a few ways to pull yourself out of the doldrums, refresh your spirit and re-charge your storytelling engine:

  • Music
    Playing music changes your mindset. My go-to genre is Show Tunes. They energize me. I sing along out loud, and with the shows I have done, remember the great times and fun. Often, I remember small incidents that I can turn into stories.
     
  • Exercise
    I ride my bike, sometimes around the neighborhood, sometimes on the canal. Exercise gets the body going. Take a look around you, see what stories may be lurking, “just around the corner.”
     
  • People Watching
    Europeans know how to do it. Just sit and observe. One of the best ways is to sit at a small café or coffee shop. Inside or outside, you’ll see lots going on. Watch people interacting with friends, loved ones, and even strangers. What are they talking about? Can you eavesdrop? Can you make up a story about them?
     
  • Pets
    Walk the dog, or just sit with your pet. Watch how they play. My dog can play fetch for hours. Cats can make a cardboard box their playground for an entire afternoon. I wonder what they are thinking. There’s great subject matter here – especially if you approach it from the first person, point-of-view of your pet!
     
  • Housework
    Kill two birds with one stone. Washing dishes (by hand) can send you straight to the food that was on it the night before. Or maybe you just start to think about “where did that mug come from? Who gave that to me?” Or even, “Why did my ex and I split this set of plastic patio-ware? Neither of us has a complete set?” Now there’s some fodder for a tale!
Those are just a few concepts. The idea is to get away from obsessing about crafting a story, so you can clear your mind, then fill your mind - then go back to crafting!

#343 - 12/3/2018
What's in Your Pocket? Ornaments and Tinsel?

It's the Holiday season, and more than other times of the year, this is when you should be MOST prepared to tell a story. Here's a reprint of a tip from back in 2013, but still relevant.

If you need a story for a particular holiday or event, I recommend Karen Langford Chace's Catch the Storybug Blog. It is searchable. Click here to see the results page from a search for Christmas. There's a lot of info on Christmas...and a LOT of links to stories.

When you tell people you are a storyteller, what is their response? How do you respond back to them? Do they ask you "What kind of stories do you tell?" Then what do you say? Do you tell them a story? You should.
 
This exchange between storyteller and "potential listener" happens all the time. There's only one real way to let them in on what you do...tell them a story. What story should you tell? Well, if you only have a moment to capture their interest, it's clearly not the time to tell the legend of Gilgamesh - even if that is your favorite.
 
You need some "pocket" stories; short stories, no longer than one or two minutes. Sounds crazy, no? Something that will give them a glimpse of what you do. Keep it short, just enough to whet their appetite.
 
Have a few different ones so you can pick the most appropriate one to tell. Take one of your favorites and pare it down to just the essentials. Or choose a short fable or parable. Tell your story with all the gusto you have, as if you were telling the long version. Don't skimp on the emotion and characterizations. At the end of your story, you can always say, “There’s more to it than that…that’s just a taste!”
 
And this being the Holiday Season, it's quite appropriate to tell a simple holiday story. Who knows, you could get a storytelling gig just by telling one short but amazing story!
 

#342 - 11/26/2018
What's Your Light in the Window?
I'm a huge fan of Maxfield Parrish, who was one of America's most prolific illustrators. Some of you may be familiar with his most famous illustration, Daybreak:

Parish did illustrations for magazines like Life and Collier's. He spent some time here in the southwest, and that influence can be seen in many of his illustrations of the shimmering light on mountains.

Parish did not use paints. instead, he used translucent "glazes" that he mixed himself. He was adamant about how his work was reproduced, and even had his printer lay down the ink in the same order of "layers" in which he used his glazes. He painted many winter evening or nighttime landscapes like the one below.

One apocryphal story is that Parish painted a winter landscape for use in a calendar. When it was finished, he sent it to the publisher. After a few days, the publisher sent it back to Parish with the brief and unspecific message, "It needs something." 
 
Parish set the painting on his easel and stared at it intently. After some time, he lifted a small brush and grabbed a small bit of yellow from his palette. He leaned forward and put the tiniest dot of yellow "glowing light" in one of the windows and sent the painting back to his publisher. THAT was what the panting needed! From that day on, when Parish would do a landscape, he always put a light in at least ONE window.
 
What is it that makes YOUR stories bright, warm, homey, welcoming, vibrant, dancing, laughing, alive?
 
What is that one tiny dot of light that your story (or all of your stories) might need?

#341 - 11/19/2018
Thanks. . .for All The Story Possibilities
A reprint of a Thanksgiving tip that is never out of date.

On Thanksgiving, we are always asked, "What are we thankful for?" I am suggesting that we might use this as another opportunity for story creation. Think about both the good times and the not-so-good times in your life. With each incident, there's probably a story that goes along with it. Especially the not-so-good times. One of the ways that storytellers can make lemonade out of lemons is to tell the story! Here are just a few of mine:

  • I am thankful for the time that the chorus put one over on me and I was left on stage with one brown shoe and one black shoe. (The Dance General)
     
  • I am thankful for the time my nephews were five years old and came to see me in Disney On Parade. (Winnie The Pooh & Nana) 
     
  • I am thankful for the time I was scared half to death on the Colorado river. (Big Water)
     
  • I am thankful for the time I was scared half to death in the train station in Antwerp Belgium. (Big Escalator)

Have a Happy Thanksgiving this year, and don't forget about the times in your life that you are thankful for, because they gave you a great story to tell?

Storytelling Students: Extra Credit: Think of a not-so-good time in your life that you could be grateful for because it left you with a good story. Craft that story under 7 minutes and be prepared to tell it in class on Thursday, November 29 or Tuesday, December 4. Email me a 3-4 sentence explanation of your story and I will put you on the list. Possible 50 points (NOT AUTOMATIC).


#340 - 11/12/2018
Insert Tip Below
What's your best tip? What's the most important thing you have learned about storytelling that you want to share with others? I'm giving you a chance to share right now!

How many times have you read this newsletter and thought, "I've got a great tip too!" Here's your opportunity to add your tip for everyone to see, 

Post your tip in the comment section below (one tip only please). Long or short, I don't care. I want to see what you've got. I want to hear from you...ALL OF YOU! 

Let's make a "collective" of all the tips out there. 

Don't forget to include your FULL NAME as your FB account may not reflect that.

I'm not the only one who has tips for storytellers. Let's hear from YOU!

INSERT YOUR TIP BELOW!

 


#339 - 11/5/2018
Borrow Carefully
You should never steal. That's what our mothers told us, and they were right...most of the time.

Storytellers shouldn't steal someone else's story, especially a personal story. If you want to tell a folktale or fairytale you have heard, research it, find at least THREE different versions. Then, craft your OWN derivative version. Make it your own, not just a poor copy of someone else's.

But you CAN borrow techniques, and sometimes even concepts and ideas. You still have to make them your own when you craft a story. One of my students used this line in a story: "I could breathe in the turkey." It was a thanksgiving story. I wrote it down for use later. It was a great line and concept, "breathing in" an aroma. I use it in my version of Stealing Smells.

Pam Faro has amazed me many times with the way she uses pauses and breathing. I have borrowed those techniques and use them in many of my stories. When I craft a story, I remind myself about these techniques and ask myself, "Where can I use them to enhance my story?"

Kim Weitkamp has a way of looking at her audience that can actually "ask a question" or say, "Uh oh" without speaking a word. I stole that concept and now wonder, "When can I use just a look, instead of words?"

The great Bobby Norfolk tells his tales with sound and movement. He is the original "beatbox" man. He has sounds for all the animals, walking, running, sneaking, grabbing and all manner of happenings in his tales. Other people do that, but Bobby is the master. I wonder how I could use that effect? Could I make some sound with my voice that would enhance a part of my story? I can't do it the way Bobby does, but I wonder...

Last week one of my students told a fact-based story. When he got to the point in the story where one character is going to a dance, and he knew that a girl he liked would be there, the character said, "I'm going to meet my future!" What a great line. In addition to borrowing that sentiment, I may have to give him extra credit!


#338 - 10/29/2018
Homework for Life - Develop Your Storytelling Lens
It's not necessarily a "new" idea, just in an updated "digital" format. The important thing is that it works!

How often do you see a "theme" announced for an open mic or a slam and think, "I don't have a story for that"? According to Donald Davis and Mathew Dicks, we need to develop a "Storytelling Lens" and see things or events in our lives as potential for a story!

Liz Warren had told us long ago that every night, before going to bed, Donald writes in a journal about all the "people" he met, and all the "places" he visited. These are reminders of events that could turn into stories later on. I ran across a similar technique developed by storyteller Mathew Dicks called "Homework for Life." He explains it in the video below and shows how you can develop a way of thinking about everyday events with a "storytelling lens". It's a great way to create tons of personal stories.


#337 - 10/22/2018
Your Work Is the Only Thing That Matters
I came across this blog post by Ryan Holiday on Medium.com, a popular blog outlet. I think it is brilliant! Please don't dismiss it because it initially talks about how exposure and marketing are not important. They are important, but they are secondary to doing the work and having a great porduct!

There is a story about an exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and a young comedian. The comedian approaches Seinfeld in a club one night and asks him for advice about marketing and getting exposure.
 
Exposure? Marketing? Seinfeld asks. Just work on your act.
 
Seinfeld, a pure stand-up, a comedian’s comedian, is appalled by the question. It’s offensive to his legendary heads-down work ethic. But to the kid, this was a surprise. Isn’t that the kind of question you’re supposed to ask? Isn’t that how you get ahead?
...the unintended consequence of, what one might call, total brand and business control, is that it diverts attention away from the most essential part of any creative profession. You know, making great stuff.
Storytellers - I have often said that constant learning and continuing education are extremely important. This article is TOP NOTCH and helps put many parts of a storytelling career (or any creative efforts) in perspective. I urge you to read the blog...it's about a 6-8 minute read.
 
GCC Storytelling Students: EXTRA CREDIT - Click on the link and Read the entire article. Then write a response to it. (NOT A REVIEW of what it says) I want to know your thoughts and FEELINGS about what he says. Minimum 200 words. Send me an E-mail with your reponse by 2:00 PM - Tursday, Oct 25 - CHECK your spelling and grammar! Possible total of 25 points.
  Read the rest of the story here.

#336 - 10/15/2018
Be Vewy, Vewy Careful
Here's a recycled, but important tip from October of last year. If you're too young to remember, that's the character Elmer Fudd at the right. He used to say, "Be vewy, vewy careful."

In the news industry, they're called "sound bites". Often, a sound bite is not only NOT the "whole" story, it's not even the "right" story. Many times, a sound bite is used to "spin" a story a certain way, sometimes to the detriment of the person in the story. As Elmer Fudd says, "Be vewy, vewy careful", about what you read on the internet (or anywhere else" that may not be the whole story.

That said, certain types of sound bites, or cryptic phrases can be used by storytellers to "set up" the listeners to think one way, and then later reveal that it meant something else. Once again, Elmer's advice is crucial here. Be careful and wise about how and when these are used.

A student of mine began his "fact based" story:

"My name is Tom, and I was the property of Benjamin Franklin."

He then continued on to tell us all the ways that he was treated by Franklin: "Had to sleep in the barn; only got fed once a day; was punished with a beating when he didn't obey, etc."

What were we all thinking? That Tom was a slave... but in fact, the teller revealed at the end of the story that Tom was Franklin's dog. This was a very effective technique, using the "assumption" that we all had to show us the analogy of the way a dog is treated to the way slaves were treated. It was well done.

The caveat here is that once an image is placed into the listeners' minds, it may be hard to change. Consider the following statement.

The man insisted that the girl sleep in his bed!

What's your initial reaction? What are you thinking, feeling? As a "sound bite" it could be very disturbing. If one goes further, the image of the man could get worse and worse.

They argued. Their voices got louder. The girl did not want to and said, "There is NO way I will do that!" The man countered, "I will just find a way to force you to."

Pretty strong words, evoking high emotions, right? The longer one continues with this thread, the harder it may be to come back from a dangerous feeling or assumption.

But what if THIS were the scenario:

The man insisted that the girl sleep in his bed! "You are the guest in my house. the couch is too hard. I insist that you take the comfortable bed and I take the couch!"

Well, now, that's a whole different kettle of fish - isn't it?

It can be an effective technique, But we always have to ask ourselves, "What will the listeners be feeling? Do I want them to feel, assume that? If I go too long, will I be able to get them back? Will it all SERVE the story?

Stories that start one way and later shift can be very effective. But remember to "Be vewy, vewy careful!"


#335 - 10/8/2018
As Everyone Knows...
An important tip from 2013.

Ever need to make a story "shorter"? Need to cut through that long, epic saga, but you don't want the audience to lose important information? Here's a device used successfully by storyteller Laura Rutherford.

Use the phrase, "As everyone knows..." or "As you all know..." This can significantly shorten the length of the story without losing critical content or sacrificing the integrity of the tale. Laura has used this device in cutting down an epic Myth.
 
For example: In Jack and the Beanstalk, let's say you only have time to tell about "two" of the times that Jack climbs the stalk and steals from the giant. After telling about stealing the bag of gold, you might say,
As all of you know, Jack went up the stalk a second time and stole the goose that lays the golden eggs, and once again was nearly caught by the giant. He saw one more item that he wanted, a golden harp that sang. But Jack fled as he heard the Giant's rant of "Fee-fi-fo-fum!"
Using the phrase "As everyone knows..." brings the audience in. It makes them privy to what you know, even if they DON'T know it.
 
It is essential that one must be careful about what to excise and refer to in this manner. I wouldn't use it in a story like the Three Little Pigs, or Goldilocks, where the repetition is more crucial to the story. It’s good for long, expository sections that add detail, but could easily be left out if needed.
 

#334 - 10/1/2018
First Person (and 2nd Person) Elevate Fact-Based (and traditional) Tales
An update of a Tip from a few years ago.

In my Art of Storytelling classes at Glendale Community College, we are about to tell Fact-Based stories. At first look, this genre seems to be one of the more difficult ones for students (and some seasoned tellers) to get their heads around. The trick here is, how does one make this story more than just a "report" or a mere "list of events"? One of the best ways to do this is to change the POV to first person.

I've written about "point of view" before. Here's a bit more about the first person POV.

In a biographical story, one could choose to tell from the point of view of the central character; be Ben Franklin, Einstein, Edison, Tesla. Another way is to choose some other character in the story to tell from their POV. Tell from the POV of the Parent, Lover, Partner or Teacher of the central character. Tell the events of a historical story from the point of view of a, seemingly uninterested, bystander or observer of the incidents. Perhaps the Butler, Carpenter or even the pet belonging to one of the characters.

A few semesters ago, one student told the story of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, but not about the attack. He told the story of how the Towers were built, from the POV of a steelworker that had helped to build the towers. He told of his pride in building the towers and at the end, his sadness at their destruction. It was brilliant. 

Another student told the story of Mark "Marky-Mark" Wahlberg...from the point of view of his Mother. This was a great choice. We hear of his turbulent youth and how he went to jail, as his mother lovingly said those ubiquitous words, "But he's really a good boy!" This showed us not only the "events" of his life, but his mother's struggle to deal with his self-destructive behavior, and eventually her pride and love at his success as an actor.

A gifted student told from "second person". He told from the POV of a close friend, attending the funeral of the "main" character. He was talking to his deceased friend, "Johnny" and told of the good times and difficult times they had together. It was heartfelt, emotional and very compelling!

And recently, a student told the story of Persephone from first person. It was filled with emotion. She really showed her feelings being torn apart between loving her mother and loving Hades. The level of intensity could not have been reached by telling from the POV of the Narrator.

Telling from the first person can lend a creative element to the story and bring the audience closer in to the experience. Especially in a case where they may not relate to the main character, they may be able to relate to the character telling the story. Try it and see. Who else might be in the story that would "tell" it from an interesting point of view?


Addendum to this tip - 

When I re-post a tip from an earlier issue, I worry somtimes that folks will say/think, "Oh yeah, I read that before. So how about a NEW tip?" That was before I got this message from Tom Tjarks in Colorado. Obviously, he wasn't a subscriber when the tip was originally posted:

I read your newsletter every week.  The tips are great.
 
I have been wanting to tell history stories but couldn't get them above being a report for school.  This week's Tips explained how to do this.  My favorite example of using someone else to tell the story is "Ben and Me".  I look at that story in a new way now.  I will use the suggestions in this week's newsletter to develop some history stories.  There are many good true stories waiting to be told.
 
Thank you
Thanks Tom (and thanks for permission to share)! So glad the tip was useful, that's what I am always hoping for!

#333 - 9/24/2018
The Golden Triangle - Know Your Audience
Here's a tip from April of 2014. It seems to go along with the Tidbit below.

We're all familiar with the "Golden Triangle" of storytelling. In order for storytelling to take place, one has to have a Teller, a Story and an Audience. They are all equally important, and the relationship between all three is of utmost importance.

But wait, there's more! 

This graphic "map" for storytelling should be your guide for all performances, both planned and unplanned. Colleague Pam Faro wrote a blog (read it here) that has some great questions about each of the elements. And, as she says,

"Often it’s the case that specific answers are not even what is needed – but the questioning process itself is what leads you forward, deeper and farther into your story selecting, preparation, and telling!"

Here's my "story" example:

Some time ago, I was at Delux, the gourmet burger restaurant owned by my friend Lenny Rosenberg (32nd and Camelback for those who might be interested). 
 
We were in his office, and on the way out, passed by the private dining room where a group of eight business women were having a dinner meeting. Lenny stepped in to check on them, and pulled me in. He introduced me as “a great storyteller”. The ladies couldn’t resist asking me to share a story with them. –
NOW – What do I do?
 
I had about five seconds (maybe six) to decide if I should tell, and then what story. The quick questions:
 
Teller? – Me. Lenny had already pumped up my abilities, and we had already shared a laugh or two. Rapport had been established.
 
Audience? – High-powered, strong, decisive (and by the sound of their laughter, fun-loving) business women.
 
Story?The Castle of the Faithful Wives (clever, strong women who save the lives of their families).
 
So I asked them (a calculated measure to see if they were really ready for a story), “Would you like to hear a story about strong women?” — I think I had them in the palm of my hand.
 
I kept it short, two to three minutes, and made sure that the reveal of the “women carrying their husbands away from the castle, on their backs” was both humorous, and drove home the point of clever, strong women.
 
They laughed, cheered in triumph, and gave me (and the story) a great round of applause.
The Golden Triangle was glowing bright.
 
GCC Storytelling students: Look for a NEW assignment in Canvas called: EXTRA CREDIT - GOLDEN TRIANGLE. Submit this assignment by 2:00 pm THURSDAY, Sept 27th. Total possible points - 45. Remember, I want MEAT - NO FLUFF!
 

#332 - 9/17/2018
Great Myths of the Future

The video in Tidbits talks about inventions that were invented in MIT's Media Lab - inventions that changed the future of the world. Here's a quote that struck me:

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Here's a REPRINT of a tip from May/2016 that I believe has some relevance.

This week's tip comes from colleague and Irish teller Yvonne Healy. Yvonne did a workshop on Family stories and I found one exercise particularly interesting and exciting. I believe it has many uses!

Quite often, people don't believe that they have done anything worth "telling" about. They feel their lives are "ordinary" vs. extraordinary. This exercise in a group, or with a person you are interviewing can put a whole new perspective on that concept. And... it forces the teller to use their creativity!

Interview a family member (or friend or colleague) and have them tell you something they did. It could be something simple that they feel may not be very "interesting", but have them tell it anyway.

OR - in a group, partner up and have your partner tell you something they did that seemed extremely mundane, like putting away the dishes, or dusting the shelves.

The next step is to project yourself 5000 years into the future. What would the world be like? Now tell the story back to the family member (or partner) but tell it as a GREAT MYTH. How did that one thing that they did affect the world in the future? How might they be remembered in the folklore of the future?

A long, long, long time ago, Mary dusted the shelves in her house, and did a particularly good job. So good, in fact, that when her friend Jane came over, she noticed the excellent job Mary had done. She was also so pleased that there was no dust in the house as Jane had such bad allergies. Jane told so many people about Mary dusting the shelves and how wonderful it was, that they all decided to follow suit and do the same in their own houses. They even took it a step further and cleaned and scrubbed everything. Each time someone visited a home, they marveled at the cleanliness and vowed to clean their own homes and office spaces with great energy and pride. This spread far and wide, across the country and eventually, around the world. And that is why the earth is such a clean place today, in the year 7016!

There is great creativity in this exercise for the teller, finding a way to frame the story in a different way (and time). And there is great power in having that person hear their tale as a Great Legend, or Myth of the future!

GCC Storytelling Students - Extra Credit: Do this exercise with a family member or friend. Then send me a written version of your Myth of the Future. Approximately 150 words. Make sure it includes: the mundane event; the progression of events and the result in the future (present). Include a description of the person's reaction to your myth/story. E-mail to mark@storytellermark.com by 2:00pm Tuesday - Sept. 18th. Possible 20 points.


#331 - 9/10/2018
Research for storytellers is not an option, it's a responsibility
This tip comes from Csenge Zalka, a great storyteller and author from Hungary. She recently told at the FEST, Federation for European Storytelling conference in Ljubljana. She came away with some extremely important thoughts about storytelling. The begining of here blog is below. Click here or at the bottom of this post to read her entire post about research. It's VERY CRUCIAL!


Research for storytellers is not an option, it's a responsibility

At the 2018 FEST (Federation for European Storytelling) conference in Ljubljana, Heidi Dahlsveen presented the results of a survey that FEST commissioned to lay the groundwork for the EU grant project titled Professional training and development of storytellers on a European scale. Basically, FEST created a survey asking questions about how storytellers work, how they learn, how they are trained, and what skills they think would be most important to incorporate in a "European storytelling curriculum." A little over 300 storytellers filled out the survey. While there were many fascinating, intriguing, and occasionally baffling results in Heidi Dahlsveen's presentation, there was one that particularly caught my attention:
 
On the list of professional and artistic skills that storytellers think are important to their work, "research" was almost at the bottom.
GCC Storytelling Students - Extra Credit: Write at least 150 words about the specific things you have done to RESEACH your folktale.  I want MEAT, not FLUFF - E-mail it to Mark@Storytellermark.com before THURSDAY, Sep 13 - 2:00PM. - Possible total of 10 points extra credit
  Click here for the rest of the blog

#330 - 9/3/2018
Don't Stop Till You Get Enuf
That's a quote from Friend, Colleague and Storyteller Michael D. McCarty. The "one-man-audience". The happiest guy in the room. And the LOUDEST guy at the conference. His website is havemouthwillrunit.com.

Michael has a great, joyous take on life: Don't worry, be happy. And "Don't stop till you get enuf."

That's my tip for today, at the age of 70! Here's what I have learned: DON'T STOP!

That's ME in the middle between my two nephews, 45 years ago! I've never stopped being "Pooh" or "Grover" or "The Old Witch" or any of the other characters I have played in my life. I am always ready to PLAY!

Don't stop learning
One of the things I noticed at my first conference (and all the other ones too) is that the "seasoned" headliner tellers also went to other people's workshops and presentations. They didn't merely sit around and play the role of "I'm done." They continued to learn about their craft. Could the rest of us be as diligent? ---Don't stop!

Don't stop listening and looking.
Look around you, what do you see? What do you hear? There are stories all around you. There are wonders and marvels to see and hear. Be on the lookout for them and all that they can tell; you and teach you. ---Don't stop!

Don't stop loving.
Honor the lost loves by letting them go, and don't be afraid to love again. 
Love the ones who don't love, no matter what. It may be the only thing they respond to.
Sending out loving vibes and messages can change the world,,, one person at a time.---Don't stop!

Don't stop doing what makes you happy.
Show others that you ARE WHO YOU ARE and NOTHING will get in your way. Don't stop!

Don't stop believin'.
Believe in yourself and others. Believe in success - it comes in all forms. Don't stop!

Don't stop telling.
No matter where you are, how old you are, how experienced you are. In Camelot, King Arthur, at the end of the musical, admonishes a young boy:

Each evening, from December to December
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.

Ask ev'ry person if they've heard the story
And TELL IT STRONG AND CLEAR if they have not.
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

---Don't stop!

GCC STORYTELLING STUDENTS: Extra Credit - Sometime today or tomorrow morning, STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. What do you hear? What do you see? What wonders or marvels are you aware of?

  • A small child eating French fries at the food court, but with the joy of a gourmand having a roasted lamb shank.
  • A puppy, trying to keep up with its owner, constantly looking up for acknowledgement and love.
  • Two lovers, sitting on the steps, where the world around them has faded away, and they can only hear their own voices as they try to stave off their fears and doubts.

Write at least 150 words about the wonder around you. Tell me a story of what's happening, or what you see and hear. Paint a picture for me. Email it to me at mark@storytellermark.com before 2 pm Tuesday, Sept. 4th. - Total POSSIBLE points: 20.


#329 - 8/27/2018
An Actress Prepares
And so should a storytellers! (See my Tip about Building a Back Story)

First of all, let me say that I love this woman. She is a consummate actress. She played Anij, the 300-year-old woman whom Piccard fell in love with in Star Trek Insurrection. She had such a calm persona and could slow down time.

I have seen her in many other movie and TV roles. Recently, she played the lead in Hello Dolly on Broadway. One might think, "Broadway Musical", Dolly, energetic music and dancing, the role created by the flamboyant Carol Channing. Just get out there and do it with energy and a big smile! But no, this prolific actress talks about "her" Dolly before the play starts. Who was she? What was she like growing up? What's her back-story?

Listen as she tells you about who this character is, how she relates to her, and how she deals with and portrays the emotions on stage.

NOTE: You must scroll down to click on the video, but it is well worth it!

What might happen to YOUR story if you took the time to think about and incorporate the Back-Story of your story's character(s)?

GCC STUDENTS: Look up the term "backstory" and read the Tip in the LIINK above. Then send me an E-mail (mark@storytellermark.com) with your thoughts on how a backstory affects one's story & telling - at least 125 words. Do this before 2 P.M. this Tuesday for a maximum of 10 extra credit points.


#328 - 8/20/2018
Where do Stories Come From?
I'll be starting classes at GCC this week. Quite often, students ask, "Where do stories come from? How do you get your ideas for a completely new story?" Well, here is a tip from three years ago that explains a little about that.

This is not just a question that children may ask. Certainly, many newbie tellers ask, "How do you find stories?" There are many answers to the question. If we put aside, for the moment, folk tales, fairytales and other traditional stories, we are left with a variety of genres, including personal, fact based, family, etc. So where do these "non-structured" stories come from? The answer, again, is "many places".

I am told that the great Donald Davis writes in his journals each night. He jots down all the people he encountered, and all the places he experienced. Donald has always said that a story starts with people and places.

Many coaches and teachers tell us that we need to know what the story is about before we begin. More and more, I am not so sure about the timing of that. I believe that before we tell in front of an audience, yes, we must know that. But we may not know the real answer at the very beginning. Just as a new baby has no real idea of what they will become, or "grow into", stories can get started without knowing the outcome.

Be on the lookout!
For what? Be on the lookout for ANYTHING that will spur your imagination and creativity. It could be a melody you hear; a piece of clothing you or someone else is wearing; a shard of glass along the sidewalk; a curious sign in a shop; words that a passerby utters; a photo; the way two people are interacting in the mall...or anything that stops you for a moment and makes you think.

Be open to what is around you. A story may not come from one single element. Perhaps it will be the succession of three things happening one day. Perhaps it will be different pieces of advice that people have given you. Maybe it starts with you noticing the colors of the things around you, or the shape of the clouds. What are the connections? What are the similarities, or differences that could have some meaning for you?

You don't always have to "start at the beginning" or know everything about the story and the characters. Sometimes you just have fragments or pieces that you are not sure how they fit together. That is when the creativity and crafting begin. Trust the process, and don't be too impatient. It may take time for the images to coalesce.

Wait and see all of the things that come out of that magic hat...then take your time to decide...what could they be? What story would they tell?


#327 - 8/13/2018
It's Right In Front of You
                                                     

You know that old adage, "The answer is right in front of you!" Quite often, it's true. And in storytelling, Antonio Rocha has a theory about that. He believes it's true in more ways than one.

When you are speaking as the narrator, it's fine to gaze around and speak to the entire audience. But when you are speaking as one character to another, one should speak directly to the front.

Most of the time, we are taught that when there are two or more characters in your story, that the way to portray them talking to each other in a dialog is to cheat your body to one side and speak as one of the characters. Then, do the opposite side and speak as the other character.

This is the best representation I can find of cheating left to right and speaking to the front.

Antonio's admonition is to always speak to the front, no matter which character you are. The change in your posture, voice and manner will show the audience which character you are. I have struggled with this concept, but after time, I have realized that there is great power in your character speaking straight forward. Becoming the other character and speaking to the front as well can be quite mesmerizing.

Don't worry about the people at the sides of the audience (if they are surrounding you in a half circle). They will see a bit of your side, but they will see your energy going towards the front of you...because that is where the person you are talking to is.

They're right in front of you!


#326 - 8/6/2018
What's The Best Camping Stove?
A reprint of a favorite tip from 2014.

Many of you know that I am a bicycle/camping enthusiast. Over the years, I have modified and purchased newer and newer gear for camping and cooking at the campground. Of course, every camper has their “favorite” camping stove: the lightest; the smallest; the quietest; the best gas burner, etc. Everyone believes their choice is “the best.”

A few years ago I was at REI (the “best” camping store) and overheard a customer ask the salesperson, “What’s the best camping stove?” Eager to hear his take, I was surprised when, instead, he asked a question. “What kind of food are you going to be cooking?”
 
Ah! Brilliant!
 
Here was not just a great salesperson, but a great “coach”. Rather than tell the customer what stove “he” thought, or even “others” thought was the best, he used specific questions to ascertain more information about the “needs of the customer.”
 
Good coaching for storytellers is quite similar. Quite often, students and coaching clients ask me, “What’s the best way to…?; How do I…?; How can I…?” My “best” response to any of these queries is to follow up with another question; questions that will assist the client in focusing in on their goals and understanding of their story.
 
Who’s your audience?
What’s the story about?
What do you want the audience to feel, experience?
How long do you have to tell?
 
These and other secondary and tertiary questions will lead the client AND the coach along the appropriate path for this particular story/situation.
 
Last year I had a coaching session with Sean Buvala.  I presented an idea for a new character-specific story. I was having difficulty finding the right direction to go; understanding how to begin. Sean asked one simple question that got me thinking and going. He said, “Who are you telling the story to?”
 
The “best” answer to a question about the “best” way to accomplish something is most likely another, specific question.
 
The coach, or the salesman, knows the different techniques (stoves). But you know your story (what you are going to cook)!
 

#325 - 7/30/2018
Connecting
We call it Networking. I am not sure I like that word. I think it's more like, "connecting". Outside of tips about specifically crafting or telling, I think it's one of the most important tips I can offer.

Connect with the people around you; your friends; relatives; co-workers; people you meet every day and any day. Take time to listen and understand them. This will give you great insight into their story and who they are. It will help you later in crafting stories.

Connect with the people in your "tribe". As I mentioned in the News article above, these are the people that will help you in your journey. I don't just mean as teachers or coaches. I mean as colleagues who have "been there" and who can help you navigate the waters of our profession and business. They can link you to others in our tribe and be conduits to higher levels in your role as a storyteller.

Connect with those who have gone before you. Read about them, learn about them from your colleagues; watch videos of them and learn how they used story to energize and connect to their audiences.

It's all about how you connect with the world around you.


#324 - 7/23/2018
Cat Videos & Stupid Pet Tricks
Remember David letterman's "Stupid Pet Tricks"? It was the forerunner to today's Cat & Dog videos on Facebook. But don't count these ubiquitous displays of animal feats. They could make great stories!

When David Letterman did the segment on his late-night show, it was five to ten minutes long. He would interview the owner and get details about the pet, its background, how the pet learned the trick, etc. It all made a good story.

Does your pet have a special trick, or talent? Tell us the story!

I taught all of my rescue dogs (I've had three now) a special trick. They knew the difference between Kosher and Treif. Kosher food has certain parameters and has been blessed by a Rabbi. It is OK for Jewish people to eat. Treif is the opposite of Kosher and is NOT OK to eat. If I set out a treat and tell the dog it's Treif, she does not eat it. When I tell her it is Kosher, she goes for it! People would always ask, "How did you get him/her to do that?" With my male dog, I would say, "I circumcised him!"

My particular favorite in the video at right is the one with the dogs bringing in the groceries!

Perhaps you could combine your personal story about an animal with a folktale or fairytale. I reference Sean Buvala here, who has a wonderful story about a cat, when Sean was sharing an apartment in college. It's one of my favorites! Click here.

So, think about your own pet. What talents do they have? Could you describe it? Make a longer story out of it? Combine it with a few other short "tales" for a String-of-Pearls? 

Come on... you can do it... sit up now... that's it! Good boy... Good girl!


#323 - 7/16/2018
Personal Intro to Traditional Story Can Help Bridge Gap
Well, folks, seems we are back into the debate/discussion regarding traditional vs. personal stories. Here's a tip from back in 2014:

Perhaps you should read the article and blog referenced below before looking at this tip.

Laura Packer has done an excellent job of discussing the differences between traditional and personal narratives in this edifying blog. Click here to read the blog.

This piece is a great PRIMER on storytelling and the two genres! Laura gives us great perspectives on both types of tales and, in the end, asks us not to draw a line in the sand between the two, but perhaps build a bridge instead. SHe has an example of her doing that within the blog. Well done!

Done? OK, here goes.

Not ready to go full blown on incorporating a personal story into a traditional one? That's OK. You can still make a small link, and enhance your telling of a folktale or fairy tale.

Recently, I told the story of the Two Brothers. It's about their love for each other, and how they sacrifice their own gains to give to the other. Instead of merely beginning the story, I made a reference to my own family, I told of how I did not have any brothers, but did have two sisters. I spoke of how, in our early years, we had a great deal of sibling rivalry. Somehow, when we all got past the age of eighteen, we began to truly show our love for each other. To this day, we are all very close.

This type of personal intro can make an instant bridge and help you connect to the audience even before you start the story. It told the audience a little about me, helped them get in touch with their own feelings regarding family, and set up the premise of the story about two loving brothers.

So, before your story, tell your story.


#322 - 7/9/2018
When I use a word...

Always one of my favorite quotes! From Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all." (Just for fun, see Tidbits, below.)

Aye, yi, yi, there's the rub, "Which is to be master!"

Yes, many words can mean many different things. And as storytellers, there's more: many words that sound the same can mean even more things! This concept can be used in storytelling for many different effects.

Simple alliteration (repetition of the same letters or sounds) can be of use. In my story, The Princess and the Storyteller Frog, I say that "Frogs from all over the kingdom, came hopping and hoping to marry the princess."  This adds a bit of humor as "hopping" and "hoping" are similar, but different.

Take today, for example: "Many people in the office had their work eclipsed by the eclipse. Using the same word with a slightly different meaning can add interest.

Using the same word that has vastly different meanings can cause people to think more, be more curious, or just listen more closely. I have always loved the word, "stem" because it has fairly opposite meanings. It can mean the stem of a plant, or something that holds something else up. It can mean to stop something, like, "Stem the tide." Or it can mean to originate, as in, "This river stems from the north fork." or "This type of thinking stems from inaccurate information." Here's one: "It's unnatural to stem the flow of a river that stems from the depths of the earth."

Using words that sound alike, but are spelled differently, also forces the listener to be more involved. They often have a poetic effect. "The eyes of all were focused on the voters, and when it was over, the ayes had it. And I was not the only one who was eyed with hatred." 

And just for fun, you could use the WRONG word for what you mean as in "spoonerisms" or "Malaprops". (see below) 

For a lesson in words, meanings, rhymes, etc. go to see a "spoken word" slam or performance. These "poets" use words and language to their advantage in creating images and connections. 

They have heeded Humpty Dumpty's advice, and are "well heeled" in the art and use of words and language.


#321 - 7/2/2018
Why, Why, Why?
A Tip from two years ago, but quite relevant today. There are connections to my workshop in Fort Worth last weekend:

It's a question that little kids ask all the time, over and over again!

"No, you can't have cookies for breakfast." - "Why?"
"Because we don't eat cookies at breakfast time."  - "Why?"
"Because cookies aren't breakfast food." - Why?"

Yes, that was a real conversation I had many years ago with my nephew when he was 2 years old.

But it's also a question that coaches will ask (and should), over and over again. Question number one:

"Why are you telling this story?"

The first response is usually, and hopefully, "Because I love it." This is a good start. My first rule of storytelling, and what most seasoned tellers will share with you is that you MUST "Tell stories you love!" So, if this is your answer, then you are on your way...but wait, there's more.

"Why do you love it?

"I love the way Goldilocks is different in this version. I try to make her less of a criminal when she goes into the Bears' house. I love the way I have changed the ending and Goldilocks stays with the Bear family."

Great! You are clear about the things in this story that you love. Knowing what draws YOU to this story is the first step and is crucial in the process. Now, on to the next "Why?", just a bit deeper:

"Why are these things different in your version? Why are these things important to you?

"Because I can relate to Goldilocks. When I was younger, I didn't feel like I belonged in my family. I wanted to have a different family; one where I felt like I fit; one that was warm and loving; and one where everyone responded with love, instead of anger. 

Excellent! You have identified the essence of the story for you; what the story is about. Knowing and understanding this part is very important...partly because it takes you to the next "Why?"

"Why will OTHER people love it?"

"Because it's about wanting something different and good in your life; the desire for love. It's about wanting closeness and loving connections."

Aye, there's the rub! These are universal feelings, and that's what we are looking for in a story! Just because YOU love it is not enough. Other people must be able to relate to the story in some way, otherwise you will lose them part way through the tale. If they can't relate, they won't listen. But touching on universal feelings and emotions is one of the keys to a great story.

The process continues, in a good coaching session, or in your own crafting; what's the answer to all the whys?

Why does Goldilocks want a different life and family?
Why does the Bear family look better to her?"
Why does she "break into" their house?
Why does she do the things she does; eat the porridge; sit in the chair; lie on the bed?
Why aren't the bears angry when they discover the damage that has been done?
     Or if they are angry, why don't they show it the way Goldilocks' family did?
Why do these actions connect with the essence of the story?

If you and your story answer these questions, then you have a great tale that YOU love and the AUDIENCE will love.

So, when you are crafting your story, remember that annoying little kid who keeps asking "Why?" - Then be that kid!
 

P.S. Thanks to Mark Compton for reminding me of this and for a great conversation! (in 2016)


#320 - 6/25/2018
Paradigm Shift - Your POV Changes Everything
Most often, we tell stories from the Narrator's, omniscient role. Telling the story from a different Point of View (POV) can change everything. The way we look at things around us - our "paradigm" affects how we interpret the world.

To learn more about your story, more about your characters, try "shifting your paradigm" - telling it from a different POV.  What if we told Jack and the Beanstalk from Jack's point of view? Or from the Giant's? Or Jack's Mother's POV? What might we learn?

My name is Jack. I live with my Mother. We are very poor, and my mother is always sending me to town with a task, like: buy some hay; sell milk in the market or some other chore. I don't like it. I'd rather stay in bed and dream about what I could become.

Or...

I'm Jack's mother. That's a whole 'nother chore by itself! That boy is the laziest, stupidest kid in the world. Every time I send him to the market, he screws things up. He never listens. He has no common sense. We are very poor, and I can't seem to get him to take any responsibility!

Take a look at the two pictures on the right. Quite a different perspective! One from the road, one from the bike. Do you tell this story as the Narrator, describing how our protagonist rides down the road? Or do we tell it from the first person? Our hero's description while on the bike, while riding the rough terrain, will be a different story. What if "The Road" were recounting the tale of this lone rider, making ruts in its already worn and scarred surfaces? How would "The Road" react? What would it say to our rider?
 
Try it, just for fun. You will learn a great deal about the characters and the story. And the way you look at the world.
 
You might even find a new way to tell it!
 

#319 - 6/18/2018
Create Your Own Stage! - A How To Guide
There was a tip from 2016 about a fortune cookie I received. ..
It said: You create your own stage. The Audience is waiting.
And then, this follow up about creating your own space:

Wherever you may be performing, you must create an atmosphere that is conducive to the process of storytelling. Whether it be on a stage in an auditorium, a classroom, a breakout room at a conference, under a canopy at an outside fair, or a street corner where you may be busking, How can storytellers create a space where listeners will feel welcome and want to join you in creating a story? And remember, this must happen BEFORE you tell your first story. There are several things to consider. The first, and most important, as always, is: who is your audience?

Your audience: Is your audience mostly adults, children, teenagers, mixed? What are the demographics, or "make up" of the audience? Are they from an urban or rural area, the deep south, the bible belt?  Are they middle-management executives or a group of church-going housewives? One must always consider the audience, not only in choosing stories, but also, how you will be perceived. And this starts even before you walk into the space!

Your introduction: How will you be introduced? Who will introduce you? Have you written an introduction? Will the MC be reading it word-for-word? Do they know you? Will they be speaking off-the-cuff? What are the things you WANT the audience to know about you? What are the things you DON'T WANT them to know? Will this audience welcome you if they are told you recently won an award for the "sexiest story slam", or would it be more prudent to leave out that information? I dislike having the MC "read" an introduction; I also dislike reciting a long list of accomplishments. I prefer to spend a few minutes with the MC to make sure they are comfortable letting the audience know the two or three most important things about you. And make the "last" thing that the MC says be on the lighter side, or even a humorous, perhaps cryptic statement. 

"And before becoming a storyteller, Mark travelled all over the country as Winnie-The-Pooh - and perhaps he will tell you a story about that! Please welcome, Mark Goldman."

Your entrance: How will you come into the space / walk onstage? Where will you be just before you come into the space? I absolutely abhor when performers come from the farthest place away from the stage, walking slowly to the front! Don't make your audience wait for you. Be close to the stage when the MC is about to finish the introduction, so you are there, ready to go. If the MC is center stage, it's always nice to connect with them, with a handshake or hug, or even a simple nod/bow to them. Those first few seconds, yes - seconds, as you enter or come on, tell the audience something about you. Have energy, smile, maybe even nod, point or wave to a friend in the first few rows. Be warm and inviting. Show the audience they can expect something wonderful.

Engage your audience: Smile! Greet them warmly. If appropriate, it can help to thank them and let them know you are happy to be in their city, or with their organization. Share something that connects you to them: "Over the years, I have adopted three shelter dogs, and it's great to be here with you folks who work so hard to rescue and find forever homes for all the animals." Now I have them in the palm of my hand.

Children: An entirely different animal than adults! You will want to decide if they will sit on the floor, in chairs, in rows or a half circle. What will be the best configuration? If it's a classroom, discuss with the teacher(s). If it's outside, choose a place with the least distractions. Keep your entrance and beginning short and sweet. "You all look great today. Are you ready to hear some stories?" Don't keep them waiting with long-winded explanations about storytelling. Don't give them time to get distracted. Get to it! 

Your story intro: Now you need to set the stage for them to listen to your story. If you are at a storytelling conference, and your audience is made up of all storytellers, you may not need an intro to your story. You may want to simply take a moment, breathe, and then begin the story. Or perhaps you want to engage the audience, to make sure they are with you. A question or statement can work as a teaser to get them interested and want to hear more.

Children: "You all know that stealing is wrong, right? Do you think someone can 'steal a smell'? Well, let's listen closely as I tell you the story of Stealing Smells"

Teens: "Have you ever been accused of stealing something, but you didn't do it? I know I have. Sometimes it's hard to prove you didn't do it. And sometimes people won't even listen to you. You know, I've got a story about that. It's called Stealing Smells."

Adults: "Stories come from all over the world. And sometimes, one story can originate in many different places and cultures. The story I am about to tell you has origins in India, Peru, and even Europe. I would like to share with you my version of Stealing Smells"

Busking - Street Performing: Energy, Energy, Energy! - You will not only have to create the space, you will probably have to find and gather your audience - much like the circus "barker" who calls out to the passers-by.
"Ladies and gentlemen - gather 'round to hear some fantastical stories!
Stories of kings and queens, witches and wizards, the high and mighty, and the downtrodden too,
and maybe a story of people... just like you!
Come near, come near, and you will hear:
stories that make you laugh, stories that make you cry,
and stories that make you remember that look in her eye -
the sound of that voice - the feel of his skin -
stories for everyone - come closer, come in."
All of this has to do with you! You are the creator of your own stage. Let the light shine on you so your audience can see and hear your stories!

#318 - 6/11/2018
Poetry and Storytelliing: Making a Language to Explain Things -
Last weekend, on NPR, I heard host Scott Simon interviewing singer Neko Case. She has a solo album out called Hell On. In the title song, there is a lyric that Scott calls out and says, “I love that line, ‘God is a lusty tire fire’, but I don’t know why.”

Neko's response:
That’s what poetry is supposed to be. Poetry, music, art; you’re making a language to explain things that your native language, or any language you know isn’t quite enough for you to explain something. Sometimes it’s really difficult to explain what an emotion is. Art and music and poetry are a way to attempt that and to feel you can stretch much longer than you are capable of. And it feels really good.
Storytellers take note! How do you explain something that's difficult to explain? What is an emotion? You're making language to explain things where normal language isn't quite enough. Many tellers have said something similar:
Storytelling is a way for people to make sense of things that don't make sense.
So, here's a thought: Why would we (storytellers) use "normal language" to describe and recount the elements of a story that does not fit into the "normal" world? I have spoken before about language. Consider the following examples of normal language vs. poetic language:
 
She couldn't see through the fog
...The mist was a sea of haze that clouded not only her vision, but her mind.

He was afraid 
...His fear was like a huge vise that had him so tight in its grip he could not move.

She smiled 
...Her lips arched upward and spread a brilliant glow across the room.

Images and metaphors are the tools of the poet, the artist and the storyteller. Next time you get ready to tell a story, look at the language that you use to craft it. Begin to look at words and phrases to see which ones you might transform from normal to poetic. Overall, you must still make sure the language fits your story, genre and style. Remember to make your own language to explain things.
 
GCC Storytelling Students:- Extra Credit - Possible 30 points total: Use a metaphor or a simile (if you don't know, look them up) and creative, poetic language to describe or change these three normal descriptions:
That teacher was strict.
He loved her.
She was angry
Email your responses to me by 5pm on Tuesday, June 12. Mark@Storytellermark.com

#317 - 6/4/2018
Appreciations: How We listen and Observe
I have written about "appreciations" before, as both a teacher and coach, I have taught myself to listen and observe tellers with the intent of appreciation. What do I see or hear that I appreciate about the teller? Sometimes, in class, the important appreciation may be that the student "got through" the story, after much resistance and encouragement. I try to do the same with all the slams and open mics in existence. I try not to compare, or judge, but look for the good. It's not always easy.

This weekend, I found myself in a perplexing situation. I attended a performance that I was looking forward to. Several colleagues had said it was a great piece to see. As the performance began, I found myself "not liking" many of the elements of this presentation. I was falling back into the old habit of judging, and I seemed to look for more things that I didn't like. 

During a break in the performance, I stood outside and wondered why I was so negative? Were my expectations too high? Was I expecting something different than I got? Why was I not enjoying myself or the presentation?

When they started up again, I prodded myself to "watch and listen with the intent of appreciation." I changed my attitude. I began enjoying myself and the performance. I kept finding things that I DID enjoy and appreciate about the people and the presentation.

This lesson was about my attitude and approach to the situation. There were still some parts of the performance that I was not enamored of, but I focused on the good. I did not have the opportunity to speak with any of the performers afterwards, but if I had, I would have given some of them my appreciations.

I think the more important part was that I walked away with a positive feeling vs. feeling grumpy because I didn't like everything.

So, remember - listen for appreciation!


#316 - 5/28/2018
Say YES More
This is what I say at the beginning of every semester of teaching The Art of storytelling. One of my goals in class (and in life) is to say "yes" more often. There was one student that absolutely could not get up in front of the class to tell. She just froze. She asked if she could tell her story just to me. Unconventional...but I said "yes"...and she did fine.

I think it might be good advice for storytellers too.

Don't get me wrong - there are times when we should say no:

  • Taking on a story we've never done and have it ready to tell tomorrow
  • Working for less than we believe we are worth as a teller - unless there are mitigating circumstances
  • Taking advice from someone who says, "If I were telling this story..."
  • Etc...Use your best judgement...and your gut feelings

But more often than not, we are presented with situations where we automatically say "no".

  • We shy away from a story because we are fearful we can't do it justice.    
    -- Say yes and commit to learning the story and getting some coaching!
  • We decline an offer to tell several months in the future because we don't have enough repertoire.
    --- Say yes and do research to find more stories, especially that fit the group you will be telling to.
  • We decline an invitation to a concert because we don't think we will enjoy it.
    --- Say yes and attend, and truly observe and listen. Ask yourself what you learned by listening. 
  • We decline an offer from a friend or colleague to "help" us in any way. We don't want to "put them out."
    -- Graciously accept the offer and know that you are allowing that person to experience the joy of giving.

    Note: One of my biggest regrets was while biking in the Netherlands, when a woman invited me to join her and her family for a meal. I don't know exactly why, but I said no. I missed a great opportunity!

There are many, many more times that I think we should try to say yes.

  • Say yes to yourself when you believe you have done a good job.
  • Say yes to rewarding yourself in some way.
  • Say yes to taking on new stories or genres and trying them out
  • Say yes to asking for help from a coach or trusted story-buddy.
  • Say yes to taking classes and workshops to better your telling

Like Nike says...Just (say yes and) do it.


#315 - 5/21/2018
There's a Story Behind That - Perhaps Several
I talk a lot about creating a back-story for your characters through significant objects. Now, let's talk about the possible stories behind your own significant objects.

One of my most treasured objects is a Grover puppet that I have had for over 40 years! I take it with me on almost every trip. I entertain children (and adults) in airports, on planes, in parks or wherever people may need to be engaged or entertained. There are many stories about me and Grover!

Here's a picture of Grover on a trip in France with my buddy Carl, and a sweet little gal named Orian. She is the daughter of a couple that owned a small campground that we stopped at along the river Seine. Grover spoke French to her and made her laugh!

And here's a story I had almost forgotten, tucked away in the shadows of my memory. Circa 1975. I was living in NYC and working as an actor/dancer. I was about to head out with another tour in just a few days. I saw a notice in one of the trade magazines that Jim Henson was auditioning for puppeteers. I had just three days until I left on the tour. I called and was told there were no more time slots. I begged the woman on the phone and said I HAD to meet with Henson. She did find a slot for me and I met both Jim Henson and Frank Oz (the real-life voice of Grover) They ran me through some character voices and then, I couldn't resist telling them that I did Grover. They wanted to see, so I pulled him out of my bag and Frank Oz and I talked Grover to each other for a few minutes... A few of the most memorable minutes of my life! I didn't get the job, but I do have the story.

We all keep and hold dear, certain things that are significant to us. Close your eyes. Think about something you have that is important to you in some way. Maybe it's a photo. Maybe it's a book someone gave you. Maybe it's a piece of jewelry or a small trinket. Perhaps you have some sort of talisman that keeps you grounded or inspires you. Do you have a special object that reminds you of someone or something in your life?

There's a story behind that! Let's hear about it. Where do you keep that object? What does it look like? How did you come by it? When did you get it?  What power(s) does it hold for you? All of these can make a story, a great story about you and your life!


#314 - 5/14/2018
The Airport - A Great Place for People Watching
... and Story Ideas

I took my friend Carl to the airport this morning. I was remined of this post from long ago. Enjoy!

I am a people watcher. I love to observe people in their "natural habitat" doing what they do; whether at the grocery store, airport, in a shopping mall, wherever! It's kind of like your own, personal, "Candid Camera." If you watch long enough, you will see and hear people exhibiting both strange and amazing behaviors.

And you just might see something that could turn into an anecdote, a "snippet" of a story, an intro into a story or even a full-blown slam-pleaser! The airport is GREAT for this!

You never know when a story might come along. So you always need to be ready and pay attention to the possibilities.

  • Standing in line at the grocery store
  • Waiting in the dentist's or doctor's office
  • Watching ANYONE at the Mall
  • Watching people at a party or gathering
  • That sales person who is trying to get you to buy
  • The tech support worker apologizing for the umpteenth time
  • A chance encounter with your "ex".

But you have to be hyper-vigilante in order to find these small anecdotes ... and open up your creativity, to turn them.into full-blown stories!
 


#313 - 5/7/2018
What Happens Next?
Two things audiences are asking in storytelling, "What is happening?"... and, "What happens next?"

As storytellers, we not only need to make sure these two things are clear to the audience, but we need to "Enhance the moment, and make sure the audience understands what's happening, and that they are (most of the time) on the edge of their seats, wanting to know what's next.

Let's address the first one first. We always have to ask ourselves, "Are we clear about what's happening?"

Are your pronouns are clear?

The King was in the throne room. The Jester entered. He belched and they both laughed. 

Who belched? It's not precisely clear. We can generally assume that the last person spoken about is the one connected to the pronoun...but it may not be completely clear.

Make sure your navigation is clear.  A term I learned from David Novak. How do you get from one scene or place to the next? Have you ever been listening to a teller, and all of a sudden, you're not sure how they got from the throne room to the dungeon? Make sure that you are being clear about when and where the characters are, and how they got to that point. If suddenly, the Queen speaks, make sure she has entered the scene. Otherwise, your audience will be puzzled.

Are the directions clear? I mean, are the directions that people are coming and going clear? Do you need to use terms like east and west, or up the hill and down the hill? At minimum, say that the King was coming from one direction and the Jester was running in the other direction and they collided. It's also important that your gestures, body movements and head/face/eyes are coordinated with your words.

Be consistent. Did you state that the Chalice was on the shelf at the right? Then don't attempt to pick it up from the table in front of you. Once again, make sure your words are consistent with your gestures and movements. Recently, one of my students told a story about breaking his arm. In one scene, he held up his right arm. In the next scene, he wrote on a cast on his left arm. After the story, when asked, he said, "I don't really remember which arm it was." Ah... then make a decision: one or the other. 
 

Now, let's talk about what happens next. There are many ways that this can be handled.

Make a statement that piques the audience's interest:

Sampson was a great warrior. But today was not a day for victory.

This makes us want to know "Why? Tell us more."

Ask us a question. Again, something that makes us want to know or understand more.

People can steal money or things, but do you think someone can steal a SMELL? We'll soon find out.

We'll be listening now, and assuming we won't really know until the END of the story!

Take a pause; not too short; not too long... just the right length.

A pause after an important event or statement can "tease" the audience into sitting up and waiting for the next thing that happens.

If you walk away now, I will follow you to the ends of the earth and destroy you!

A pause here makes us want to know if the character will be leaving or not. A short pause might indicate the next scene, the Queen in her chambers, struggling with her decision. A long pause can indicate the passage of time and/or a change of location, like a new chapter in a book. Then...

The Queen stands outside a small hut by the road. She is not dressed in finery. She has hidden her crown in a sack with some other personal items. She does not want to be seen as the Queen. She nocks at the door.

Now we know she has made the decision and has left. We want to know what will happen to her. Will the King eventually find her? What then?

Sometimes, we want it to be evident. There are times when you want the audience to assume or know what happens next. Either you want them to be included in the "joke" or prank. Or, you may want them to assume one thing will happen, and then surprise them with another.

Consider the graphic for this tip. Clowns coming from one direction. A rack of pies, unseen, around the corner, coming towards the clowns. We have an expectation of what will ensue.

We were in the dressing room and were all putting on one brown shoe and one black shoe. I went around the stage to the other side to make my entrance. (We should all know what happens next.) When we all stepped on the stage, I was the only one with one brown shoe and one black!

Those are just a few suggestions for making your audience sit up and want to hear more.


#312 - 4/30/2018
Connections to Stories - Pick a Time or Event
On Sunday, I watched the movie of Fiddler on the Roof. Some parts I liked, some I didn't. But here's the thing, a FLOOD of memories came back to me...all connected to Fiddler. I was in a National Touring Company of Fiddler on the Roof in 1969. Yikes, that was 49 years ago. But more important than how long ago, are all of the stories for the six months I was on Tour...AND...all of the other stories that were connected, in any way, to my Fiddler experience.

I could tell you stories about my roommate and now life-long friend Jeff. I could tell you many stories about things that happened while on tour. Like the time Herschel Bernardi (who replaced Zero Mostel on Broadway) visited us on-stage at the end of the show.

There are many connected stories:

  • The "Fruma Sara - Humma Humma" story; an apocryphal story that turned out to be real with my friend Margey Cohen
  • Another Margey Cohen story from our Dinner Theatre production of West Side Story
  • A story about a New York producer who taught me the value (monetary) of stage hands.
  • The Time Theodore Bickel came to an Equity meeting and played us a concert
  • The time I met producer Hal Prince and he said, "If it doesn't serve the play, take it out."
  • Many connections with choreographer Tommy Abbott and other shows he had done.
  • Spending six weeks in Los Angeles, with more and more connections and stories.

The list goes on and on. I could spend an afternoon (at least) telling Fiddler-related stories. The string-of-pearls would reach from here to Broadway!

So, here's my tip:

Pick one time, one period, one event in your life. Then see how many stories are connected to that one thing. The stories may be directly connected, but then one story might branch off into another whole set of connections and stories. Make a list of the stories. Better yet, make a diagram that shows all the stories and all the connections. Now there's a plethora of personal and fact-based stories!


#311 - 4/23/2018
Where Do YOU Fit in Your Traditional Story
Here's an update of a tip from just about a year ago.

Personal stories seem to be the "Tales du Jour" these days, but if you think there's no personal information in your traditional fairytale or folktale, think again.

What parts of YOU or YOUR OWN LIFE connect with your traditional story? 

In Liz Warren's book, The Oral Tradition TodaySusan 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, but other traditional, non-personal tales. By telling a story, we always 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. Or any other feeling one might need for your story.

Here's a modified Venn diagram of feelings and how they intersect.

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...even when it's not a story about you...but it is...but it isn't...but it is.
 


#310 - 4/16/2018
Build Your Story from the Inside Out
Once again, my students are complaining that they are having difficulty "cutting down the time" for their stories. They have a long story and ca't figure out what to sut to make it shorter. So ohere's a tip from 2016 about starting the other way - at the begining.

Quite often, when crafting a story, we may be limited on the time we have to tell. It is often necessary to "cut out" parts of the story that we "love" or truly believe that are absolutely necessary. This can be difficult.

Recently, one of my students came to me and complained that she would not be able to perform her story in the required time limit of 5 - 8 minutes. She had "tried and tried, but just couldn't cut out any more" of her story. Each time I attempted to elicit what she might need to "let go of" she attempted to "tell" me all of the words of the story that she felt were necessary. I didn't want to hear the story, I wanted her to focus on the "elements" or "chunks" of the story. We seemed to be getting nowhere.

Her story was the recent Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, called, Maleficent. I wanted to ask her to tell me what the story was about in just a few sentences, sort of, "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." I hesitated, as I felt she still was not focusing enough. So I asked her to tell me in ONE sentence, what the story was about.

She thought for a moment and then said, "It's about how Maleficent's faith in humankind is restored." Great! That's the core, the essence. Now, rather than having to "cut down", we can build more from the inside out.

What questions do we need to answer in order to flesh out the narrative?

How is her faith restored? - Through Aurora's love and innocence.
  - If her faith is restored, that means she lost it, or it was destroyed at some point.
How was it Destroyed? - She was betrayed by her lover and her wings were cut off.
How did she feel and what did she do? - She was enraged and she put a curse on his child, Aurora.
After the curse, why was she intrigued by or drawn to Aurora?

What brought about the next piece, etc.

As each question is answered, another piece of the story/puzzle unfolds until all of the questions are answered from beginning to end. Now, she has all of the important elements of the story and only has to decide how much description goes with each. She has built her story from the inside out vs. the other way around.

So, next time you are struggling with how to cut your story down, try the reverse. Try building it one step at-a-time from the inside out!


#309 - 4/9/2018
Creating Stories...from Nothing (Actually from Something)

Been thinking about this lately, as students ask me, "How do I find a story?" So, here's a tip from August 2016.

The age-old question: Where do stories come from? An original story, one you create yourself, obviously comes from within you! Yes, but how did you start? Where did the idea for the story come from? 
Ay, there's the rub

The answer is that stories can start with anything: an idea; a feeling; an observation; a picture or photo; an object; a person; a fleeting thought...anything. So where does one start? It depends on whether you want to be specific, like a story about a sibling you care about, or just improvise, and see where things go.

Here's an example of improvising. Remember that this is ME improvising. Your thoughts are different, and your mileage may vary!

Consider a bowl of oatmeal; a seemingly inanimate object. 

Start by thinking about all the ways you might describe this object: 
Go ahead and make your own list FIRST.
Before you look at mine.

It's food in a bowl
It was dry and room temperature at first
I added water and heated it up (microwave)
Now it is hot and moist/mushy
The pieces of oatmeal now stick (cling) to each other
It has a slight nutty flavor

Do any of these things start to gel in your mind? WHAT ABOUT YOUR LIST? Do they suggest anything else to you? Can you connect the dots in some way? Brainstorm - don't limit yourself or judge anything that comes up. Just imagine and roll with it. Don't worry about a beginning, middle or end, or all the elements of a good story. You will sort it all out later. Now is a a time for wild energy and imagination! Look at YOUR list and imagine the possibilities.

The next step depends on what you have listed and thought of. There are a myriad number of directions one could go. As I looked at my list, I focused on the words, "Mushy, hot, clingy, nutty." I began to think about, "What if two oatmeal flakes were talking? What would they say?

Oat #1: Hey baby, what do you say?

Oat #2: You're such a dry flake!

Oat #1: Oh yeah? Well, we're about to get all wet, and things are going to heat up!

And just as the 1st Oat predicted, so it was...

Oat #1: Ooo baby, you're so hot!

Oat #2: You're all wet! Don't be so mushy.

Oat #1: Don't be that way. Why, with just a little brown sugar, you'd be so sweet. We could cling together...maybe even spoon a little.

Oat #2: You're really a little nutty. Be careful, you might just be consumed by all that talk.

And indeed, eventually they both were!

That's just the beginning -- of the process, not necessarily the story. It might become a story about two oatmeal flakes. It might also turn out to be a personal love story. Or maybe a story of unrequited love. It might be two stories, side-by-side. The process of imagination and brainstorming and making different connections goes on until you feel there is a good story in the works. Even if it has no connection to where you started (with the bowl of oatmeal). The process is there for exploration, for getting from one place to another, until you find yourself in a place that you like.
 
Then you make sure the story has all the elements it needs: Who are all the characters? Where does it take place? What is the problem or obstacle? Is there a "Helper". What is learned along the process of overcoming the obstacle? What is the story about?
 
So where do stories come from? A lot of places. But they can surely start with breakfast - the most important meal of the day!
 
TO EVERYONE: Pick SOMETHING and then make a story about it. ANYTHING. Write it down, even if it's just the beginning of an idea. Carry it as far as you can go---Post it below, and/or SEND IT TO ME via E-mail (try to get it to me by the end of this week). Sorry, I can't give you EXTRA CREDIT, but perhaps I will post them all next week!
 
GCC STUDENTS: For extra credit, do this exercise. Create a story from something seemingly benign or inanimate. Perhaps make some dialog as I have done above, or have a narrator, describing the process going on. Here's an idea (can't use this) a line of ants going into their hill; one ant gives the one behind it a message about storing food for the winter; that one passes it along to the one behind, and so on; but the message gets turned around (as in the telephone game); here's the good part - you get to make up the changes in the message! Make sure the story has all the elements it needs: Who are all the characters? Where does it take place? What is the problem or obstacle? Is there a "Helper". What is learned along the process of overcoming the obstacle? What is the story about? Send it to me via E-mail before Tomorrow, 4-10 by 2 pm for a possible 50 points. Has to be awesome for 50!

#308 - 4/2/2018
Patterns
I was listening to an interesting piece on NPR about "patterns". There are all sorts of different patterns in our lives: ripples on a pond; sounds of a bird chirping; mosaics in an art piece; the waves on the ocean; speech patterns in your language and don't forget the patterns of the hero's journey!

These and many other patterns that are played out in the stories we tell; both in the patterns of life and the story itself, and often in the language we use.

All of these patterns are a part of your story. Patterns are important, so we can recognize and relate to them in the story and also in our own lives and stories. So, in some ways, it is our job to represent these patterns in a way that will assist the listener in recognizing theme. How can you highlight or emphasize these patterns for and with your audience?

  • Repetition
  • Call and response
  • Descriptive language
  • Use of metaphors and similes
  • Alliteration
  • Assonance
  • Sounds
  • Gestures and body movements
  • Facial expressions
  • Rhyming
  • Pauses
  • ...and many more

Here's a phrase that most of us know, "But wait, there's more!" This could be used effectively in a story where someone continually screws up or, perhaps, comes out smelling like a rose. The phrase merely emphasizes that this is a pattern that happens over and over. Double down with this phrase by using call and response with the audience!

Here's another example:

It was a tiger, a tiger, stepping in time. One could see right through him...waiting...waiting...to commit his carnivorous crime.. His stripes were moving, growling and howling, making ripples in the forest. Waiting...waiting...waiting to dine.

Look at your story. Look for and listen for the patterns...then use them!

GCC Students - What are the patterns in your fact-based story? Pick one. First  tell me what it is. Then tell me how you would highlight it in your story. I want this to have some WEIGHT!, not just a couple of sentences. Send it to me in an E-mail before 2pm tomorrow, Tuesday 4-3. (max points 30)


#307 - 3/26/2018
The Storyteller’s Crucible: Finding a Personal Story
Reprinted from Tell Me Something Good - Oral Storytelling Blog,  (with permission of the author...Me!)

Crucible:

1: a vessel used for melting a substance with a high degree of heat
2: a severe test 
3: a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development [My note here – a good story!]

“More weight.” These are the last words of Giles Corey in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. He was “pressed” with heavy stones to make him confess to crimes of witchcraft. Each time he cried out, “More weight.” And the last stone crushed his chest. – Now there’s a story!

And there’s the problem!

Most of us believe that we have to have gone through some sort of tremendous, terrifying, earth-shaking, life-changing “crucible” in our lives before we can craft a good story. (Read Marian Giannatti’s post about "who would listen to my story")

But wait…here’s the good news. Personal stories are not just about the horrific, larger-than-life, oh-my-god moments. They don’t have to be like that. And here’s the best part, they probably SHOULDN’T be like that!

Those “I shot the sheriff”, “I was a foreign spy”, “I fell into the volcano” stories may be interesting to hear, but they are not the stories that most of your audiences will be able to RELATE to. And that’s the real key to a good personal story. It should be universal and relatable.

Universal means that your story is about widespread, common feelings; emotions that most people have experienced and can say, “Yeah, I’ve felt like that!” That’s what you want. You want them to nod their heads in acknowledgement and think, “Yup, for sure, I’ve been there!” Not that their own experience must be exactly like yours, but the more they can relate to the feelings and metaphorical situations you share, the better the connection between them and you.

So, for storytellers, the real crucible is coming up with a simple, relatable story and crafting it in a way that will connect with your audience. Themes of falling in love; falling out of love; unrequited love (do you see a theme here?); the joy and fear of the first day on a job; the desire and uneasiness of wanting to fit in and be accepted; overcoming the fear that you are a fraud. Overcoming those internal struggles can be even more daunting than falling into that volcano!

These and other seemingly ordinary struggles to survive may be the ones that have been quietly resting inside your audience, ready to be awakened and perhaps enlightened by your story.

Don’t think you have to have climbed Mount Everest; tell us the story of how you conquered your fears by climbing Piestewa Peak. We’ll be there with you, all the way to the top!
 


#306 - 3/19/2018
What Stories May Come...
I have been having some strange, but extremely detailed dreams lately. My friend and publisher, Ted Parkhurst, recently had a head injury and has detailed several of his post-injury dreams. We will leave it to our therapists to interpret the meanings, but in the meantime, here's a tip form back in 2013.


Vincent van Gogh wrote

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” 

What if we did the same as storytellers?

Does Morpheus bring sweet, soft colors and puffy clouds you can climb to and dance on? Or, perhaps, dark dungeons from which escape seems impossible as you scream without sound.

Whatever the case, dreams are the stuff that stories are made of. 

Night dreams OR day dreams can be the inspiration for a story. Even a nightmare can spur your creative spirit to craft a tale. Do you dream of flying; of walking on water; of slaying a dragon? Turn it into a story. Do you day dream of finding your one true love; of making tons of money; of being famous? These too can be the seeds of a great story.

When you embark on this crafting journey, you may not have the ending, or all the details. That's okay. Start with the images from your dream. Then move on to formulating the story.

The hero's journey works well for turning dreams into narratives. Begin with the character and the setting. What's the problem or challenge? What's the obstacle or struggle? How does the character deal with or overcome the odds? What crucible must they endure? What lesson(s) do they learn?

Now connect the rich images from your dream to the structure of your story.

You can even mix dreams and reality:

I had a dream the other night. I was in the...I met...I tried to...
When I awoke, I knew I had to...I wanted things to be different from my dream, so I...
In the end, what I discovered about both dreams and reality is that...

And isn't that partly what stories are about...mixing dreams with reality?


GCC STUDENTS:  For those of you who missed last week... Here's a big one. Go to LAST WEEK'S tip and do the exercise.. Then re-create the details of the two minutes with a narrative, similar to the one about my dog.  You can pick ANY two minutes of your life. E-MAIL the narrative to me in a WORD document. mark@storytellermark.com MAKE SURE YOU PROOF YOUR SPELLING AND GRAMMAR! Must be received by me no later than TUESDAY Mar 20 at 2:00 PM. Total POSSIBLE points=25.


#305 - 3/12/2018
TWO MINUTES of Your Life
Details, details, details. Great details can bring stories to life!

The famous actress and teacher, Uta Hagen described many techniques in her marvelous book, Respect for Acting. I have previously spoken of The Endowment Exercise (click here) as a way to give life to objects in your story.

Here is another exercise that will assist you with using detail in your stories. Remember, this is an exercise to flesh out a large amount of detail. Once you have done that, you must still make a decision regarding how much of that detail you will use.

The exercise is to “Re-create TWO MINUTES of your life.” Remember, just brushing your teeth can take the whole two minutes. Take two minutes out of your life, and then re-create it on stage. For the storyteller, this means re-create it in the detail of describing what is happening.

To begin this exercise, I am reminded of storyteller and mime, Antonio Rocha, whose admonition was to clearly "observe".

Authenticity comes from research and observation. One must observe without judgment.

So, now we must make sure we are observing the details (without judgement) of just two minutes of our life. This could be something that YOU are doing, or something that you are watching or experiencing.

  • Waiting to get on the bus, behind people with large packages.
  • Waiting in line at the grocery store, behind a person, slowly counting out their change for the exact amount to give to the cashier.
  • Shopping the produce section of the grocery store, you or observing someone else (or both of you).
  • Watching a bird in the park, hop around, occasionally pecking at the grass for something to eat.
  • Watching a mother and child at the airport (after three hours of waiting for the plane).
     
  • Watching your dog eat its food
    I open the large, twenty-pound bag of dry dog food. I reach in and grab the measuring cup that I have left inside the bag, for convenience. I scoop up the measure of the dry kibble and gently drop it in her heavy, green, plastic, bowl. I throw the measuring cup back into the bag and seal it up with its zip-style closure. I back away to give her room. I look down at her and say, “There you go. Ready for breakfast? Go ahead, eat your breakfast.”

She looks up at me, and then looks toward the bowl. She sits. I know that she won’t approach the bowl until I walk away. I leave the kitchen with another, “Okay, go eat your breakfast.” She waits for a few seconds, then approaches the bowl. She puts her nose down closer to the food and sniffs for a moment.

She appears to start to eat, but in reality, she merely picks up two pieces of the kibble and walks out of the kitchen and onto the living room carpet. She puts her head down and tosses one piece about six inches in front of her, and the other, drops just under her chin. She eats the closest piece, then stretches her neck to grab the other piece in front of her, and crunches on that one. She doesn’t acknowledge me but walks slowly back into the kitchen and her bowl. Once again, she picks up two pieces of food and comes back to the living room carpet. She repeats the two drops, and separately eats them again. This process is repeated at least one more time, with great accuracy. Eventually, she will the go back to the kitchen and stay to eat the rest of her food, directly from her bowl.

I don’t know why she has that particular routine. She has always done it that way. I wish I could ask her why. Actually, I have asked her, out-loud, several times. "Why do you do it that way?" She never answers.

Well, that's just about two minutes of detail. What to leave in, what to take out? That's the $64-dollar question! The answer: It all depends. What's the story about? How long is the story? How long is the set? If the set is one hour, and this is a 20-30-minute story, all about your dog, you may want to keep all of it. If the story is shorter, and not specifically about your dog, you night need to edit it down. As always, Salt to taste (click here).

Remember - TWO MINUTES in real time!

Feel free to post your own two minute detail narrative in the comment section below, for others to read!

GCC STUDENTSYes, I know it's Spring Break, but I am still offering extra credit. Here's a big one. Do the exercise above. Then re-create the details of the two minutes with a narrative, similar to the one about my dog.  You can pick ANY two minutes of your life. E-MAIL the narrative to me in a WORD document. mark@storytellermark.com MAKE SURE YOU PROOF YOUR SPELLING AND GRAMMAR! Must be received by me no later than THURSDAY Mar 15 at 2:00 PM (giving you two extra days than normal.) Totaal POSSIBLE points=25.


#304 - 3/5/2018
Two Visits
Two Visits to the Same Place – A Story Prompt from Kevin Kling

This exercise connects with the storytellers’ adage that each time you tell a story, it’s a little different. The audience is different. You are different. It can never be exactly the same.

Think of a place you have been to. Then think what it was like to visit that place? Who else was there? What was the day like, the weather, the sky? Think of how you felt there. Describe the sensory details involved: touch; taste; smell; sight; hearing. How did it all make you feel inside? What emotions grabbed you, or poured out? How long did you stay? What was it like to leave? Think of all that…

Then, think of another time when you visited that same place. What was THAT time like? Perhaps you were alone, or with different people? Perhaps the weather was different…or maybe the temperature. Perhaps you had different food? How was the visit different or similar to the other time?

Tell us a story about your experience(s).


#303 - 2/26/2018
Word-Play for Story Creation
Here's a great exercise for story (or poetry) creation that Kevin Kling presented in his workshop. He credits Minton Sparks with the inspiration for this.

It's like the old Word-Play game where you ask a person to give you a proper noun, an adjecttve, a verb, a noun, an emotion, a verb, and animal, etc. 
The results: MARK, HASTILY, GRAB, TABLE, SAD, TALK, TURTLE.
Then you drop-in the words to this "sentence".

MARK HASTILY would GRAB the TABLE and feel SAD, because he wanted to TALK with the TURTLE. 

Here is the "poem" that is used in the exercise, with the inserts indicated by underlines. 

I am From

I am from a product from your statea product from your state and a product from your state.

I am from  something that describes your home 
 
I am from  a plant in your homesomething else in your home .
 
I am from a childhood memory of your family, and a childhood memory of friends
 
I am from  something that describes who your family is.
 
I am from  something your mother (or father) used to say, and  something your father (or mother) used to say.
 
I am from  your home townsomething your home town is famous for, &  something your home town is famous for
 
I am from  a childhood memorywhat words (or emotions) describe that memory
 
I am from  a picture from your childhood.
And now, here is MY poem from the exercise:
I Am From

I am from cactus, cotton and copper.
I am from the place with my dog.
I am from silk plants and dirty dishes.
I am from dinners together and sledding behind Skippy Klutznick’s house in the winter.
I am from givers and teachers, and large noses
I am from  “Pick up your clothes”, and  “If Kenny jumped off the roof would you jump off the roof?”
I am from Chicago, deep dish pizza from Uno’s & Due’s, and Jewel’s grocery store.
I am from The Elephant’s Dilemma, the comfort of sitting next to Aunt Bea on the couch, reading about the elephant who went to the circus, but really just wanted to swim in the river. Over and over and over again. “Youhoo…comink in swimink today?
I am from that little guy, standing with his hands in his pockets, waiting, just waiting.

In reality, you can make up your own series of "plugin of words or phrases". Yes, these could all be separate "prompts" for personal stories, or put together like a "string of pears". I especially like the poetic feel of this. And don't forget, you can always change the order of things. Play around with it. The possibilities are endless.

GCC STUDENTS: Do this exercise and then describe what the process was like for you and what you learned! E-mail me a WORD file with your work by 2 pm Tuesday - Feb 27. Possible 20 points.


#302 - 2/19/2018
Metaphors
ˈmedəˌfôr,ˈmedəˌfər

noun

1.    a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
"“I had fallen through a trapdoor of depression,” said Mark, who was fond of theatrical metaphors"

synonyms: figure of speech, image, trope, analogy, comparison, symbol, word painting/picture
"the profusion of metaphors in her everyday speech has gotten pretty tiresome"

2.    a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.

"the amounts of money being lost by the company were enough to make it a metaphor for an industry that was teetering"


Ah, metaphors, similes, figures of speech! Words and language; great tools of the storyteller. When you listen to great story tellers or spoken-word artists, one of the first things you notice (hear) is the language they are using; the words, the phrases. Their prose is made up of poetic lines that peek the interest of the audience. They spark the imagination of the listeners. They paint pictures that fill the minds of those who want to know, "What happens next?"

How can you find this type of creative language; phrases that make your audience lean forward with their ears perked up like a coyote, listening to the front, side and even to the back? 

Here's an exercise that I do with my Community College classes, but one could do it on your own too.

Focus in on ONE object. I start with fruits and vegetables. Let's take an avocado. We usually go around in a circle, with each student taking ONE aspect, using each sense: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, describe the item using a metaphor or a simile. You can try each one by itself.

Sight: This avocado is as green as the rolling hills of Ireland
Touch: This avocado has the skin of an alligator
Sound: The wind whistles past this avocado, skipping lightly over it's bumps.
Smell: This avocado has the scent of dark green and light green all at once.
Taste: The thrice tastes of the avocado: The outside is rough and bitter; the inside is smooth and creamy; the pit is as hard as my ex-lover's heart!

After you have done this with several different items, focus on your story. Try to use each of the senses (one at a time) in a metaphor or simile to describe a character, a setting or an object in your story.

Jack was as lazy as the hare who took a nap in the middle of the race with the tortoise!
That cow would not give milk! She was as stubborn as an old mule and as dry as the desert could be.
Jack and his mom were so poor that even the rats went to bed without dinner.
The sight of those "magic" beans made Jack's head start spinning like a carnival carousel.
That con man saw Jack coming from a mile away; a brain as small as one of his beans; and a cash cow, money-on-the-hoof.
As jack and the cow neared, kicking up the dry, dusty road, the con man began to salivate with impending glee. That spot on the path became the oasis he had been waiting for.

Etc., etc., and so forth!

I use a thesaurus too, to find other words or phrases to spark a good metaphor!

Try with adjectives too: as tall as, wide, smart, dumb (as a box of rocks), beautiful, fast, creative, silky,, etc.

Use your "image engine": See Jack, staning there, with the cow tethered to himself. What's the image that comes to mind? What does he look like?

GCC STUDENTS: For extra credit - Send an e-mail to mark@storytellermark.com with a metaphor or simile about our STORYTELLING CLASS. EX: Our storytelling class is a three ring circus with acrobats, jugglers, trapeze artists and a clown as the ringmaster! Note: You can't use a circus in YOUR metaphor. - Possible five points.


#301 - 2/12/2018
What Story Did I Tell Last Month at the Open Mic?
There are many open mics in the Valley right now. Kim Porter has collected lots of information and I am about to update the calendar and ongoing listings at the bottom of the Newsletter. I'll do my best to have all the information in one place, Who, What, When, Where and How.

In that vein, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the Storytellers' Database website.

When I began to tell stories, I was telling at so many different places that, often, I couldn't remember what story I told at what venue, and when. I needed and wanted a system to keep track of all my stories, and when and where I told them. I didn't want to tell the same story at the same venue twice in a row.
 
Some folks are "old school" and use a notebook to keep track of when, where and what they told. Some use WORD to keep track. Others might use Excel so they can sort and categorize the info. I wanted something more robust.
 
I developed a database program to accomplish that task. I created it ONLINE, so I could access it from any computer or phone with an Internet connection. Then I decided to share it with the storytelling community!
 
The purpose is to provide storytellers with:
     - A method of compiling and tracking stories
     - The ability to track dates and places (and fees) where they have told
     - The ability to plan a program of stories
 
In 2012, I revamped the entire system, made it easier to use and added video tutorials. You can watch the short (1-4 minute) videos and be up and running in twenty minutes or less. You can even try out the program online and see if you like it before actually signing up for an account. I have over 120 tellers using the system right now.
 
If you are a seasoned teller, you most likely have your own method of keeping track of all your gigs and stories. But you might want to give my system the once-over. And for new tellers or students, I think this is the perfect solution. Liz Warren, Director of the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, highly recommends it to all her students. There are some tools to aid in crafting your stories too, like the online Story Prep Sheet.
 
Oh yeah. . . and by the way. . .IT'S FREE. . .FREE. . .FREE!

#300 - 2/5/2018
My FIRST Tip in the Newsletter
Dig out a photograph you have. Could be old; new; of you or a friend; or a place you visited. Or it could be a photo/image from a book, or an illustration you like, or any image.

  1. Write down who and what you see in the picture, everything. 
  2. Write down who or what may be there, but is not visible in the picture.
  3. Describe What is happening RIGHT NOW in the picture.
  4. Describe what happened BEFORE the photo was taken.
  5. Describe what happened AFTER the photo was taken.

Somewhere in step 3, 4 or 5, SOMETHING NEEDS TO HAVE CHANGED.

You should now have a beginning, middle and end...a story

And YES, there is a story to this photograph. Ask me about Winnie-The-Pooh and Nana!

Origin: A variation of Cathy Ward’s lesson plan, “What Do You See? Visual Literacy and Story Structure” found in Sherry Norfolk & Jane Stenson's book, Literacy Development in the Storytelling Classroom, Libraries Unlimited, 2009.


#299 - 1/29/2018
How DO the Pros Do It?
Want to learn how the PROS do it? How do they craft their stories? How to they get their gigs? How long did it take them to be a real "Pro"? Want the answers to these...and more questions? Here's a tip:

Just ask them! And here's a great way to do that:

Some of you may remember the NSN Storytelling Conference that was held here in the Valley a few years ago. I had made arrangements with many of the local tellers to pick up the Presenters/Tellers at the airport and shuttle them to the hotel in Mesa. The ride was about 30 minutes. What a great time (with a captive audience) to ask the questions you really wanted to know! Now, what do you do if you don't have someone like me to organize that kind of thing? DO IT YOURSELF!

Got a seasoned performer coming to your town? Contact the organizer and offer your services as that performer's "chauffeur/concierge". Tell them you want to shuttle them from the airport, to and from the hotel to the venue, or anywhere else they may need to go. Make it your role to be their "guide" and confident while in town. 

OR... contact the teller yourself! Several years ago, I read that Donna Washington was coming to town to do a series for the Mesa School District. I had never actually met her, but she was the first professional storyteller I had seen when she had visited and performed at South Mountain College some years earlier. I immediately sent her an e-mail (several) and said I wanted to meet her and take her to dinner while she was here. We had the best time (she is as giving as she is funny). I learned a lot during those few hours we spent together. And now, we are also good friends! 

Make yourself available to a seasoned Teller. They will love it!

Most tellers I have met and come to know are the warmest and most generous people in the world. Look at my "Experts" page HERE. These are all people I approached at conferences or festivals and merely "asked" if I could get a video of them speaking about storytelling. To date, NO ONE has ever refused me!

Put yourself out there. Sow some storytelling seeds. You will be surprised at what you will reap!


#298 - 1/22/2018
What's The Story?
Have to go to the dentist this morning for a chipped tooth, so I am re-posting this tip from 2016. Enjoy!

Make sure you describe what you want your audience to know. Don't leave "gaps" in the story that will be open to interpretation. Because if you do, we will surely make up our own version, because story is in our DNA. 

Back in the 1940s, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel made  a simple animated film. Heider and Simmel used it in an experiment: They asked people to watch the film and describe what they saw happening.

Try it yourself and see what you experience.

What Heider and Simmel discovered is that many people who watched this abstract film of simple shapes roaming around were quick to see a story unfold. In those simple shapes, viewers often saw characters with emotions, motivations, and purpose.

Humans have this need to "fill in the gaps with story". We do it all the time. We see two people interacting and make assumptions about what is going on. We "make up a story" about what we see. We see a beggar on the street corner and we make a story for ourselves. It's often unconscious, but we fill in any gaps or lack of knowledge with some kind of story. Whether we give that person some money is based on what we believe their story is...unless we ask them to "tell" us their story. Then we must decide if the story is credible, do we believe them?

This is just a little tip (poke) about how we make up stories about what we see around us. Those stories are often shaped by our "filters"; they are colored by our past experiences. The next time this happens to you, try to be aware of your need to find the story in what you see. Then ask yourself if there might be "another" story going on, or perhaps a third or fourth version.

How does all this affect your telling? How might it affect the audience "listening" to you tell? For a storyteller, there are always more questions.


#297 - 1/15/2018
Rhyme, Rhythm and Meter
This past week, I attended two open mics where there were several "spoken word artists". I believe there is much that storytellers can glean and learn from this genre. It's fascinating to hear how they use rhyme, rhythm and meter to add to the effectiveness of their pieces. Here's a tip from November of 2013 that I believe can be useful for storytellers.

Did you ever work on a story, have it pretty much “done”, but then think, “It’s still not quite there?” It might be the language, and/or the phrasing. Here's an exercise for exploring the language of your story: Turn it into poetry, then back into prose. Don't be nervous. . .it's only an exercise.

Let’s use The Three Little Pigs, as it already has some of the existing elements of meter and rhyme.
Little pig little pig, let me in, let me in.
Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!
First, break the story down into scenes or segments, and then turn each piece into a four-line stanza (or several). Use poetic structure, rhyme, rhythm and meter. Make it a simple, but use literary license with the syntax and grammar.
 
Here’s an example, as the wolf goes to the house of sticks. The underlined words are stressed. Yes, it is a bit sing-song, but that’s the point of the exercise.
The wolf approached the house of sticks
With the two little pigs inside.
He could smell the scent of their porcine flesh
And was ready to eat their hides.
 
He disguised his voice, and knocked on the door
The piglets began to squeal.
They knew the wolf was inviting them to dinner
And that they would be the meal.
Now, turn the stanzas back into sentences. Don't make it sing-song, or force the stressed syllables, but use the rhythm of the words.
The wolf approached the house of sticks, with the two little pigs inside. He could smell the scent of their porcine flesh, and was ready to eat their hides. (speed up here get increasingly louder) He disguised his voice, and knocked on the door. The piglets began to squeal. They knew the wolf was inviting them to dinner, (perhaps a long pause here) and that they would be the meal.
And remember that rhymes don't always have to be at the END of a sentence or phrase, 
The wolf would gut the hut of sticks
With the pigs in their digs inside.
He was bent on the scent of their porcine flesh
And meant to put a dent in fresh hides.
Using rhyme, rhythm and meter can help the flow of the language, and the imagination of the listeners!

#296 - 1/8/2018
That Moment When...
This past holiday season, as each one before it, many of us watched "It's A Wonderful Life". It made me think again about this tip from three years ago:

You remember it. The memory is as clear as if it happened yesterday. It could have been yesterday; it could have been a long time ago. But you can see it, it's like a movie in your head. That moment when...

We all have those "moments" that are significant in our lives. Perhaps it's one of those firsts or lasts, pivotal moments that make or mark a change in our life path.

There are many such moments in Frank Capra's holiday classic, It's a Wonderful Life. Like many of us, Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey experiences ups, downs and challenges that continually test his character.

Watch how Capra captures the nervousness, the doubt, the internal conflict of both characters in this "love" scene between Stewart and Donna Reed. Their subtle expressions, breathing and hesitations set against the fast talking dialogue on the other end of the phone are powerful images.

What if you were to tell this story? How would you do it? What words and language would you use to describe what is going on? What body movements and facial expressions would show us what is happening? How would you use your breathing and voice and eyes to help us see the images for ourselves?

Now think of one of your own "moments". Maybe it's not a love scene, or an earth shattering incident in your life, but it was important to you. It was a moment you will never forget. The memory is crystal clear in your mind.

Now tell us about that moment when...


#295 - 1/1/2018
The FIRST Tip for Storytellers
Since this is January 1st, I thought I would post the first chapter of my book, Storytelling Tips: Creating, Crafting and Telling Stories.

#1 - How Do I Start?
Start by listening!
 
It's true! In order to learn about storytelling, the first thing you have to be able to do and practice is listening.
 
Listen to other tellers tell their stories...as many as you can. By listening (and watching) you will see and hear what the good tellers do. You may also watch and hear some not-so-practiced tellers. Your job in listening is to start to understand what the great tellers do that make them great, and what mistakes many beginning tellers do that get them in trouble.
 
When you listen to a teller, ask yourself some questions:
  • How did they make me feel? - How did they do that?
  • Did they paint a picture that I could see in my mind? - How did they do that?
  • Did I understand the essence and the flow of the story? - How did they do that?
  • Did the beginning engage me? - How did they do that?
  • Did the ending come to a clear conclusion and satisfy me? - How did they do that?
  • What parts of themselves did they use most? - How can I find the best parts of me to use?
  • Did they lose the audience at some point? What was needed to hold the audience's attention?
Listening to as many tellers as possible will be an education in itself. If you don't like what they do, study it. Understand how you can avoid their pitfalls. If you LOVE them, study that part too. How can you learn from that and use yourself to develop your own successful storytelling space?
 
Listen to other kinds of speakers too. Newscasters, commentators, video bloggers, TED talk presenters, etc. What do these people do (or not do) that engages their listeners? Your answers will surely relate to the craft of telling stories.
 
©Mark Golman

#294 - 12/25/2017
Everyone Has Their Own Truth
Who's point of view?

Janice Del Negro has said that, "A story is always different, depending on who's telling it."

Near the beginning of the new bio-pic, I, Tonya, Margot Robbie, as Tonya Harding, tells the audience, "There's no such thing as truth! Everyone has their own truth." And that's exactly what we get in this masterfully crafted film. Perhaps you remember the "incident"? Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan battled it out on the ice back in 1994 to go to and win the Olympics. And then, a "thug" bashed in Nancy's knee. And then, there appeared to be ties to Tonya's ex-husband. And then, there was speculation that Tonya had known about the planned attack. And then, well...it all seemed just too bizarre to be real...but it was.

Tonya eventually admitted that she had known about the attack "after the fact", but had not reported it. She was given jail time, and banned from the skating competition world forever!

Perhaps you have known of other bizarre stories. And maybe you have wondered, "How do I even begin to craft this story?"

Director Craig Gillespie decided to tell this story from the perspective of ALL of the players. Much like Kurosawa's Rashomon, (depicting four different versions of a murder); the movie is based on real-life interviews with Tonya's mother, and the other people involved. Gillespie intercuts these so-called interviews with more vivid, live-action, that reflects each one's perspective.

As you might guess from the trailer, it's a wild and crazy ride! But, then again, Tonya's whole life seemed to be a wild and crazy ride. I can't imagine any other way to craft this story other than the way it was done. Even down to the last frame and tag line! BTW, if you go to see it, stay for the credits and you will see Tonya's real epic skate, when she was the first women to hit a triple axel, and parts of some of the real interviews!

Don't be fooled into thinking this is all done in "first person"; switching perspectives. It's really "second person" as each character is speaking to an interviewer (and ultimately the audience) as, at the end, Tonya asks us, "Isn't that what you came to see?"

And if you do go, keep one eye focused on the crafting, to help you the next time you have a difficult story to approach!

P.S. There is creative license: After watching the movie, Tonya told Margot Robbie she "wished" she had said that explitive to the judges (she didn't).


#293 - 12/18/2017
Storyseeds...A Different kind of Prompt
Friend, colleague, Storyteller and trainer Laura Packer has begun to post "Storytelling Seeds". Slightly different from a story prompt such as: The first time you rode a bike; the first time you left home; The last time you moved to a new home, etc. 

Storyseeds are more like the beginning of a thought, or perhaps a question. These are all recent posts by Laura:

  • Are you sure your reflection didn't just wink at you?
  • A willow falls in love with a stream.
  • Are you sure you’re awake?
  • They leaned over, their heads almost touching as they peered at the petri dish. His hair smelled like hope and mystery. "Is... is it waving at us?"
  • He turned the corner before you could get a good look, but was that really...
  • Are you sure your reflection didn't just wink at you?
  • A willow falls in love with a stream.
  • Are you sure you’re awake?
  • They leaned over, their heads almost touching as they peered at the petri dish. His hair smelled like hope and mystery. "Is... is it waving at us?"
  • He turned the corner before you could get a good look, but was that really...
Here's an idea that I had:
Consider a photo...what does the image conjure up? There cold be many aspects and ways to interpret it. Then, consider all the different ways to begin the story. Don't worry about what comes next...just begin:
  • The city was waking up, and the mist of clouds began to rise toward the sky. Was today the day that he would be successful?
     
  • She turned onto the bridge, half shrouded in the low mist of clouds. She gave no thought to driving into the fog, as she had done it many times before. But as she emerged on the other side, what she saw was not what she expected.
     
  • He stood at the center of the bridge, bathed in the clouds. He stared into nothingness...all around him. Even the water below was shrouded in the mist. "Good", he thought. "I'm glad I can't see it." He breathed in the moisture. He could taste the tears of a thousand sorrows that had stood on that bridge before. He stepped up on the ledge and breathed again, as he held the cold, steel railing damp with the morning dew. And then...
     
  • She awoke on a rocky surface. Her whole being was in that kind of haze when you're not sure if you have really woken up, or if you are still in the dream. She had no idea of how she got there, or where she was. As far as she could see, there were clouds. She saw a sun rise in the far-off distance, and then, as the clouds began to slowly lift, they revealed a bridge, and then water, and then, a city. A city that shone gold in the sunlight's reflection.

You can fid your own: Pick ANY book off of a shelf; open it to a random page; read the first sentence from a paragrah. Or read the last sentence. Continue on from there.

Look around the room. What do you see? Begin a story by describing what you see. The ideas to begin a story are endless.


#292 - 12/11/2017
Holiday Stories
Here you are; a Storyteller. You have a small, but good repertoire of stories you can tell to a variety of audiences; folktales; fairytales; fact-based, historical tales; even a few humorous personal stories. You feel confident about your storytelling and look forward to sharing yourself with audiences. Then, you get that phone call.

"Hello, I'm looking for a storyteller who can entertain at my party with some holiday stories. Christmas stories would be fine, I will also have a lot of guests that are Jewish, so I would love some Hanukah stories too."
(NOTE: There are approximately 1000 different ways to spell Chanukkah!)

"Oi vey!", you think. "What will I do? I don't have ANY holiday stories."

Don't despair,
Or pull out your hair.
Don't feel sad or left in the lurch,
Now is the time to start your search!

Stories of the holidays, or even other specialty stories aren't that hard to find and then craft. One should approach them as any other story you might be looking for, just as you would search for a folktale or fairytale. You may want to review my TIP about Building your repertoire

The internet is always a good place to start. A simple Google search for "Christmas stories" shows 5 million results. "Hanukkah stories" shows 2.5 million results. One can narrow the search criteria to fit your needs. Note, if you're not sure how to narrow the results, ask a 16-year-old for help!

Search online for magazines, or periodicals like Readers' Digest, or The Guardian. Once on their page, do anther search for holiday stories.

A stop at the library can open a whole new world, especially for those who haven't frequented the "original" reference resource! The Librarian knows all the best books and places to find them in the vast recesses of the place one should practice quietness. They might even share a story or two that they love with you. I'm sure they know many.

Check with your colleagues, in person or online. Storytellers are always ready to help each other with suggestions or resources.

Suffice it to say that there are many resources for finding the right holiday stoy to tell. Oh yeah, and donn't forget that you can always write your OWN holiday tale!

See Tidbits below for a simple litttle story that I have been using for many years.
 


#291 - 12/4/2017
Say YES more
This is what I say at the beginning of every semester of teaching The Art of storytelling. One of my goals in class (and in life) is to say "yes" more often. There was one student that absolutely could not get up in front of the class to tell. She just froze. She asked if she could tell her story just to me. Unconventional...but I said "yes"...and she did fine.

I think it might be good advice for storytellers too.

Don't get me wrong - there are times when we should say no:

  • Taking on a story we've never done and have it ready to tell tomorrow
  • Working for less than we believe we are worth as a teller - unless there are mitigating circumstances
  • Taking advice from someone who says, "If I were telling this story..."
  • Etc...Use your best judgement...and your gut feelings

But more often than not, we are presented with situations where we automatically say "no".

  • We shy away from a story because we are fearful we can't do it justice.    
    -- Say yes and commit to learning the story and getting some coaching!
  • We decline an offer to tell several months in the future because we don't have enough repertoire.
    --- Say yes and do research to find more stories, especially that fit the group you will be telling to.
  • We decline an invitation to a concert because we don't think we will enjoy it.
    --- Say yes and attend, and truly observe and listen. Ask yourself what you learned by listening. 
  • We decline an offer from a friend or colleague to "help" us in any way. We don't want to "put them out."
    -- Graciously accept the offer and know that you are allowing that person to experience the joy of giving.

    Note: One of my biggest regrets was while biking in the Netherlands, when a woman invited me to join her and her family for a meal. I don't know exactly why, but I said no. I missed a great opportunity!

There are many, many more times that I think we should try to say yes.

  • Say yes to yourself when you believe you have done a good job.
  • Say yes to rewarding yourself in some way.
  • Say yes to taking on new stories or genres and trying them out
  • Say yes to asking for help from a coach or trusted story-buddy.
  • Say yes to taking classes and workshops to better your telling

Like Nike says...Just (say yes and) do it.


#290 - 11/27/2017
Discovering Another "P"
Friend and colleague Layne Gneiting is a storyteller, adventurer and Leadership Trainer. Last week, he posted a request for suggestions about what to include in an Adventure Journal. Some suggested physical aspects, like a pocket for a pen or a pocket for ephemora (I had to look it up. it means: things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time, usually written or printed)

I had a few thoughts about what sections might be included. I thought about discovering the journey and the adventure. I wondered about the Five Ps ©Donald Davis: People; Place; Problem; Progress and Point. This is one way to look at the essential elements of story. I thought these might apply to an Adventure Journal I replied to Layne with these possible prompts or sections:

People
    Who were the people you met? Describe them. What were they like? What did you discover?

Place
    Where were you? Describe the place(s). What was it like? What did you discover?

Problem
    Was there a problem? More than one? Rate the difficulty. How did you deal with it?
    What did you discover?

Progress
    What was the progress of this part of the journey/adventure? Did you learn from a Mentor?
    How did you change? What did you discover?

Point
    What are your thoughts about today? What were the highlights/lowlights? What did you discover?

As I reviewed these, I thought - something's missing. Then I realized that these, and even Campbell's Hero structure focus mostly on the problem and how to overcome it. They were lacking something: happiness, delights, joy - PLEASURE - Perhaps a sixth "P".

Storytellers often describe the joys or delights of the protagonist, but I have never seen it stated as an essential or important element to include in a story. So, I am suggesting that storytellers add this P to the list. At least as an element to consider. 

Pleasure
    What made you (your protagonist) happy; smile; joyful; want to dance or sing?
    What was the tiniest, seemingly insignificant thing that gave you 
(your protagonist) pleasure?
    What did you 
(your protagonist) discover?

This is not so much a new piece of the structure or flow of a story, but I think it is an essential component of story that as tellers, we should be aware of and consider.

STORYTELLERS - I Invite your thoughts in the comment section below.


#289 - 11/20/2017
Measuring Success
Recently, a colleague who is an incredible storyteller, composer, singer became fearful when she compared herself to her musical idol; wondering if she would ever be "that" good. So...I offer this important tip (from four years ago) for all storytellers at any level, who may compare themselves to others.

How do you measure success? Part of the answer lies in a secondary question: "What's your measuring stick?

In life, it’s natural to measure ourselves against the accomplishments of others. It’s a competitive world out there, and winning, being first or the best is what we are taught to strive for. As a young child in school, I could never measure up to my older sister who got straight “A”s, but the teachers expected me to “be the same” as her. Just as I could never be my sister, I can never be any of the great tellers I have experienced.
 
In storytelling, it’s difficult to not compare ourselves to other tellers. It’s important for us to know, hear and observe other tellers, especially the professionals who have come before us (Learn from The Masters). But judging ourselves based on other tellers’ abilities is a dangerous and slippery slope.
A couple of years ago, I made some contacts and was able to get booked for a day of telling at an elementary school in Nashville, just a few days before the Jonesborough Festival. I was excited! I arrived a day early and took a tour of the school with their librarian, who had hired me. At the right, is what I saw as I walked into the building.
 
While talking with many of the teachers, I learned that in the previous year, Connie Regan-Blake had visited, and two years earlier, Donald Davis had performed. My heart almost stopped beating. How could I measure up to those two giants of storytelling? 
 
As I left the building that afternoon, a thousand questions and doubts went through my mind. What was I to do? I could NEVER measure up to what they had heard in the past two years. I could see the faces of Donald and Connie, looming in the clouds above, like Titans peering down on a mere mortal, the size of an ant. Then somehow (thankfully), I realized that the librarian, who had hired both Connie and Donald, had also hired ME. She had been to my website, seen my videos, and decided I would be a good fit. I didn’t have to be like the tellers who came before me. I just had to be like me.
Here’s another example. I am a cyclist, and my friend and storyteller Layne Gneiting is a cyclist. Last summer, success for him was riding 2000 miles of steep altitude climbs and rough terrain through four European countries in two months. This would not be success for me, this would be death! Success for me, on a bicycle tour, is riding fifteen miles to the next town without falling off the bike, and finding a cheap campsite near a bakery that has great croissants!
 
Success is different for each person, and different for each situation they are in. Success for a beginning teller might be just getting through the whole story from beginning to end. For the intermediate teller, it might be finding and using appropriate gestures and body movements to apply to the story. Success might be performing at a retirement home and having residents share their own stories with you. Success might be getting a standing ovation at a performance, or merely seeing the smiles and wide eyes of young listeners at an elementary school or a bookstore storytelling session.
 
After a year of being quiet, staying in the back and avoiding eye contact, one of my 6th graders came to the front of the class and nervously “read” her story. THAT was a success!
 
When I was younger, and much more agile, I taught dance. Each class began with a series of stretches. Bending and twisting to limber up the body. Some students could bend over and put the palms of their hands on the floor. Some could only touch their toes with the tips of their fingers. Some could barely touch their ankles. Students would often say, “I can’t stretch as far as you can.” My response would be, “You don’t have to. Just stretch as far as you can go. . .then go just a little bit more.”
 

#288 - 11/13/2017
Hot, Ooey-Gooey, Cheese That Stretches
I love to cook. I love stories. I'm a big fan of cooking shows on TV. What's that got to do with Storytelling - A lot!

If you watch any of the shows on the Food Network, you'll notice that there's always a STORY behind the dish, cooking style, recipe or other part of the program. We all know that stories are the best way to connect with people. On the "reality" show, The Next Food Network Star, the "mentors" & judges are always asking contestants, "Where's the story?" And those chefs that can successfully deliver a story, along with good cooking are, the ones that win!

In addition, they are always asked to describe the food with more than just, "It's yummy, wonderful, delicious, tasty, etc." Their descriptions have to be full of adjectives (descriptors) that paint a picture of the food and make the viewer want to try it or cook it. 

There's a new show on The Food Network: Guy's Big project. From cooking maven Guy Fieri and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It's about finding the next Food Roadshow. One of the exercises for the contestants is to have them describe a dish. The winner last week was a gal who said, "If you like hot, ooey-gooey, cheese, that S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-S, you'll love it!" She stretched the cheese way out with both hands to demonstrate. She was the front-runner for the day!

I've spoken about this before (click here). Don't just say, "They fell in love." Use colorful descriptors to paint the picture, like, "One look at her alabaster skin, and Cupid’s arrow struck his heart!" Find metaphors or similes that capture the underlying essence of what you want to say. Think in images. Think in "outrageous, over-the-top images. You may have to scale back a bit from the flowery, but start big. You can always cut back.

Watch some of these cooking shows to get a handle on stories, and descriptors!


#287 - 11/6/2017
I Promptly Prompt
My students are about to tell Personal Stories. They panic. Some don't think they have anything to tell. Some think they have too many stories and can't decide on one. Some are just lost. Perhaps it's time to reprint an old tip about prompts.

Often, we use "prompts" to help us get started on a story, i.e., a time you were frightened; your first day of school; the day you got married. These questions are meant to prompt a story to come forth within you.

Superlatives can be an even greater trigger for stories. Once again, good stories are about taking ordinary events and finding the extraordinary in them.

Consider the following possible prompts -

What was the WORST/BEST
Date you ever went on? - Meal you ever ate? - Job you ever had? - Vacation you ever had? - Day in your life? - Person you ever knew? - Advice you ever got?

What was the MOST/LEAST
Expensive thing you ever bought for yourself. - Money you ever made? -  Glamorous Job you ever had? - Confidence you ever had? - Frightened you ever were?

Here is a list of prompts I use with my students:

For each of the “prompts” below: Where were you? Who else was there? How old were you? What was your worst fear? What was your greatest hope? What hurdles did you have to overcome? How did you overcome them? What emotions did you have? Who helped you? Who stood in your way? Did you succeed or fail? What was the outcome? What changed?

A Time When I…

Think of Superlatives and Opposites…
First/Last/Best/Worst

was very, very late for something

My best/worst vacation

misjudged someone

My favorite toy

was misjudged by someone

My favorite/least favorite teacher

got turned down for a date

My first bike

got stood up

My first/last day of school

stood someone up

My first/last job

missed the plane or train

My first time/last time on an airplane

broke an arm or a leg, or some body part

My first time/last time outside of the country

broke something valuable

The best/worst gift I ever got

lost my temper

The first time/last time I ate a strange food

was embarrassed

The first time/last time I fell in love

embarrassed someone else

The first time/last time I took a dare

said “yes” to the wrong person

The first time/last time I won/lost a race

said “no” to the wrong person

The first/last time I smoked a cigarette

said “no” to the right person

The first/last time I took a road trip

said “yes” to the right person

The last time I worked at a regular job

misread a recipe

The most/least favorite place that I lived

had an “imaginary” friend

The worst punishment I ever got

Here are more ideas. Put the left and the right columns together in different ways to prompt a story:

  • Tallest; Smallest
  • Smartest; Dumbest
  • Poorest; Richest
  • Kindest; Meanest
  • Brightest; darkest
  • Best; Worst
  • Easiest; Hardest
  • Person I ever knew
  • Thing I ever did
  • Moment in my life
  • Relationship I ever had
  • Teacher I ever had
  • Boss I ever had
  • Decision I had to make

Mix and match, come up with your own lists. As an exercise, put each single, superlative on a small slip of paper into a small bowl. Write each event/action on a piece of paper and put it into another bowl. Take one from the superlative bowl, then one from the times/action bowl and craft a story based on that. Rinse and repeat!


#286 - 10/30/2017
When The Clock is Ticking - Less May Be More
Sometimes people ask me, "Where do you get all your tips? How do you decide which one to use each week? The answer is they are all from personal experience, either of performing myself, or watching other tellers. Something stands out for me and I try to turn it into a tip for others. Usually, it's whatever I am thinking about that week.

In that vein, here's a tip that I just discovered this last weekend at the Slam at Changing Hands

Dan Hull's Storyline Slam at Changing Hands last Friday was well attended, and the stories were great. Under Dan's guidelines, tellers could "tell" or "read" their pieces, either true, personal stories, or traditional tales - an all-encompassing format! There's a six-minute time limit, at the end of which, they play a gong sound. One of the things I noticed, is that many of the tellers this time went over the limit. With my own story, the gong rang just as I said the last line!

When I sat down after telling, I thought,

"Why did I craft that to be so close to the six-minute mark? I should have timed and crafted it for five minutes and thirty seconds, or even five minutes! Why come so close to going over?"

I think it is a common mistake for anyone who is dealing with a time limit. We try to get just under the maximum time allowed. When we write a bio for a program, and we have a limit of thirty words, we make the bio exactly 30 words. Or sometimes 29. But our tendency is to come up close to the limit. But when time is involved, it can be a slippery slope to try and just beat the buzzer (or gong)!

Crafting your story to the limit doesn't allow for breaths or pauses, or audience reactions that might add a few more seconds. And then before you know it...your time has expired!

So, here's the tip (and what I will start doing, myself): Prepare for less time than your limit. Whether in a slam, or any gig you may get, craft your story just a little under your time limit. Leave enough time for minor adjustments in your story. If your time limit is six minutes, craft for five, or five and a half. If your gig is 30 minutes, do a set that is 25-28 minutes. AND check your time periodically! Remember, on paying gigs, the producer may have other things planned, and may be on a strict time frame.

Don't have people squirming in their seats, wondering how much longer you will be talking. Less is more!

 


#285 - 10/23/2017
The Endowment Exercise
A reprint from way back in 2012!

One of the previous tips offered here was about Building a Back Story with Significant Objects. This week, I would like to talk about endowing objects, places and people. 

The great actress/teacher Uta Hagen used and taught the concept of endowment to make things real. As actors, we must hold the prop teacup (bought at the Dollar Store) and make the audience believe it is a delicate antique, handed down from three generations. The only way we can do that, is by endowing the prop with the qualities of the object in our story. (Note: the actor must also endow the sets and other actors with their own qualities in order for the audience to believe they exist.)
 
What are the qualities of that teacup?
Delicate and fragile, yet it has stood the test of time. It survived in our family through several wars and many, many physical moves; across the country and around the world. It symbolizes the love, not only that Great Grandfather had for Great Grandmother, but the faith that the family had in each other, handed down from each generation. It is believed to possess magical, curative properties, as it was used to administer liquid medicines that saved the lives of both Grandmother and Mother over the years.
As an actor, I must endow that cup with all those qualities. I must use my hands, my body, my face, my eyes, voice and breathing to handle the cup as if it were the real object. I must show some reverence for that cup. I do not merely grab it and swig the cold tea in it, I must lift it gently, as if it could break any minute, and the resulting loss would be devastating. I must also endow the liquid inside with heat, and the taste of Earl Grey. Blowing gently to cool the hot tea, sipping the bold, robust flavor.
 
As a storyteller, I must do all that…but without the actual prop to handle!

GCC Students: On Tuesday of this week, in class be ready to present - and tell me what "significant object" you will show us through the endowment process described above. No props, just you, describing the object with ALL of your storytelling skills. Make us SEE it and BELIEVE it is there. One minute long - 40 possible points.


#284 - 10/16/2017
Music Hath Charms
Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast…and it has the ability to trigger very sharp memories, the places where stories can be born.

Sometimes, there is more than just ONE memory. When I hear “Georgy Girl", it triggers two very distinct recollections of different times in my life.
 
My best friend and I were walking our dates home from the midnight showing of the film, Georgy Girl, in Chicago, the winter of 1966. We were all students at ballet school and danced along the sidewalk as we hummed the movie’s theme song and watched our breath materialize in the cold, crisp air of the night. Standing outside the dormitory where the girls lived, we shivered as we said goodbye to them. Was it the cold that made our knees shake, or just our nerves as we both wondered, would either of us get a goodnight kiss?
 
After driving almost fifteen hours and 800 mles from Three Rivers, Quebec to Richmond, Virginia, my troup of eleven girl chorus dancers and I arrived just in time to don our costumes, pass out our music, “Georgy Girl” to the band and do the opening dance number at the Virginia State Fair. I thought we were in luck when the band was one we had previously worked with in Pennsylvania; Claire Trevor and the York Spring Garden Band! I stood off stage and motioned to the conductor for the tempo. He nodded in agreement, turned to the band and promptly began to play our music twice as fast as it was supposed to be. It was like something out of a slapstick movie being played at high speed. We couldn’t lift our knees high enough, or get all the steps in, as we raced through the number. The audience was laughing, we were not!
 
Any song from Fiddler on the Roof brings back images and many backstage stories from two different tours of the show that I danced in. Those memories spark others from other shows I did, all the people I knew and the places I traveled when I was in the theatre. Even just a few notes can trigger a flood of recollections that could be turned into a string of pearls for telling.
 
Go ahead, listen to anything on the radio. Tune in to an oldies station and see what images come up. Baby Boomers, what memories come to mind when you hear, “I want to Hold Your Hand”, or “Satisfaction”? 
 
And then there’s that ONE song that I can’t help rockin’ to the beat when I hear it! And I can see the faces of the teachers at that school dance, wondering just what WERE the lyrics that the Kingsmen were singing in “Louie Louie”?
 
GCC Students: Use the comment section below to write a short paragraph about a piece of music that reminds you of a time/story. SHORT - 5-6 sentences (PROOFREAD your response). Respond in the COMMENT section below before 2pm Tuesday and receive up to 15 extra credit points.
 
Other readers are also encouraged to respond...and I will give you extra credit too!
 

#283 - 10/9/2017
Stand On Your Ground!
I had the occasion to hear an interview with the great Carl Reiner over the weekend on NPR (my favorite radio station that has ALL the good stuff). For those who may be too young to remember, Reiner is a producer, writer, director, comedian and much more. He has won 20 Emmy awards for TV, and numerous other awards in the entertainment industry.

He created and produced the Dick Van Dyke Show, Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar, partnered with Mel Brooks for the 2000 Year-Old Man, and many, many more legendary comedy enterprises. If you have never seen the Dick Van Dyke show, Google it and watch an episode on Youtube! It’s a classic!

“Alright, already, so what’s the tip?”, you ask. Wait for it… Wait for it…

Reiner talked about how he created the iconic, classic Dick Van Dyke Show. The era of “variety review” show on TV was at an end. A lot of Westerns were sprouting up. Reiner had read a lot of scripts submitted to him but didn’t like any of them. His wife told him, “YOU write something.” At first, he wasn’t sure he could do it, but then asked himself, (wait for it)

“What piece of ground do you stand on that nobody else stands on?”

His answer, “I live in New Rochelle with my family and I write in New York for TV.” So that’s what he wrote. Originally, he cast himself in the lead role, but it didn’t play. Eventually, he found Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Now, storytellers, when you must create a new story, whether personal or traditional, and you don’t think you have a story inside you, ask yourself:

“What piece of ground do you stand on that nobody else stands on?”

What is uniquely you or yours? What is it that says “You” and no one else? What do you know that no one else knows? Therein lies the beginning of the tale! The foundation, the essence that will point you in the right direction!


#282 - 10/2/2017
The Wisdom of the Crowd
Last night, a new show premiered called Wisdom of the Crowd. The premise, a man creates an app that taps into the "crowd" (people on the internet) to help solve crimes. I thought it was a pretty good show. The concept is solid.

Storytellers can do the same. Use the Wisdom of the Tribe! Our storytelling community is filled with individuals who are always willing to help, no matter what the problem or concern. Need a story for a wedding? Ask the tribe. Need a story that highlights ecology? Ask the tribe. Need to find a word or term that fits for your story? You get the message.

Don't feel guilty about reaching out for info. Seasoned tellers do it all the time. There are several ways to put the word out that you need assistance. FaceBook is a great place to use the crowd. First, in your own circle of friends. They are quite knowledgeable you know. Also, use the vast number of storytelling groups on FB: Storytellers; StorytellersAZ; ETSU Storytelling; National Storytelling Festival to name a few. Some are open, some are "closed" groups but one can join by getting "invited" by a member. Not hard to do.

If you belong to NSN, you should be subscribed to the "Listserv". This is a closed group for members. People post almost every day and ask questions, make announcements and answer questions or "calls for help." Here's the link to the Listserv with directions to join: http://storynet.org/storytell.html

One more option to contact people---this Newsletter. Got a question that has stumped you? Send it to me and I will post it in the Newsletter and ask people to contact you, and/or write to me and I will publish the responses the following week. We'll see what our own Community Tribe can come up with!

Remember, "Use the Force, Luke." And remember, it's all around you.


#281 - 9/25/2017
The Language of Latka
Thinking a lot about words and language in my storytelling classes. So I thought it might be fun to re-visit a tip from 2013. Enjoy!

Remember Andy Kaufman's character on Taxi? Latka Gravas. He was from "the old country" and spoke a strange language. There were only a few words that were defined like:
"Yaktahbay"  - behind/butt
"Nik nik" - sex
"Ibi da" - "yes" or "that is so"

Most of the language was gibberish, or at least sounded like that. But you could always understand what he (and Carol Kane as Simka) were saying due to their facial/body expressions, intonations, etc.

Try this as an exercise, and do it with a coach, friend, group of friends or at a trusted story circle or guild gathering.

Tell the story in gibberish. "Blah, blah, blah" or whatever. Use your body, face, voice, and anything else you can to convey the meaning of the words, just don't use the words. Jeff Gere from Hawaii has used this exercise with pairs. The pairs tell each other a story, then choose one of the stories to "tell" to the group in gibberish.

 

Remember that this is an "exercise" so, go "over the top" with your gestures and everything else. You can always pull back later, in a real telling. But in this exercise, be outrageous and have fun!

Then, get feedback from the group. What did they think the story was about? Could they distinguish between different characters? Did they get a sense of the setting? Did they have a sense of time passing? What they tell you about what THEY thought you were saying, doing or conveying will be invaluable!

Oh yeah...one more thing...You might want to think about performing a story this way for an audience! What, you say? Outrageous? Crazy? Can't be done? Donna Washington tells the story of the Three Little Pigs with NO words at all...just sound. And it works!

Now, if you want to go back to words...check out the tidbit below!


#280 - 9/18/2017
Smell, Taste, and Touch - The Forgotten Senses
A reprint of a tip from July of 2012. Don't forget.

Most of the time, we use only sight and sound in our stories, i.e., “The Wolf saw the first little pig entering his house of straw. Even from the edge of the woods, he could hear its carefree singing.”

But the other three senses can be powerful elements in crafting the language of story. They can paint heightened images for your listeners. Consider smell, taste and touch with the Wolf:
“Even from the edge of the woods, the Wolf could smell the first little pig. Faintly masked by the odor of damp straw, the aroma of fresh meat reached his practiced nostrils. He began to salivate. The dull flavor of the grass he had chewed on that morning began to fade as he savored the anticipation of young, pink flesh. He dug his claws into the ground, testing his grip with each step, as he eagerly but stealthily approached the fragile hut.”
You can also mix metaphors. Many writers have used the phrase, “The smell of fear.” What would a sunset taste like? How might music feel on your body?
 
The senses open up a whole world of images. Find the sense that can enhance each part of your story or your characters. Play with it and expand it. You may be surprised with the brush stroke you can paint.
 

#279 - 9/11/2017
There's No Crying in Baseball... or Storytelling
You may have seen a teller at an open mic or slam who told a personal story that was just too difficult to tell without breaking down in tears. Some folks like the "raw" outpouring of emotion. Not most coaches or storytelling teachers.

When the teller breaks down in this manner, the audience tops listening and starts to want to take care of the teller. - Not a good thing. The storyteller is not there for therapy. They need to have resolved the emotions, so they can "safely" take the audience on a storytelling trip and return them to the present.

The question becomes..."When and where do I practice a strong emotional piece to see if I am really ready to tell it?

First, practice it by yourself, in your room or house, many times. Remember though, that without an audience, it could turn out vastly different!

The next step is to tell it to a trusted friend/story buddy. A knowledgeable colleague can both support you and give you feedback.

Lastly, tell with friends and/or colleagues in a safe place... like a guild meeting or story circle.

Such was the case for me last Saturday in the East Valley Tellers of Tales (EVTOT) monthly Guild Meeting. Our gathering is a safe place to try out new material, or stories that may not even have been formed yet. The group is welcoming and supportive, and still gives appreciations (and feedback, if wanted).

I told a piece about my mother, who had passed away on July fourth of this year. I had thought it was more of a philosophical piece about end-of-life, choices, and end-of-life-quality...oops. I wasn't there yet. The tears came. I breathed and tried to control them, but no use. They began to take over. I was still to caught up in the feelings. But this was the BEST place for me to find out, in front of a caring, supportive group.

Now it's back to the storyboard, and perhaps a bit of journaling and introspection to get past the emotions before I try again.

Thanks, EVTOT for allowing me to test the waters. I guess they are still a little hot.


#278 - 9/4/2017
Nuance Over Novelty
What an interesting phrase: "Nuance over novelty." I heard it on NPR last weekend. It means simply

To choose something you already poses and make small changes to it vs. choosing something completely different or new.

Storytellers are always trying to find new stories to increase their repertoire. This is a good thing to do. But, sometimes it is also good to go back and look at an old "stock" story you may have, and see what subtle changes you might make to it and see what happens. You may even find a way to tweak an old story that might connect to a new one.


#277 - 8/28/2017
What's in a Name?
A story prompt.

Do you remember the movie, Dances with Wolves? The title is also the name of Kevin Costner's character. It's the name that the Sioux gave him after they saw him "dancing" and romping with the wolf who had become his friend.

There is a whole "sub story" of his relationship with "two socks". The slow process of building trust; the moment when Two Socks decides they are friends; the way they protect each other; the angst when the soldiers shoot Two Socks.

The Sioux all had names that described who they were in some way: Stands with a fist; Kicking Bird; Wind in his hair. They all had a story behind how they came by their name.

Here's a story prompt:

If you were to have a "Native American" name, what would it be? What phrase or few words would describe who you are?

I have used this prompt in therapy sessions many times and it is always quite revealing. My name would be, "Loves to laugh and make 'em laugh." There are several stories behind that descriptive moniker...but that's another story.

What would your name be? Now, tell us a story (or stories) about why you would be called that. It might be one specific incident, or there might be a "string of pearls" (several stories) that would reveal what is behind that name.

Think about it. Maybe chat with a friend. Be creative. Maybe it's something everyone knows about you...or something that very few know.

Hello, what's your name? Tell me a story about it.


#276 - 8/21/2017
When I use a word...

Always one of my favorite quotes! From Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

Aye, yi, yi, there's the rub, "Which is to be master!"

Yes, many words can mean many different things. as storytellers, there's more: Many words that sound the same can mean even more things! This concept can be used in storytelling for many different effects.

Simple alliteration (repetition of the same letters or sounds) can be of use. In my story, The Princess and the Storyteller Frog, I say that "Frogs from all over the kingdom, came hopping and hoping to marry the princess."  This adds a bit of humor as "hopping" and "hoping" are similar, but different.

Take today, for example: "Many people in the office had their work eclipsed by the eclipse. Using the same word with a slightly different meaning can add interest.

Using the same word that has vastly different meanings can cause people to think more, be more curious, or just listen more closely. I have always loved the word, "stem" because it has fairly opposite meanings. It can mean the stem of a plant, or something that holds something else up. It can mean to stop something, like, "Stem the tide." Or it can mean to originate, as in, "This river stems from the north fork." or "This type of thinking stems from inaccurate information." Here's one: "It's unnatural to stem the flow of a river that stems from the depths of the earth."

Using words that sound alike, but are spelled differently, also forces the listener to be more involved. They often have a poetic effect. "The eyes of all were focused on the voters, and when it was over, the ayes had it. And I was not the only one who was eyed with hatred." 

And just for fun, you could use the WRONG word for what you mean as in "spoonerisms" or "Malaprops". (see below) 

For a lesson in words, meanings, rhymes, etc. go to see a "spoken word" slam or performance. These "poets" use words and language to their advantage in creating images and connections. 

They have heeded Humpty Dumpty's advice, and are "well heeled" in the art and use of words and language.


#275 - 8/14/2017
Advice for Writers and Storytellers Too
The best advice for storytellers - from other storytellers: "Tell stories you love!" and also..."Tell, tell, tell! Tell as often as you can."

The other day, I was surfing the net and an ad popped up on my screen for one of the "Master Class" series of web programs. The site https://www.masterclass.com/ features a wide variety of successful professionals teaching their craft in a series of online video classes. James Patterson, Kevin Spacey, Steve Martin, Dustin Hoffman; all "masters" of their own craft offer lessons on how to be better.

This time, on my screen was a class by playwright and Filmmaker, David Mamet. He has written and/or directed such films and plays as: Glengary Glen Ross; The Untouchables; American Buffalo; Speed the Plow; Wag the Dog and Oleanna.

The ad caught my eye, because I know David. We went to High school together! Click here for the trailer.

The trailer has some interesting thoughts from Mamet on writing that may also be relevant to storytellers. He says:

You can't learn about drama without writing plays, putting it on in front of an audience and getting humiliated.

Your job is to tell a story. The story has a hero, and he or she wants ONE thing.

I'm not any less confused than you are, I just got in the habit of doing it.

You gotta stand being bad, cause if you don't you're never gonna write anything good. We're given a great gift and responsibility, which is to tell stories as honestly as we can. And experience things in the process that are beautiful.

So, Get out there and tell; no matter what. Tell, tell, tell. The more you tell, the more you learn. The more you learn, he better you get!


#274 - 8/7/2017
Abraham Begat Isaac; and Isaac Begat Jacob etc., etc.
One way to find inspiration for new stories.

Quite often, when we tell stories, whether personal or traditional, we touch upon images and similar stories inside the minds of the audience members. Have you had people come up to you after a performance and say, "That story reminded me of my Grandmother." Or, "I wrote a story about that when I was in high school." Or perhaps you have heard a story that made you feel you needed to craft your own version of that tale. Good stories give birth to other ideas and images inside of us. Stories beget other stories. 

Are you listening with just your ears, or your whole body? Just as tellers need to tell with their whole being; tellers must listen with their whole being. What images do you see or imagine? What conflicts arise for you? What sounds do only you hear? These are all pieces that you can use to beget a new story. This is just one reason why listening to other tellers is so important. You must listen to your own stories too. Maybe there is a story that needs a companion, or a follow-up tale.

To create new stories: read more stories; listen to more stories and storytellers; listen to your own stories; research more stories and events in history; search out more legends of the past... Then go out and beget!


#273 - 7/31/2017
Back to basics - How to Tell A Story
Simple, sage advice from Storyteller and colleague, Sean Buvala.

One of the most searched-for communication skills on the Internet is “how to tell a story.” I would like to give you a quick step-by-step guide to this process of story telling, drawn from my 30+ years of being a professional storyteller. This is the fast and quick method to learn a new story.

1. Decide on a story. Sounds elementary, but at some point, you need to find a story that you love. If you are having problems, search the Internet for some simple Aesop fables or find some good stories at a site like Storyteller.net .
 
2. Break the story down into an outline of events so that you can remember the episodes of each story.
 
You have two choices for step three. Do one or both if you would like...
 
Read the entire article here.

#272 - 7/24/2017
Creativity is the Storytellers' Forge

One of my favorite new TV shows is Forged in Fire (History Channel)! It’s a reality/competition between four “bladesmiths”. They are given three hours to create a knife or other weapon from raw material. We watch as they design their knives, select the raw steel and place it in the forge. They deftly hammer, bend and shape the metal to their liking, then hone it and polish it to a fine edge. Well now, there’s a metaphor for storytelling!

There are bladesmiths, blacksmiths, locksmiths, gunsmiths and so, we might call ourselves storysmiths.

We begin by designing the story. What type will it be? What will it be about? How will we use it; What audience will the story be for, etc. Then we choose our materials: Who are the characters; the setting; the time; the “who-what-when-where-why and how” of the story. We put them all together in the forge and heat them up. We mix them and then hammer out each scene and section. We have a vision in our head and continually heat and reheat; shape and re-shape our story until it is the “rough” look of our vision.

Then we cool, or quench it. We grind away the unnecessary parts. We hone it to a fine, sharp edge. We polish it to a high luster. We may decide to add etching or more visual detail. And even after it seems finished and it is used over and over, we examine the edges and continue to reshape and re-sharpen it.

I think it’s a great metaphor and concept. Don’t get too excited though, I already checked and storysmith and storyforge are both taken as websites!


#271 - 7/17/2017
Sum...mer...time... and the Livin' Is Ea...sy...
You know the old song, by George Gershwin, from the musical, Porgy and Bess. The first lines and notes reflect the long, lazy days of summer. 

But don't be lazy! Summertime (especially here in Phoenix where it's so hot and we NEVER go outside) is the perfect time to work on stories! The storytelling scene usually gets smaller during summer. Summer school is almost over and there are fewer events to attend. Now is the perfect time to stay cool inside and revisit and revive your stories.

The dog-days of summer are a great time for re-crafting old stories. Have you gotten a little rusty, or even dusty with some stories? Time to dust them off; scrub them and polish them to shine anew. When you first told them, they were new to you and your audiences. What will make them new and bright and shiny again? 

Here are a few tips/prompts to try a re-fit for a story that may have lost some of its luster:

  • Change the Voice. Tell from a different point of view, or from a different character's point of view. Want to challenge yourself? Try telling the story in "second person" (one specific character speaking to another specific character or group).
     
  • Change the setting or the time frame, modernize the story. What would happen if Little Red Riding Hood lived in New York City, and it's 2017?
     
  • What connects those three short stories? Can't find the connection? Maybe it's YOU as the teller? How could you bring them together as a string of pearls?
     
  • Re-discover what's special about your protagonist. Make this quality the focal point of your story. How does your protagonist feel about having this power/ability? Were they always this way? Did they acquire this quality along their journey? Highlight it and tell us more about it.
     
  • What's the point of the story? Are you sure? Delve deeper into the meaning of the story for you. Maybe your initial thoughts and decisions have changed since you first told it. Take a leap of faith.  What if the point were something completely outrageous?

Those are just a few of the possibilities that you might try. Here's one more that's well suited for your summertime re-crafting:

  • Take a moment to physically become your protagonist. Stand the way they would stand. Put your body in the shape of what it feels like to BE them. Breathe in the way they would breath. Breath in that quality that they have and can use for good. Then...step outside into the summer heat, and speak as your protagonist.

Did you find something new to use for your story?


#270 - 7/10/2017
Stories Help the Healing Process
When you have a cut, one thing you can do is cover it with a band aid. This may stop the bleeding, on merely keep the blood from staining your clothes. What you probably need is an antiseptic, something that does more than cover up your wound. The deeper the cut, the deeper your wound, the more care and attention it needs. It usually needs to be exposed to the air; cleaned out often; more healing salve or ointment, and needs a new dressing.

When the wound goes deep, inside your heart, you need a different kind of salve. Stories can be the balm that helps the healing process, even if it is just for the moment. Grief is a deep wound. So deep that often, the pain persists for a very long time. Grief is different for every person. Each person's way of dealing with grief needs to be different; personal; there is no, "on-size-fits-all." And the old adage, "time heals all wounds" is not necessarily true. Time may help, but the grief may never be fully healed...and that's okay

My mother passed away last week. She had been in a nursing home for three years. In many ways, the person she had been, vibrant; aware; dynamic was lost years ago. I know that her internal struggles and pain are now gone, and for that I am thankful. We were always very close, so the finality of her death has wounded me, severely. 

Here is where stories can help. Stories about someone who has died, remembering their actions, words, triumphs and foibles help to keep the good parts of them inside us, always. Stories of similar people or situations can help us as we relate with the characters (real or fictional). And philosophical stories, stories with a "message" can help us to put things in perspective in relation to our whole world. Stories help us to make sense of the world we live in, which often does not make sense.

For those of you, like myself, who have been wounded by the loss of a loved one, I offer a balm of stories that may aid in your healing. My dear friend and storytelling colleague, Laura Packer, lost her sweet husband, Kevin, three years ago. Part of her healing process (and it IS a PROCESS) was to write and tell more stories, both in oral and written form. Her pieces are heartfelt, deep, revealing and quite poignant. Even before my mother passed away, her stories of Kevin helped me to begin to make some sense regarding my mother's impending loss of physical life.

For anyone who may be dealing with deep wounds of any kind, I offer Stories from Laura's blog, called True Stories, Honest Lies, and hope that her posts may help you, even in some small ways.

And here's another source, National Storytelling Network's Healing Story Alliance special interest group. It is the web page of many storytellers who have been using story to heal in many different ways and situations.

And one more piece...yes, writing this tip has also helped me in my healing process.
 


#269 - 7/3/2017
Give Me a Number Between 1 and 3
Did you pick "two"? You should have.

Most of us tell stories in either First Person or Third person. It's called Voice or Point of View. First Person uses "I", i.e. "I went to the store." Third Person (Omniscient - all knowing) uses "He, She, They." "He went to the store. They went to the store"

But what about that other choice? What about Second Person? Second Person uses "YOU". "YOU went to the store. YOU are the one who forgot the milk. YOU are the one who disappointed the kids."

More precisely, Second Person is a specific person or character talking to a specific person, character or group. It could be the Wife talking to her Husband. "Why didn't you pick up the milk? You have ruined our dinner." Or, the Wife talking to the Kids. "None of you finished your milk! Your father made a special trip to get it. All of you, go to your room!" It could be a much larger group, like a group of friends at your birthday party, "You have all made me feel very special. And you are the ones who I care about the most."

When deciding from which voice to tell your story, don't forget Second Person. It can be a powerful tool. The narrator can only go so far in showing emotional content. Imagine three different voices.

Third Person, Narrator
"He told her he never loved her. He said she was worthless."
This can only go so far in communicating the emotional impact.

First Person - The Wife
"My Husband told me he never loved me. He said that I was worthless."
First Person goes farther with emotions and can convey the feelings of the main character more clearly.

Second Person - The Wife Talking to the Husband
"You told me you never loved me. You said I was worthless."
But Second Person can reveal a higher level of emotions when it portrays the actual person speaking to another.

Third person is one of the most often used voices in singing. Think of many of Taylor Swift songs where she is talking to a former boyfriend. Many religious songs are specifically talking to God. Other love songs: You Made Me Love You; You are the Sunshine of My Life - Happy Birthday is actually sung in Second person!

Second Person is a little more difficult to pull off in storytelling. One should pay attention to time and place. To switch, one can use the phrase, "And remember last July when you refused to go on vacation with us? That was very hurtful. And don't forget my birthday three years ago. You completely forgot it! When I reminded you, you didn't even apologize!"

Storyteller Corinne Stavish tells many bible stories using Second Person, with the Woman in the story talking to God.

So, don't look only at the two most often used voices in the storytellers' bag of techniques. Consider Second Person, especially when you want to intensify the emotion of the story/character.

Want a challenge? Craft three different versions of your story; one in First Person, one in Third; and one in Second...and see what happens.


#268 - 6/26/2017
Dialogue - Use It to Show.
It's generally accepted that there are three ways to inform your audience about your characters.

One is to "tell" them through narration: "Mary was honest and caring." "John was a spiteful gossip."

Another way is to describe the action (still "telling" but a bit closer to "showing"): "John went on and on, with his gossip and rumors. Mary was not pleased."

The third option is to "show" through dialogue: "Did you hear about Betty? She was literally throwing herself at every man at the party. God only knows what happened afterwards!" Mary cut him off, "I don't believe it! I like Betty. I don't like rumors and gossip. I won't let you cast doubt on her character."

Having your characters interact with dialogue truly reveals who they are through their actions and words.

I recently came across an article by trainer and coach, Anett Grant in the Business Journal: 3 reasons why dialogue is the critical catalyst to great storytelling. Although she is talking about storytelling in business and organizational presentations, it fits for most other storytelling too.

Caveat: Be careful about falling into "He said this - She said that!"

The next time you find yourself "narrating" about who your characters are...consider dialogue.
  Read the article here


#267 - 6/19/2017
Say it in One Sentence
What’s your story about? Can you say it in one sentence? I don’t mean tell me a “one sentence story.”  I mean, in one sentence, what is the essence of your story. If you can do that, you are well on your way to being a better story crafter, and teller.

First you have to know "what's the story about?" This is essential. Doug Lipman was coaching me on a personal story I was crafting. It felt a little fragmented, and I had difficulty with the ending. One of the questions Doug asked was, “What’s your story about?” I gave him a fairly long and unfocused answer. His response was, “I’m not sure that’s what I heard in the story.”
 
I went back to the drawing board (thinking board). It took some time. I went back and forth for about six months, wondering about Doug’s question. Finally, I was able to focus in on the essence of the story. Once I had done that, the rest fell into place and I had a story that was solid, and my understanding of the story was solid. That was the key.
 
Knowing and understanding the essence of your story can ground you, and carry you through whatever complexities or details may be in the tale. Often, coaching clients will say to me, “It’s about a man who goes here, then he goes there, then he does this, then he does that, etc.” My response is, “That’s the sequence of events. But what is the story about?” Some seem to have great difficulty with this. Elementary school students often tell me they “can’t put it in one sentence.” When coached and coaxed, most of the time, they are able.
 
When you know that one sentence, the essence, or what Doug calls the Most Important Thing, you can craft your story with laser sharpness. (Click here for an article by Doug on the MIT) Every piece of your tale will now relate to the essence of what it is about. If some part doesn’t, you will most likely need to discard it. MaryGay Ducey said to me (and I paraphrase), “If it doesn’t fit or serve the story, you may have to throw out something you love.”
 
This one sentence concept can even work for a string of pearls story. I have a compilation of three short tales about incidents with my mother at different ages. The story is not about “When I was five and when I was twenty and when I was thirty…” It’s about “How my strong bond with my mother was formed.” By the way, if you need to say it in two sentences, that’s okay. The exercise is to help you focus.
 
And here’s one more focusing tip: Look at each character in your story and ask yourself, “What’s one thing that is special about this character?” I asked one sixth grader what was special about one of his female characters. “Nothing really,” was his response. I cajoled, “There must be something special about her.” “Well,” he said, “Not really…except maybe the fact that she is the incarnation of a high priestess from an ancient civilization.”
 
OK, I think that works.

#266 - 6/12/2017
Use and Trust Your Image Engine

Here's a reprint from September, 2014 that seems appropriate, given the Tidbit below.

I will be forever indebted to storyteller, friend, colleague and educator Laura Packer. In a workshop she presented in Phoenix she said, "Use and trust your image engine."

In my Art of Storytelling classes, I use the story of Stealing Smells to demonstrate many different aspects of storytelling;

One concept is, that I have an image in my head and use my voice, body, gestures and facial expressions to portray the character as I see him (without describing him). Each member of the audience sees their OWN image based on my performance. I use a similar image of the bearded man, in this graphic, for the character of Mordechai the Baker. I Then ask the students to describe the image that THEY saw in their heads.

Then, I repeat the process by using a DIFFERENT image (the skinny fellow with glasses) and perform him differently. Then I ask the students to describe THAT character. By trusting my image engine, I can quickly become the character, without hesitation. 

This process is both about having a "back story" for your character, and also trusting your "image engine" and letting it take you where you need to go.

Do you have your engine gassed up and ready to go?


#265 - 6/5/2017
Start With Stories
Perhaps a tip, perhaps just an observation.

While on the Storytelling England/Ireland Tour recently, I had an epiphany, of sorts. One of my expectations for both last year's and this year's tour was that we would all gather at the end of the day and share stories. Favorite personal or traditional stories, or just stories from our day of adventure. It never seemed to happen that way. Most of the time, we met for dinner and reminisced and laughed about what we had experienced that day with each other. Afterwards, we were all too tired to tell or pay attention to any formal stories.

This year, there were a few times when we each went in different directions, and then, during dinner, we related what had happened. But they were mostly anecdotes again, and not formal stories.

However, on our last full day in Dublin, we gathered in the morning to hear some stories that had been delayed for one reason or another. We found a quiet spot in the hotel lobby with comfortable chairs for us all. We were all fresh, rested and ready to hear and appreciate each other's stories. So, next year I will try to schedule more stories at the beginning of the day vs. hoping we will have time and energy at the end of the day.

When we did hear stories, we applauded and told the teller we liked or loved their story. But I realized that in a small group like ours, we needed a little more (my own feelings here). I believe we needed some appreciations. Not only to round out the experience for both teller and listeners, but as a small "teaching" portion of the tour. Appreciations always give us an opportunity to hear what others liked and why. Agreeing (or tacit disagreeing) allow us to make choices regarding how we might use language, techniques, etc. to our own advantage when telling.

We actually told more stories on this tour than last year. Perhaps that was because we had more tellers vs. students. What was truly exciting were those times when we spontaneously stopped and told stories to each other. On the first train ride, we had a car all to ourselves, so, naturally, we turned it into a storytelling car. And on our one hike, the magical forest provided a great setting for traditional tales!

So, when planning events, make sure, when you can, that you start with stories. Don't wait till your time or energy runs out.


#263 - 5/15/2017
Drop Your Hat...Please
In anticipation of our England and Ireland tour, I am reminded of the many times I have visited Europe and discovered that the people there love to tell stories, and they will tell you a story at the drop of a hat...and if you don't have a hat to drop, they will lend you theirs!

We're always looking for stories! But are we looking in the right places? If we are only looking for traditional stories, and/or personal stories from our own lives, we are missing a lot! Remember that the first skill of a storyteller is listening. But what shall we listen for? Here's a thought - OTHER people's stories!

There's a treasure trove of stories out there from people all over. The ones in the coffee shop, or the airport, or on a bus. Talk to the person next to you on the plane. Don't spend six hours without finding out something about them. One of the most famous stories is from Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

In the section on Paradigm Shift, he recounts the tale of being on the subway and encountering a man and his children.

I remember one Sunday morning, on a subway in New York; people were sitting quietly- some reading, some lost in thought, some resting or sleeping- Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. 
The children were so loud that instantly, the whole climate changed. The man sat down next to me and closed hi eyes, apparently neglecting the situation. 
 
The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, it was very disturbing and yet the man sitting next to me did nothing. 
 
I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to leave his children like that and doing nothing about it. 
 
So finally, with unusual patience, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more.” 
 
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right, I guess I should do something about it, we just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to do, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either. 
 
“Your wife has just died? Oh, I’m sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant. 
Covey was not only affected by the man's story, but the encounter spurred Covey to formulate his model of Paradigm Shift. 
 
Stories can affect us in many ways.
 
Never forget the storytelling concept, paraphrased here by Mr. Rogers, "Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story."
 
So get out there "among the people" and start listening to their stories!
 

#262 - 5/8/2017
Find Your Walden

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau Left Concord, Massachusetts for a small woodland community on the shores of Walden Pond. Seeking "the simple life"

Thoreau used the time there to write his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. The experience later inspired, perhaps, his most famous work, Walden.

Thoreau went to Walden to get away from the distractions of the urban life, to find some calm and solitude in the quiet of the woods and pond.

That was in 1845! There are exponentially more distractions in our lives today than Thoreau could ever dream of. We often hear of people, "unplugging" which really means from the internet and even the phone. But if one stays in the urban environment, there are still cars, traffic, appointments, etc. that can keep us from achieving a desired, higher state of consciousness.

Like Thoreau, many authors have sought our "retreats" where they can go and concentrate on their writing with less of the "outside world" seemingly interfering with their process. Storyteller Kim Weitkamp recently "locked herself away" in a cabin to work on more stories. Local storyteller and comedian Bryan Lee went north to a secluded hideaway to finish a book he is writing.

Where or what is your Walden? Where is the place that allows you to unplug from the normal rat race, and pull back from the chaos or distractions in your life? Maybe it's somewhere close to home, but far enough away from the norm that you can quiet yourself. In the short-term, maybe it's something small, like getting a massage, or having a relaxed, two-hour dinner either solo, or with a trusted friend. Perhaps it's a weekend "staycation" by a local hotel pool where they bring you drinks with little umbrellas, just to be decadent.

Is your Walden just a few hours from your home? Maybe in the woods or the mountains? Or is it farther? Could it be across the country? Back in the home where you grew up? Or is it across the ocean? 

In my trips to England, I rejoice in the culture and spirit of history that exudes in the physical surroundings, and the local people. When I bike to a nearby city, I can revel in the serenity of the quiet countryside and forests in between. Setting up camp; cooking and sleeping solo with the stars above allows my whole body to breathe. Often, the story ideas come at night when the gentle breeze ruffles my tent. I can hear the voices of the characters calling to me.

Have you found your Walden? If not, it may be time to search for it. And when you do find it, even if it's a small or short-term one, make sure you visit it, as often as you can!


#261 - 5/1/2017
Story Kinship
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 TodaySusan 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!


#260 - 4/24/2017
The Only Constant is Change
This week's tip comes from Janice Del Negro

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be invited to present at the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Conference in Golden, Colorado. The keynote was given by the incomparable Janice Del Negro. Watching Janice is mesmerizing and an education in itself.

In this age of the Moth and the proliferation of personal stories, Janice steeps herself in 398.2 - Folktales and Fairytales. Commonly known as the "traditional" side of storytelling, Janice seems anything but. The tales she tells are from a great "tradition". But the way she crafts and tells them is clearly out-of-the-box.

One might ask, "How can this be? aren't traditional stories supposed to be 'sacred'? One shouldn't be able to change them just to suit one's mood'" This is where Janice excels.

She reminds us that Folktales and Fairytales that we read in literature are merely ONE person's interpretation of the story at ONE point in time. That is the version that is preserved on the written page. But that may not necessarily be the only version that is valid. Do we, as storycrafters, have the right to change a traditional story to suit our own, or the audiences' sensibilities? An emphatic "YES" is her response!

In the opening night's concert, Janice took us through an irreverent yet amazing version of Rapunzel, continually reminding us that, "A story is always different, depending on who tells it."

She does remind us that "Maintaining the original story-arc is important. It's how one interprets it; that is what makes the story yours and unique." Think of Disney's Maleficent, where true love's kiss is not that of a lover, but, in this case, of a loving aunt.

So, when you love a particular story, but think it might need some changes in the way that YOU tell it, rejoice! Think outside-the-box. Make creative choices and support them. Remember, "A story is always different, depending on who tells it."
 


#259 - 4/17/2017
Start with Lessons Learned
An age-old question: "What makes a good story?" There are many parts to the answer, but one of the basic elements is that in a "story" someone or something changes. There is some knowledge gained; some lesson learned. This is especially important in personal stories. We are always looking for that thing that changed, that revelation or insight. The phrase that exemplifies that is, "Ever since that day, I always..." 

My students are always telling me, "I don't have any stories. My life is boring."

If we take change as a premise for storytelling, then we can look for a good story in those times in our lives when we did change, when we did learn a lesson. Think back for a moment and ponder all the things you may have experienced in your life when you learned something; when you had a great epiphany, or a small one. When the lightbulb turned on; when you actually, "Saw the light!"

What do you do differently now than you did in the past? When did you make that change? WHY did you make that change?

Look back to those times of change and lessons for inspiration in crafting a personal story. You may just help someone struggling with similar challenges.
 


#258 - 4/10/2017
Explain Yourself!
Remember when you were younger? I mean young— maybe five to ten-years-old? Perhaps you had done something you shouldn't have; broken something; came home late; got in trouble at school? And one of your parents said, "Explain yourself, young man!" They wanted an answer, an explanation of what you had done and why.

If you were lucky, or had given it some thought, you had an answer (read excuse). Maybe you had even prepared the answer in your head as the moment of truth approached. And then you were ready to tell your story. It's a little different today, but you're sort of in the same boat! You need to explain yourself.

I'm talking about you, as a storyteller. When people ask you what you do and you are bold enough to identify yourself as a storyteller...then what? They always ask, "What is that? I didn't even know that existed. Exactly what do you do?" Just like that little kid, you need to be prepared to explain yourself. Only this time, it's a little different...but you still need to be prepared!

What do you tell people? In a few words or sentences...or even one sentence; are you prepared to delineate what it is that you do? For many years, it was considered the "elevator speech". Have a speech ready to tell if you were in an elevator and only had the time from the ground floor to the top, to tell your story. Storyteller and Coach Sean Buvala, like many others, believes the elevator speech is dead. He recently wrote a great piece about "Four Sentence Storytelling" as a way to explain what you do. Here's the link to the article.

Very much like storytelling, you want to give them something specific, but also want to make them want to hear more:

I use stories to entertain people.

I use stories to teach different concepts in life.

I use stories to help children and adults explore their imagination.

Or maybe it's a combination of two or three things - here's mine:

I use stories to entertain people and to teach individuals and organizations how to communicate through stories.

Usually, you will get a secondary question: "How do you do that?" Be prepared to explain further.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a story about a boy who is bored and wants company, but he miscommunicates by yelling and lying that the wolf is there. And of course, after too many times, no one believes him. And then no one believes him when there is real danger. So, the story is not just about lying, but also about the consequences of how, when and what we communicate.

The message here is (much like crafting a story) be prepared! Don't just go over it in your head. Craft the message, practice it out loud - with a friend or colleague. Have your story (message about what you do) ready.,

And be ready to explain yourself!


#257 - 4/3/2017
Story Preparation Worksheet
Here's a reprint of a tip from February 2015. Of particular interest is the section on: What parts of YOU or YOUR OWN LIFE connect with this story? - I have developed a workshop on this aspect of story-crafting titled, Story Kinship, and I will be presenting this at the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Conference on April 22, 2017.


I created a form that I use in my Community College Storytelling classes that has proved to be quite useful. The students must fill it out prior to even practicing their story in small groups. The information may change once they have told/practiced the story, or even several times before they do their required telling in front of the entire class

The form has some basic information about the story (title, origin, genre), but also has a few sections that I believe are important to help understand and craft the story in a more thoughtful and conscious way.

I recently updated the form and I am offering it here for evaluation and feedback. You may use the "comments" section at the end of this Newsletter, just as one does on Facebook.

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A PDF and WORD version of this form may be found at
http://www.storytellersworkbook.com/Story_Preparation_Sheet.pdf
Feel free to download it, edit and use for yourself or your students as needed (with attribution)
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STORY PREPARATION SHEET


Student Name: ____________________________________________

Story Title: _______________________________________________

Author/Origin: _____________________________________________

Genre & Culture: ___________________________________________

Length of story: ____________ (must be between 5-8 minutes)

This may seem silly, but I believe the teller must know how long the story is when told, or at least have a "first draft" understanding of how long it will be. Many students don't understand the difference between "going over the story in their head" and actually speaking it out loud. Keeping them to between 5-8 minutes is a means to make sure they present enough content, and also helps them stay focused on the most important part(s) of the story.

What’s the POINT or THEME of the story? What's the story about?

"What's the story about?" is a question Doug Lipman (The Storytelling Coach) asks quite often after the story is told in a coaching session. I have also adopted this tenet. This question is so important, that I believe it is essential to know BEFORE one tells the story. Sometimes, this revelation comes after telling and working on the story for a long time, but if the student can approach the telling with some sense of the theme, they will be in a better position to do justice to their tale.

What do you LOVE about this story? 

Another question I learned from Doug Lipman. Most seasoned tellers will admonish newbies to "Tell Stories you love!" This is good, and knowing what you LOVE about a story BEFORE you tell it, can inform your whole being about how you might convey that in the telling.

What parts of YOU or YOUR OWN LIFE connect with this story? 

In Liz Waren'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.

From what VOICE (Point of View) will the story be told?
    First Person - WHO is speaking? 
    Third Person Omniscient (Narrator)?
    Second Person - WHO is speaking and to WHOM are they speaking?

Here, I ask the student to make a choice about the "voice" or Point of view of the story. I ask them to think about how the story might change in any way if it was told from a voice other than that of the traditional narrator voice.

First Line:_________________________________

Most storytellers agree that one should not memorize the whole story. But most also agree that tellers should specifically craft and memorize the first and last lines of a story. (See my previous Tip on First and Last Lines)

What will be the first line of your story? Is there something other than the traditional, "Once upon a time"? First lines can set the scene, tone of the story; introduce characters; tell when and where the story takes place, etc. But the first line must also draw in the audience and make them want to hear more.

Last Line: _________________________

How will you end your story? (See my previous tip about Endings) The end to your story needs to clearly say "The End", but it is best said in the context of the story. Endings should "put a button" on the story; wrap it up in some way...or not. An ending that leaves the audience wondering what really happened can be just as effective...sometimes. Again, the point I want to stress is that I want the student to give some thought to what their last line will be. Ending the story with a great line can make it the most memorable story the audience has ever heard. And isn't that part of what we want?

Breath Marks - 

Notes on other specifics - Language; Gestures: Body Movement: Facial Expressions; Pauses, etc.

Singers place "breath marks" on sheet music, little marks to help them remember, where to take a breath. This section is similar for storytellers. Make notes on when to take a breath; when to pause; what specific gestures you will use, and when; what facial expressions will you use, etc.


©Mark Goldman 2015

 


#256 - 3/27/2017
Like - You know...
The tip this week comes from one of my favorite performers, Taylor Mali. Taylor is one of the most famous and prolific Spoken Word Artists. He created a widely popular (and often misatributed) piece called "What Teachers Make." He is brilliant with WORDS! 

In addition to "ums" and "ers", one of the most difficult habbits to break speakers (or tellers) of is "extra words", such as, "like" and "you know." Mali has written an incredible piece titled, "Like - You Know." I show it to my students each semester. I think it says it all.


#255 - 3/20/2017
Drowning in Emotions
Deep emotions like sadness, grief and anger can be excellent vehicles for personal stories. But caveat relator (teller beware)!

Here are two aspects of telling stories about strong emotional times or incidents that must be attended to: the teller’s feelings and the feelings of the audience. One must pay close attention to both!

The emotions of the teller – you!
How close are you to this story, in terms of time? Did it happen last week or last month? Maybe it was over a year ago, or even more. Most importantly, have you dealt with your emotions regarding the incident? Have you been able to come to some sort of closure on it? If not, then it may not be the time to tell it.

Many of us want to tell our story of a difficult time in our life. We want to share these things with others so they can relate to the feelings too. But if our own emotions are still “on the edge” about it, we may not be able to tell it in a way that the audience will be able to hear it, and stay focused on the story.

If the teller is too emotional, perhaps their voice is cracking; perhaps the tears come to easily or they even break down and sob. These things divert the audience from the story and from their own lives, and make them want to “comfort and take care of” the teller. This is not the role they should be place in.

Tellers must clearly find a way to deal with their strong emotions so that they are able to control the way they tell the story and not be overcome or overwhelmed. They must be able to craft and tell the story without losing themselves.

The emotions of the audience.
The seasoned teller is always aware of the audience. First in crafting the story, then in telling it. You can’t control the emotions of every single audience member, and it is possible that one of them will be overcome with emotion. But we must try to be aware of what is happening with our listeners.

Our role as teller means that we must take care of our audience. We must provide a safe space for them to hear our story, relate to it in their own way, and come out feeling “okay” or resolved in some way. They must leave with some measure of hope, and not despair. If we are drowning, it will be impossible for us to help anyone else.

One way to accomplish this is to infuse a small bit of humor in your tale. There is almost always a bit of humor in the tragedies of life. Humor is a release for humans, a small break in the constant barrage of deep emotions. Look for it in your story. Find a way to craft it into the narrative. It will likely serve both you and your audience.

Ask yourself, "Am I strong enough to tell this story?" Then ask yourself, "How can I give that strength to my audience?"


#254 - 3/13/2017
Decisions - Decisions - Decisions
Storytellers are making decisions all the time. Both conscious decisions when crafting a story, and often unconscious decisions when telling a story, based on the audience reactions, the teller's mood, etc. It's important to make these choices in a conscientious way, but don't agonize over your choices when you tell a story. Whatever you decide for TODAY is OK! You'll have another chance!

Here's one of the things that I love about storytelling vs. my "old" career as an actor. Storytelling changes with every performance. 

When performing in a play, especially with other actors, you are "locked in" to certain choices, over and over. It's hard to deviate from those choices lest you throw off the production. You can't shout out one phrase that you spoke softly the night before (unless you warn the other actors). You can't change the actual language of the play. The other actors will not know their cues. 

On the last night of a show, in a one-week or six-month run, performers are aware that "we will never do this again." Often, they decide to do "funny" (hopefully) things on stage. These "bits and pieces" mostly become little "inside jokes" for the cast, and the audience is completely left out. Not what a storyteller wants. 

In storytelling, I can change the story each time I tell it, AND I can be fairly confident that I will have another opportunity to tell that story again, in the future, when I can make different choices and see how effective each decision may be. Except for rare occasions, I never have to think, "This is the last time I will ever tell this story."

So, make good choices in your crafting and within each telling. Be confident that what you do "today" will be fine. And the next time you tell, you can make different decisions...and those will be fine too!


#253 - 3/6/2017
Build Your Story from the Inside Out
Quite often, when crafting a story, we may be limited on the time we have to tell. It is often necessary to "cut out" parts of the story that we "love". This can be difficult.

Recently, one of my students came to me and complained that she would not be able to perform her story in the required time limit of 5 - 8 minutes. She had "tried and tried, but just couldn't cut out any more" of her story. Each time I attempted to elicit what she might need to "let go of" she attempted to "tell" me all of the words of the story that she felt were necessary. I didn't want to hear the story, I wanted her to focus on the "elements" or "chunks" of the story. We seemed to be getting nowhere.

Her story was the recent Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, called, Maleficent. I wanted to ask her to tell me what the story was about in just a few sentences, sort of, "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." I hesitated, as I felt she still was not focusing enough. So I asked her to tell me in ONE sentence, what the story was about.

She thought for a moment and then said, "It's about how Maleficent's faith in humankind is restored." Great! That's the core, the essence. Now, rather than having to "cut down", we can build more from the inside out.

What questions do we need to answer in order to flesh out the narrative?

How is her faith restored? - Through Aurora's love and innocence.
  - If her faith is restored, that means she lost it, or it was destroyed at some point.
How was it Destroyed? - She was betrayed by her lover and her wings were cut off.
How did she feel and what did she do? - She was enraged and she put a curse on his child, Aurora.
After the curse, why was she intrigued by or drawn to Aurora?

What brought about the next piece, etc.

As each question is answered, another piece of the story/puzzle unfolds until all of the questions are answered from beginning to end. Now, she has all of the important elements of the story and only has to decide how much description goes with each. She has built her story from the inside out vs. the other way around.

So, next time you are struggling with how to cut your story down, try the reverse. Try building it one step at-a-time from the inside out!


#252 - 2/27/2017
And the Oscar DOESN'T Go To...

Last night's Oscar Awards should serve as a warning to us all. Murphy could be lurking around every corner!

Hollywood icons Faye Dunaway & Warren Beatty, together again, 50 years after winning Oscars for Bonnie and Clyde. Consummate professionals, in their element; what could go wrong?...oops. And a quick note to award recipients...don't count your Oscars...oh well...you get the idea.

Michael D. McCarty has a workshop called "Gigs from Hell" that pays tribute to Murphy's Law. Suffice it to say: BE PREPARED. You never know what might happen.

 


#251 - 2/20/2017
Warts and All

In many of my previous tips I have included one concept that should be addressed as a principle, by itself. It is the concept of first, knowing yourself ...and accepting who you are.

In Hamlet, Act I, Scene III, Polonius says to his son Laertes"

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
For me, there are two pieces here: The first is to be true to yourself, to your own character. Do what you know is right for you, no matter the circumstances.
 
The second part is saying, 'The reality is that, 'Thou canst not then be false to any man.'" I have said this to and about storytellers before: When you tell a story, you reveal yourself and who you are to your audience. In other words, you can't NOT be you.
 
So, if you must always be YOU, then it follows that in order to be a good storyteller, you must also accept who you are, warts and all. Don't fight it.
 
Years ago, when I was a therapist, my friends in the medical records department discovered something in the Dictionary of Medical Terms. (How or why they found it, I am not sure.) It was the term that is defined here: witzelsucht. Finally, I had a diagnosis! (and yes, my sister can wholeheartedly concur.)
 
Ever since then, I have not fought against it, I have embraced it (as many of you can attest to)!
 
If you are a redhead, embrace those freckles...use them in your stories..."There were more stars in the sky than freckles on my face."
 
If you are tall, use it..."In those days, I wasn't the only one who could touch the sky, everyone could."
 
Cassie Cushing loves dark and twisted tales...that's why she tells them so well!
 
So, when you are looking for a story; when you are trying to figure out the language; when you are struggling with the meaning of the story - heed the words of Polonius - This above all: to thine own self be true.
 

#250 - 2/13/2017
Don't Wait for a Story to Find You
Ah, the great question that haunts storytellers, old and new: Where do you find a story? It's not a easy, black and white answer. For newbies, it's daunting to even know where to begin. My Community College students have to tell a Folktale as their first story. I have given them a dozen resources on the Web as to WHERE to find stories. But I also have to help them understand HOW to find a story that suits them. They often need a little coaching help.

One student said he couldn't find a Folktale that resonated with him because he is "not like other people. It takes me longer to think and make decisions." I said, "So you feel DIFFERENT than other people?" "Yes", he said. "Then perhaps you could search for a story about a boy who feels different?" He agreed.

In that light, here is a TIP from August of 2013.

Storytellers are repeatedly asked, “Where do you find your stories?” This question is asked by students, just starting out in the community, and also by listeners who seem to be amazed at discovering there is more to telling than reading aloud from a children’s book.

All too often, I have heard the response, “I don’t find stories, they find me!” This is quite an “artsy” response, and one that I have come to abhor! It does the student absolutely no good, and it only persists to mystify the art form.
 
Tellers have to work hard to find stories that are a good fit. It takes long hours of searching through titles, topics and motifs. And then more time to read through many stories and many versions of the same tale before finding “just the right fit”. So, where does one start?
 
As always, you start with you. Who are you? What makes you tick? What do you love? What do you hate? What’s your background, ethnicity, heritage? What are your tenets and beliefs? Etc., etc.
 
Knowing yourself is the first step to finding stories that are a fit. Do you revel in your heritage? Then stories that deal with that is where you start to look. Do you hate injustice? Then tales of justice is a stepping off place. Are you a romantic? Romance is one of the oldest themes in storytelling and there are hundreds of tales to find.
 
On the practical side, you then have to use resources that can assist you in finding those kinds of stories. The first place most of us go is Google. Not a bad place to start, and it often leads you right where you need to be.
 
In addition to Google, there are many sites that deal solely with stories and storytelling. Some very good ones are listed in the Resources section of this website.
 
Lastly, other tellers are a great reserve of knowledge. Even seasoned tellers ask each other, “Does anyone know a story about…?” So, newbies, don’t feel shy about asking a colleague where to look for what you need.
 
I will admit, that occasionally, I hear something or remember a piece from my past that triggers a response and I think, “That story was just waiting to be told.” But for the most part, don’t sit back and wait for a story to “find” you. Get out there and start looking for yourself!
 

#249 - 2/6/2017
Great Myths of the Future

Lately, I've been thinking about "legacy". What is the legacy we leave behind for the future? So here's a REPRINT of a tip from May/2016 that I believe has some relevance.

This week's tip comes from colleague and Irish teller Yvonne Healy. Yvonne did a workshop on Family stories and I found one exercise particularly interesting and exciting. I believe it has many uses!

Quite often, people don't believe that they have done anything worth "telling" about. They feel their lives are "ordinary" vs. extraordinary. This exercise in a group, or with a person you are interviewing can put a whole new perspective on that concept. And... it forces the teller to use their creativity!

Interview a family member and have them tell you something they did. It could be something simple that they feel may not be very "interesting", but have them tell it anyway.

OR - in a group, partner up and have your partner tell you something they did that seemed extremely mundane, like putting away the dishes, or dusting the shelves.

The next step is to project yourself 5000 years into the future. What would the world be like? Now tell the story back to the family member (or partner) but tell it as a GREAT MYTH. How did that one thing that they did affect the world in the future? How might they be remembered in the folklore of the future?

A long, long, long time ago, Mary dusted the shelves in her house, and did a particularly good job. So good, in fact, that when her friend Jane came over, she noticed the excellent job Mary had done. She was also so pleased that there was no dust in the house as Jane had such bad allergies. Jane told so many people about Mary dusting the shelves and how wonderful it was, that they all decided to follow suit and do the same in their own houses. They even took it a step further and cleaned and scrubbed everything. Each time someone visited a home, they marveled at the cleanliness and vowed to clean their own homes and office spaces with great energy and pride. This spread far and wide, across the country and eventually, around the world. And that is why the earth is such a clean place today, in the year 7016!

There is great creativity in this exercise for the teller, finding a way to frame the story in a different way (and time). And there is great power in having that person hear their tale as a Great Legend, or Myth of the future!


#248 - 1/30/2017
Overcoming Obstacles
My computer is in HOSPICE!

By that I mean that it is slowly dying. A couple of weeks ago, it started acting strange. It wouldn't save any WORD files, then it other programs began to crash. When I tried to download new versions of the programs that were giving me difficulty, they didn't download or install correctly. It was in a Cyber Coma, and my pain followed quickly after!

Now, that might not sound like much of an "obstacle", but it could be. In reality, getting the Newsletter posted along with EVERYTHING else I do where my computer is an integral part of my life is a BIG THING to me. It is an obstacle that I need to get over.

Remember that, like the Hero's Journey, there must be some obstacle that your protagonist must overcome, whether it is slaying the dragon, capturing the Golden Fleece, solving the riddle of the Sphinx...or finding a way to fix or replace a computer.

What skills does your protagonist posses? How have they used those skills in the past (long ago and recent past)? How might they use them in conquering the "trouble" that has befallen them? Who is the "helper" who can advise and encourage your protagonist? Are there humorous parts to this story? Or is it a more serious tale? Who is your audience? Can they relate to the trouble and struggle your protagonist must endure? Will they be elated once the obstacle is conquered?

MY struggle is almost over. I have purchased a refurbished computer and am cloning my old computer before it dies on me. I must remember that it is close to ten years old (I am using OFFICE 2007!). I know that it's tiime is near and that I should be happy that it lasted this long, as the life expectancy of most computers is only 4-6 years. It was good to me, but it's time to let it go.

Your hurdles, and your protagonist's may be large or small, but remember that story is about the struggle, and the triumph once the obstacle is overcome!


#247 - 1/23/2017
Walk Around in the Places of Your Memory
Passing along this great tip from Donald Davis, offered at his workshop last week. This is only a "smidgeon" of what Donald taught during the all-day workshop. Here's the gist.

Think of a PLACE you have lived. Now you can expand on that by listing as many "places" you have lived that you can remember. You can also start with places you have worked, or gone to school. Alternatively, you could start with PEOPLE you know. Friends, family, co-workers, the list(s) can be endless.

Start describing the place. It's not necessary to "look for" a story, just look at the place. Walk around in that place. Take your time. As you begin to describe it, you will find more and more details. As you describe and SEE all the things around you in that place, the memories and the story begins to come into focus.

Remember that you are looking for the "trouble" in the story, your world turned upside-down. But don't go to the trouble too quickly. First remember what your "normal" world is like. The more you walk around in that memory, the more you will remember, and the more you can describe the picture(s) you see to us, your audience.

One of the things that Donald kept stressing is to "not rush the process". Take your time, walk around that place, walk with that person from your past. Make sure you can see them in YOUR memory, so that you can describe them clearly, then WE can see them in our minds too. Let the seeds of those memories grow. Keep coming back to them so you can remember more, and see more.

It takes time to build the clear memories and to build the pictures. And in the telling, it takes time to describe it to us.

Let us see the richness of what you experienced.

 


#246 - 1/16/2017
What If?
I am always trying to "think in story." I try to be a "constant observer" of the world around me to see how things might fit into a story, while at the same time, having a "sense of wonder". I am constantly wondering, "What if..." I recently realized that scientists often use the same "What if..." premise to test out a hypothesis.

In that vein, here's a reprint of a tip from March/2014 - then read the Tidbit below for some enlightening thoughts!

Last week, Sean Buvala produced a fantastic concert in Avondale, One Story, Many Tellers. Five tellers told different (and distinct) versions of their images of Beauty and the Beast. All the stories were quite marvelous. One teller, Elly Reidy had a slightly different slant with her story. In the Q & A afterwards, she shared with the group that she is always looking for the "back story" and asking herself "What if?" She asked herself, "What if Beauty and the Beast were already married before the curse was placed?" The result was a very powerful story!

The magic of asking ourselves "What if?" has limitless possibilities.

What if...the characters were all animals, instead of humans?
What if...the characters were all humans, instead of animals?
What if...this was on another planet?
What if...this took place 1000 years ago...1000 years in the future?
What if...the genders were reversed...or all men...or all women?
What if...there were no police?
What if...we only saw ourselves through the eyes of our lover...or our enemy?
What if...all the characters were blind...or deaf...or deaf and blind?
What if...the punishment for every crime, even jay-walking, was death?
What if...all the characters spoke in a language that none of the listeners understood?
What if...we heard what each character was saying...and what they were feeling?
What if...insert your own questions here.

Okay, your turn. - Start asking the questions!
 


#245 - 1/9/2017
Who's Your Protagonist?
Who's the hero of your story? Who's your protagonist? 

Once upon a time, there lived a small boy named Jack. Jack was a bit lazy, and not too bright. He lived with his widowed mother in a small house, not too far from town. They were very poor, and struggled to make ends meet.

Or...

Once upon a time, there was a widow who lived in a small house, not too far from town. She was quite poor and struggled to make ends meet. She had a son named Jack, who was a bit lazy, and not too bright.

In the first example, it seems clear thet Jack is the protagonist. But in the second example, it may be a bit fuzzy. Yes, I know it's a subtle point, but stick with me here. (Illustration by Violeta Dabija)

Generally, we meet the protagonist very early on. There may be a bit of exposition before they enter: we may see the robbers, stealing from the bank, and holding hostages until, in walks Dirty Harry, our hero/protagonist. Perhaps the one factor in example number two above is that we make the "mother" an archetypal character by not naming her. Jack has a name, so we begin to assume that he is the main character, but in some situations, it may be murky.

Most of us know that the "protagonist" is thought of as: 

The leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.

Here's a bit of information you may not have been aware of. From the original Greek, the translation is "first actor":

Origin:
Back in the day (no, I wasn't there, but sometimes I do feel that old!) the audience sat high on the hill at the theatre. It was difficult to actually see the actors' faces. Most were dressed in plain, non-descript costumes. Often, they had large masks that evoked a specific emotion. But in most cases, the protagonist was the "first actor" to come on stage. They were the hero (or heroin) of the play. They were the protagonist.
 
I mention this only to help you understand where your focus is in your story. There are times when more exposition at the beginning is necessary to set the scene, or convey a specific feeling. But remember who your hero is, who is the main character? Be careful about introducing lesser characters first. You want the protagonist "up front" in the minds of your audience.
 
There are exceptions to every rule: It may be useful to introduce the antagonist first, to help us understand what the main character has to deal with. Describing the dragon in great detail may help us understand what our hero has to overcome.
 
This tip, like all others, is not the end-all and be-all. It's to get you THINKIING about how you craft your story!

 


#244 - 1/2/2017
That Darn Cat!
Have you been secretly watching cat videos on Facebook? Or perhaps you skip the cats and go for the dogs, otters, goats, owls or other exotic animals that are paraded in various vidoes and pictures. Admit it...you sometimes click on them!

Well, click on your own animals instead!

Our pets are a great source for stories. Perhaps there was that one time when your pet did something amazing or so outrageous that it justifies a whole story. Or maybe it was a string of incidents (a string-of-pearls) that can be woven together into a story. Or maybe-just maybe, you can combine a "pet story" with a traditional folktale or fairytale - like Sean Buvala's classic "The Demon Cat" story.

Think of all the times you have said, "Let me tell you what my [insert your pet's name here] did! Think of how you could craft that story for an audience larger than just your friend. Watch Sean's video here, and don't forget one of the most important rules for storytelling, "show, don't tell!" (see my previous blog on this)

Also remember to focus on "universal themes" so that everyone in your audience can relate to it.


#243 - 12/26/2016
Building Your Repertoire
rep·er·toire
repə(r)ˌtwär/
noun
a stock of plays, dances, or pieces that a company or a performer knows or is prepared to perform.

When we start out as a storyteller, we usually begin slowly, choosing stories one at a time. Finding stories that we "love" isn't always easy to do. I remember taking days of searching and reading stories on line and books until I found the first story that I liked and thought I could tell.

Just a note here: In storytelling class, we begin with Folktales or Fairytales because they already have the basic structure that beginners need to learn. Next come Legends that still have a structure, but deal with larger concepts and archetypes. Then, we progress to Fact-Based where we need to choose and add structure to the "elements" of the story. Personal stories come last (even though we think they are the easiest to tell) as they need more structure and attention to theme and emotions.

By the end of our first course, we should have 4-5 stories that we are "ready to tell" when the need arises, or the call comes in. Aye, there's the rub...when the call comes in...what then? What if the client wants a set of stories that we don't have? Christmas stories; Earth Day stories; stories for children; stories of exploration or adventure; etc. Whoa...now what? Time to start building our repertoire!

What kind of stories might we get a call for? Since yesterday was Christmas, let's start with Holiday stories. What stories will fit a particular season or time? Christmas; Hanukkah; Easter; Thanksgiving; Memorial Day; Earth Day; Sadie Hawkins Day (look it up); etc. Remember that some stories can fit into several categories. For instance, a story about what we are thankful for might fit BOTH Thanksgiving and Christmas. An Earth Day story might also fit into stories about Values or Making Choices.

While searching for stories you "love", remember that you must also have some sort of affinity for the potential audiences you might have. If you DON'T connect with a particular audience or "type" of story, then DON'T tell that story, and don't tell to that audience. Pass the gig along to a colleague. I don't do Sacred Stories. I would pass that along to Sean Buvala or Donna Martin. I would pass on Irish stories and pass the gig to Liz Warren, or Laura Rutherford. But when the Jewish Community Center calls...I am there in a heartbeat!

Don't forget that listening to other tellers is a great way to gather stories. You certainly will not want to tell a story the same way that someone else does, but find a way to make the story your own. Find three or four different versions of the story, then pick and choose which parts you like. Delve into why you love this story, what connections to your own life can you discover? Then you are ready to claim it and make it yours.

Make sure you find a way to keep a list, or keep track of all the stories you tell, and the ones in progress. You can use a simple pencil and paper, a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, etc. You may want to try my Storytellers Database. This is an online program that allows you to keep track of all your stories, when and where you have told them, and what the themes and content of the stories are. Check it out, there are short video tutorials to walk you through the process step-by-step. Here's the link: Storytellersdb.com.

As you move along in this process, you will be building your repertoire with many different stories that will fit for many different situations. Your "blocks" will begin to be different from each other, and they will begin to pile high.

Two things to remember as you add one block, one story at-a-time. to your collection - my first two rules of Storytelling:

  1. Tell stories that you love!
  2. Tell stories that you believe your audience will love!

#242 - 12/19/2016
Be Yourself
Trying to recreate this.

#241 - 12/12/2016
Practice, Practice, Practice.
Note: Reprinted from my blog article, April 2012.

It’s an old joke, but it still holds true: A young man with a violin case under his arm stops an older gentleman on the streets of New York City. The young man asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The older gentleman replies, “Practice, practice, practice!”

The same advice goes for storytellers, whether your destination is Jonesborough, the neighborhood library or the nearby elementary school: “Practice, practice, practice.”
 
How does one practice or rehearse storytelling? In front of the mirror; in front of the wall; telling to your cat or dog? Or do you just “think” about it? I have heard many tellers say that they “just run through it over and over in my mind.” Sounds a bit like Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. He professed to teach the “Think System” of learning to play an instrument. Just think about the music, and you will be able to play it. In the storyline of the musical, it worked (a little). In real life…not so much.
 
In addition to crafting the story, you must also craft your performance. When will you speak louder, softer? When will you use a character voice, and what will it be? How will you gesture, in what exact way, and at what exact point? To be effective, you must make intentional decisions about these things, and then rehearse them intentionally. Just thinking about how you will do it when you get on stage will not cut it. (BTW, here's a great video on gestures from 25-year storytelling veteran Sean Buvala)
 
Storytellers must find a way to actually get up and rehearse the story out loud. You don’t have to do the whole story, start to finish, without stopping. Eventually you will need to rehearse it all the way through, but at the beginning, break it down into smaller, bite-size pieces.
 
I’m not a fan of practicing in front of a mirror, although it does work for some people. If you start that way, so you can observe yourself, eventually I believe you must move away from the mirror, and at minimum, face the empty room. Otherwise, you will always be focused on “what you look like” vs. being in the moment of the story, even in rehearsal.
 
Sometimes, rehearsing by yourself is the only option. If you must practice alone, here's a suggestion. Imagine your audience, whoever they may be, right there in front of you. As tellers, we see the images of the story in our heads and then describe the images to our audience. When practicing, we can do the same type of seeing an image of the audience before us. It should be the audience we will be telling to, a large group in an auditorium, a small group of students in a classroom, etc. Try putting yourself there, in the space that you will be in with your audience.
 
It is important, though, to make every effort to eventually practice in a group or even with one other person. Over and over; again and again. Do it over the phone, or use Skype, or have a coaching session, or practice with a “story buddy”. If you don’t rehearse with a real, live person, you are only practicing in a vacuum. You need that human factor to experience the rehearsing in full storytelling mode: story, teller and audience.
 
How do you get to a villa in Tuscany? Here’s the story.
One of my favorite tellers is Regi Carpenter. She is a mesmerizing storyteller who has won many awards and performed at many storytelling festivals, including Jonesborough. She is also on the faculty of Ithaca College in New York. In February of 2012, Regi decided to tell at Massmouth, a story slam in the Cambridge area. She won that week, and returned several weeks later to compete in the final “mouthoff”. She won first place. The prize? A one week stay in a villa in Tuscany, Italy!
 
Here’s the story behind her story.
The four minute story Regi told was a condensed version of a much longer story she had already been working on. Did she practice? You bet she did! She told the story to as many people as she could. She told it over the phone. She rehearsed by herself in her living room. She told it with friends on Skype. She honed and perfected her story and her performance. She told it with groups of trusted friends. Over and over again. Regi spent close to 60 hours on a four minute piece. Over half of that time was spent practicing on her own, or rehearsing in front of others. I submit that if she had used the Music Man’s “Think System” — that right now she would only be “thinking” of Tuscany vs. deciding what to pack! (Click here to see a video of Regi's perfomance from the February Slam)
 
Nature abhors a vacuum. Storytelling is the same. You don’t tell in a vacuum, so you shouldn't practice in one.

#240 - 12/5/2016
Create Your Own Stage! - A How To Guide
Last week's tip suggested that it is the storyteller's responsibility to "create our own stage." I ended with the question: "How will you create your next stage?" So, let's go!

Wherever you may be performing, you must create an atmosphere that is conducive to the process of storytelling. Whether it be on a stage in an auditorium, a classroom, a breakout room at a conference, under a canopy at an outside fair, or a street corner where you may be busking, How can storytellers create a space where listeners will feel welcome and want to join you in creating a story? And remember, this must happen BEFORE you tell your first story. There are several things to consider. The first, and most important, as always, is: who is your audience?

Your audience: Is your audience mostly adults, children, teenagers, mixed? What are the demographics, or "make up" of the audience? Are they from an urban or rural area, the deep south, the bible belt?  Are they middle-management executives or a group of church-going housewives? One must always consider the audience, not only in choosing stories, but also, how you will be perceived. And this starts even before you walk into the space!

Your introduction: How will you be introduced? Who will introduce you? Have you written an introduction? Will the MC be reading it word-for-word? Do they know you? Will they be speaking off-the-cuff? What are the things you WANT the audience to know about you? What are the things you DON'T WANT them to know? Will this audience welcome you if they are told you recently won an award for the "sexiest story slam", or would it be more prudent to leave out that information? I dislike having the MC "read" an introduction; I also dislike reciting a long list of accomplishments. I prefer to spend a few minutes with the MC to make sure they are comfortable letting the audience know the two or three most important things about you. And make the "last" thing that the MC says be on the lighter side, or even a humorous, perhaps cryptic statement. 

"And before becoming a storyteller, Mark travelled all over the country as Winnie-The-Pooh - and perhaps he will tell you a story about that! Please welcome, Mark Goldman."

Your entrance: How will you come into the space / walk onstage? Where will you be just before you come into the space? I absolutely abhor when performers come from the farthest place away from the stage, walking slowly to the front! Don't make your audience wait for you. Be close to the stage when the MC is about to finish the introduction, so you are there, ready to go. If the MC is center stage, it's always nice to connect with them, with a handshake or hug, or even a simple nod/bow to them. Those first few seconds, yes - seconds, as you enter or come on, tell the audience something about you. Have energy, smile, maybe even nod, point or wave to a friend in the first few rows. Be warm and inviting. Show the audience they can expect something wonderful.

Engage your audience: Smile! Greet them warmly. If appropriate, it can help to thank them and let them know you are happy to be in their city, or with their organization. Share something that connects you to them: "Over the years, I have adopted three shelter dogs, and it's great to be here with you folks who work so hard to rescue and find forever homes for all the animals." Now I have them in the palm of my hand.

Children: An entirely different animal than adults! You will want to decide if they will sit on the floor, in chairs, in rows or a half circle. What will be the best configuration? If it's a classroom, discuss with the teacher(s). If it's outside, choose a place with the least distractions. Keep your entrance and beginning short and sweet. "You all look great today. Are you ready to hear some stories?" Don't keep them waiting with long-winded explanations about storytelling. Don't give them time to get distracted. Get to it! 

Your story intro: Now you need to set the stage for them to listen to your story. If you are at a storytelling conference, and your audience is made up of all storytellers, you may not need an intro to your story. You may want to simply take a moment, breathe, and then begin the story. Or perhaps you want to engage the audience, to make sure they are with you. A question or statement can work as a teaser to get them interested and want to hear more.

Children: "You all know that stealing is wrong, right? Do you think someone can 'steal a smell'? Well, let's listen closely as I tell you the story of Stealing Smells"

Teens: "Have you ever been accused of stealing something, but you didn't do it? I know I have. Sometimes it's hard to prove you didn't do it. And sometimes people won't even listen to you. You know, I've got a story about that. It's called Stealing Smells."

Adults: "Stories come from all over the world. And sometimes, one story can originate in many different places and cultures. The story I am about to tell you has origins in India, Peru, and even Europe. I would like to share with you my version of Stealing Smells"

Busking - Street Performing: Energy, Energy, Energy! - You will not only have to create the space, you will probably have to find and gather your audience - much like the circus "barker" who calls out to the passers-by.
"Ladies and gentlemen - gather 'round to hear some fantastical stories! Stories of kings and queens, witches and wizards, the high and mighty, and the downtrodden too, and maybe a story of people just like you! Come near, come near, and you will hear: stories that make you laugh, stories that make you cry, and stories that make you remember that look in her eye - the feel of his skin - stories for everyone - come closer, come in."
All of this has to do with you! You are the creator of your own stage. Let the light shine on you so your audience can see and hear your stories!

#239 - 11/28/2016
Create Your Own Stage - The Audience is Waiting!
Inspiration (and advice) can come in the most unlikely of places. Last week, while dining at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Desert Jade, for desert, as always, I was given a fortune cookie. In recent years, I have become quite disillusioned about fortune cookies. Most don't really have a "fortune" anymore. They used to be great: 

You will meet someone fantastic soon
You will find a better job
You will receive a gift soon
Your status will improve

Those are fortunes! Maybe someone in the fortune cookie Political Correctness Division went to the boss and said they had to change things. So now most of the fortunes are really "statements" or "sayings" like: You are a good person; People like you; or You love yourself. Not that these aren't good things to tell folks, but I want a FORTUNE!

Imagine my surprise when I opened my cookie that evening to find the fortune with the message:

You create your own stage.
The Audience is waiting.

Hmmm... Was this a statement? Was it a fortune? Perhaps both! Perhaps a great inspirational message and reminder that as storytellers, we must often "create our own stage". We must create our own space to perform, and when we begin our story, we must create a place for the audience to come along with us.

We must trust that the audience is waiting for us. Sometimes, it is a skeptical audience who is not sure that a story would be of interest. But often, it is with an audience who is listening with open ears an open eyes, waiting; waiting to be whisked off to a magical place where they can slay a dragon or heal a sick princess, or conquer a snowy mountain peak.

In either case, WE are the creators! And yes, the audience is waiting, skeptical or not. They are waiting for us to invite them in, to take them with us on a fantastic journey, together, forming, shaping and creating a world where they can hold their breath and yet, still breathe. A world where they can peer over the edge, yet not fall. A world where they can be hero, villain and victim all together, know all of the emotions combined, and still feel safe.

WE create that stage. And, yes... Our audience is waiting!

How will you create your next stage? - Perhaps next week will shed more light on the subject!


#238 - 11/21/2016
Thanks. . .for All The Story Possibilities
Yes, this is a "retread" tip, from four years ago, but one that I think has value. You may not have seen it, or you might have wanted to be reminded of it on this Thanksgiving week.

On Thanksgiving, we are always asked, "What are we thankful for?" I am suggesting that we might use this as another opportunity for story creation. Think about both the good times and the not-so-good times in your life. With each incident, there's probably a story that goes along with it. Especially the not-so-good times. One of the ways that storytellers can make lemonade out of lemons is to tell the story! Here are just a few of mine:

  • I am thankful for the time that the chorus put one over on me and I was left on stage with one brown shoe and one black shoe. (The Dance General)
     
  • I am thankful for the time my nephews were five years old and came to see me in Disney On Parade. (Winnie The Pooh & Nana) 
     
  • I am thankful for the time I was scared half to death on the Colorado river. (Big Water)
     
  • I am thankful for the time I was scared half to death in the train station in Antwerp Belgium. (Big Escalator)

Have a Happy Thanksgiving this year, and don't forget about the times in your life that you are thankful for, because they gave you a great story to tell!


#237 - 11/14/2016
Calling an Audible
I was watching football this weekend. I could hear the quarterback calling "audibles", messages/instructions to the team members about a small shift/change in the play. Each team member knows how to change their actions slightly based on the audible called.

Storytellers respond to audibles too...but you have to make sure you are listening. In storytelling, the audibles can be subtle, and each storyteller/listener may react or respond in a similar but slightly different way. In Liz Warren's book, The Oral Tradition Today, she tells of a festival where the first teller told a story about Spam. Each teller, in turn, integrated Spam into their own stories! The audience loved the ongoing "theme" and was even anticipating when it would pop up in the next story. It was a great way for all tellers to come together and play off of one another.

Good MCs listen for audibles. Last week at the Glendale Tellabration™ event, Mark Compton was the MC. In my story of The Kite, I said, "I was off and out the door before my mother could warn me to be careful." When I finished the set and left the stage, Mark commented to the audience, "Don't run off and out the door before we get a chance to thank you." And then the audience applauded. It is the mark of an MC and a teller who is a "pro".

At the Jonesborough Festival last month, Clare Murphy, who has a deep (but velvety) Irish Brogue, started out by telling the crowd, "I'm going to give you a few minutes to get used to my voice." When Bil Lepp followed with his own set, he said the same thing! The crowd roared with laughter at the absurdity of his statement. It was a brilliant response to an audible he had heard from Clare.

Once again, we are back to the first step in storytelling: listening. When you are performing with others, don't sit there, waiting to go on, worrying about your set; listen to the other tellers. Be aware of what you hear and what you might be able to incorporate into your set or story. Listen to your audience.

Perhaps someone lets out a loud, "Oh my goodness, gracious!" Find a way to use that later...or even respond immediately: "Yes! That's exactly the way the little girl reacted! Everyone say it with me." The audience responds. Then, every time you get to where she is afraid (or speaks), have the crowd repeat it with you.

It takes time and practice to develop the listening skills to respond to audibles. If you're not sure, don't respond, but after the show, ask a colleague if they think it would have worked. Eventually, you will be able to read the audience and know if it's right!

Now get out there and listen: "Rumplestiltskin...Rumplestiltskin...398.2...398.2...hut...hut."


#236 - 11/7/2016
First Person (and Second Person) Elevate Fact-Based Tales
An update of a Tip form two years ago.

In my Art of Storytelling classes at Glendale Community College, we are finishing our section on Fact-Based stories. At first look, this genre seems to be one of the more difficult ones for students (and some seasoned tellers) to get their heads around. The trick here is, how does one make this story more than just a "report" or a mere "list of events"? One of the best ways to do this is to change the POV to first person.

I've written about "point of view" before. Here's a bit more about the first person POV.

In a biographical story, one could choose to tell from the point of view of the central character; be Ben Franklin, Einstein, Edison, Tesla. Another way is to choose some other character in the story to tell from their POV. Tell from the POV of the Parent, Lover, Partner or Teacher of the central character. Tell the events of a historical story from the point of view of a, seemingly uninterested, bystander or observer of the incidents. Perhaps the Butler, Carpenter or even the pet belonging to one of the characters.

A few semesters ago, one student told the story of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, but not about the attack. He told the story of how the Towers were built, from the POV of a steelworker that had helped to build the towers. He told of his pride in building the towers and at the end, his sadness at their destruction. It was brilliant. 

Another student told the story of Mark "Marky-Mark" Wahlberg...from the point of view of his Mother. This was a great choice. We hear of his turbulent youth and how he went to jail, as his mother lovingly said those ubiquitous words, "But he's really a good boy!" This showed us not only the "events" of his life, but his mother's struggle to deal with his self-destructive behavior, and eventually her pride and love at his success as an actor.

This semester, a gifted student told from "second person". He told from the POV of a close friend, attending the funeral of the "main" character. He was talking to his deceased friend, "Johnny" and told of the good times and difficult times they had together. It was heartfelt, emotional and very compelling!

Telling from the first person can lend a creative element to the story and bring the audience closer in to the experience. Especially in a case where they may not relate to the main character, they may be able to relate to the character telling the story. Try it and see. Who else might be in the story that would "tell" it from an interesting point of view?


Addendum to this tip - 

Hi folks, just a quick thought on Tuesday morning: When I re-post a tip from an earlier issue, I worry somtimes that folks will say/think, "Oh yeah, I read that before. So how about a NEW tip?" That was before I got this message from Tom Tjarks in Colorado. Obviously, he wasn't a subscriber when the tip was originally posted:

I read your newsletter every week.  The tips are great.
 
I have been wanting to tell history stories but couldn't get them above being a report for school.  This weeks Tips explained how to do this.  My favorite example of using someone else to tell the story is "Ben and Me".  I look at that story in a new way now.  I will use the suggestions in this weeks newsletter to develop some history stories.  There are many good true stories waiting to be told.
 
Thank you
Thanks Tom (and thanks for permission to share)! So glad the tip was useful, that's what I am always hoping for!

#235 - 10/31/2016
What's The Best Camping Stove?
A reprint of a favorite tip from 2014 - I hope you enjoy it!

Many of you know that I am a bicycle/camping enthusiast. Over the years, I have modified and purchased newer and newer gear for camping and cooking at the campground. Of course, every camper has their “favorite” camping stove: the lightest; the smallest; the quietest; the best gas burner, etc. Everyone believes their choice is “the best.”

A few years ago I was at REI (the “best” camping store) and overheard a customer ask the salesperson, “What’s the best camping stove?” Eager to hear his take, I was surprised when, instead, he asked a question. “What kind of food are you going to be cooking?”
 
Ah! Brilliant!
 
Here was not just a great salesperson, but a great “coach”. Rather than tell the customer what stove “he” thought, or even “others” thought was the best, he used specific questions to ascertain more information about the “needs of the customer.”
 
Good coaching for storytellers is quite similar. Quite often, students and coaching clients ask me, “What’s the best way to…?; How do I…?; How can I…?” My “best” response to any of these queries is to follow up with another question; questions that will assist the client in focusing in on their goals and understanding of their story.
 
Who’s your audience?
What’s the story about?
What do you want the audience to feel, experience?
How long do you have to tell?
 
These and other secondary and tertiary questions will lead the client AND the coach along the appropriate path for this particular story/situation.
 
Last year I had a coaching session with Sean Buvala.  I presented an idea for a new character-specific story. I was having difficulty finding the right direction to go; understanding how to begin. Sean asked one simple question that got me thinking and going. He said, “Who are you telling the story to?”
 
The “best” answer to a question about the “best” way to accomplish something is most likely another, specific  question.
 

#234 - 10/24/2016
What's The Story?
Make sure you describe what you want your audience to know. Don't leave "gaps" in the story that will be open to interpretation. Because if you do, we will durely make up our own version, because story is in our DNA. 

Back in the 1940s, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel made  a simple animated film. Heider and Simmel used it in an experiment: They asked people to watch the film and describe what they saw happening.

Try it yourself and see what you experience.

What Heider and Simmel discovered is that many people who watched this abstract film of simple shapes roaming around were quick to see a story unfold. In those simple shapes, viewers often saw characters with emotions, motivations, and purpose.

Humans have this need to "fill in the gaps with story". We do it all the time. We see two people interacting and make assumptions about what is going on. We "make up a story" about what we see. We see a beggar on the street corner and we make a story for ourselves. It's often unconscious, but we fill in any gaps or lack of knowledge with some kind of story. Whether we give that person some money is based on what we believe their story is...unless we ask them to "tell" us their story. Then we must decide if the story is credible, do we believe them?

This is just a little tip (poke) about how we make up stories about what we see around us. Those stories are often shaped by our "filters"; they are colored by our past experiences. The next time this happens to you, try to be aware of your need to find the story in what you see. Then ask yourself if there might be "another" story going on, or perhaps a third or fourth version.

How does all this affect your telling? How might it affect the audience "listening" to you tell? For a storyteller, there are always more questions.


#233 - 10/17/2016
Where are You on the Spectrum?
Here's a reprint of a tip from 2013.

Not too long ago, there was a discussion on FB about where you stand on the spectrum between story"teller" and story"performer".  Back in January, one of my tips was to try going "Over the Top" in your performance style. Here's one more way to practice and discover:

Ask yourself, "where am I on this line?

TELLER--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------PERFORMER

Wherever you are is OK. "As an exercise", try moving as far as you can to one side or another. On the TELLER side, see how "conversational" you might be able to be (a la Katherine Windham). On the PERFORMER side, see how "outrageous, over the top" you could be; costumes, props, music, voice, etc.

It's an "exercise". It's a tool to use to clarify what may or may no work for you. Explore each segment of your story from different points on the line. As Karen Langford-Chace says, "I wonder if. . ."

If you want to learn more about moving towards the "performer" side in order to enhance your telling, mark your calendar for The next Journeys Storytelling workshop on November 12th with John Genette.
  Click here for info on the Journeys Workshop


#232 - 10/10/2016
The Last Thing They Hear
Recently, I have been working with my students on "endings". I thought it would be a good idea to re-print this Tip from two years ago.

In the early days of movies, they put "THE END" up on the screen. This way, everyone in the theatre knew the movie had ended; the story (or at least that part of the story) was over. 

As time went on, movie makers realized that there might be better ways to end the story. Many had what became known as a "tag" line. The last sentence uttered tried to "put a button" on the whole story.

Casablanca:
"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Back to the Future:
"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!"

At some point, dramatic images either told us what the protagonist was feeling, or answered the question that we were all asking. Case in point: Planet of the Apes

Like beginnings, there are some traditional endings that can work well:

  • And they all lived happily ever after.
  • That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
  • And from that day on, the monster (giant, devil, ogre) was never heard from again.
  • ...but that's a story for a different time.

But is there a different approach the storyteller can take, other than merely telling us, "That's the end of my story"?

Endings in storytelling are crucial. They're almost more important than beginnings, as it is the last thing the audience hears. So, first of all, make sure we HEAR the ending. Don't let your voice trail off into the vapor.

Crafting an ending is not always easy. Here are some things to think about when pondering the end of the story

  • Tell us how the character felt
    • I finally learned what it was like to have the shoe on the other foot!
  • Tell us how the character(s) changed
    • From that moment on, Truth and Story always walked hand-in-hand.
  • Reveal the answer to the question we have been asking
    • The baker shall be paid with the sound of the coins.
  • Reveal the "surprise" we have been waiting for
    • And on their backs...each of the wives were carrying...their HUSBANDS!
  • Give us a glimpse of the future
    • So he promised that every day he would tell her stories. And every day she listened, laughed and loved him even more.

​Think about your story. What's it about? What did you want the audience to know or feel? What can you say to us that will wrap up the story? Not necessarily in a pretty pink ribbon. But what will help give the audience closure, or at least closure for the moment. What will make us think about how the future will be?

Sometimes, be very careful here, you can ask the audience to decide: "And what do you think was in the boy's hand?" Make sure this type of ending question will not make them angry and wishing you had just told them.

And as always, PRACTICE your ending, out loud, over and over again.


#231 - 10/3/2016
How To Improve Your Storytelling
Get out there, get involved and just DO IT!

As you can see from the rest of the newsletter, there are a TON of storytelling workshops, opportunities to tell, concerts, conferences and Calls for Proposals. Last week's Tidbit was about this newsletter, indicating that if you don't send me information, I can't post it. - You can't win if you don't play!

The same goes for Storytelling. You have to get out in the community and get involved.

If you want to be a better storyteller:

  1. Go to workshops.
  2. Go to conferences
  3. Go to concerts and listen to other tellers
  4. Send in a proposal for a workshop
  5. Send in a proposal for a story concert or fringe
  6. Get some coaching
  7. Write a blog
  8. Write a newsletter
  9. Write a book
  10. Etc., Etc., Etc.

If you want to be known in the storytelling community (locally AND nationwide):

  • See 1-10 above

All of the above will help to improve your storytelling! Even if you don't get accepted for one (or more) of your proposals, going through the process will open your eyes and you will gain much clarity for your telling. Attending a workshop will add skills to your storytelling bag. Going to concerts and hearing other tellers can help you absorb techniques and observe different styles. Celebrating in others' successes will put you in a positive frame of mind for your own telling!

I absolutely understand the economics of being a storyteller and I understand that some of the above may be financially out of reach for some. 'Nuf said. But there are many local events that are inexpensive - and many are FREE - GO TO THEM!

Be like Nike! Just do it!


#230 - 9/26/2016
Do Not Saw The Air Too Much With Your Hand
The quote above is from Hamlet's speech to the players, Act 3, scene 2. Only a fair instruction for using gestures.

I've been thinking a lot about gestures lately. My students have asked about them. I did a search and I was surprised to discover that I have never really had a tip about them before in depth. This is strange, as I believe they are a huge and integral part of telling.

The dictionary defines a gesture as:

A movement of your body (especially of your hands and arms) that shows or emphasizes an idea or a feeling.

Now, that covers a lot of ground! How does the beginning teller decide about gestures? If you look at the definition, you can reverse the process. You can ask yourself,

What movement of my body (or my hands and arms) would show or emphasize this specific idea or a feeling?

If I am talking about a bird flying up in the sky, I would probably look up - not just with my eyes, but with my head, and maybe even turn my body and shoulders upward to emphasize.

If I followed the flight of the bird across the sky until it landed on a nearby branch, I might use my hand and arm to indicate its path, ending with pointing at the exact point of the bird's destination. I might also show with my body, perhaps a small step or a lean backwards to show my surprise at how close the bird was to me now.

At this point, you may want to look at Sean Buvala's wonderful video about gestures. I have recommended it before. Sean speaks about the three elements of gesture: Intend, Activate and Linger. Also, look at the gestures Sean uses for the flight of the bird, and the piece of cheese falling to the ground. Then come back to the next paragraph and we'll talk a little more about gestures.

Sean's gesture for the flight of the bird was different than my suggestion, but that's OK. YOU must decide for yourself (perhaps with the help of a coach) what the best movements are to emphasize an idea or feeling.

I believe there is another part of using gestures that is important: It is that gestures start somewhere - go somewhere - linger (as Sean states) - and then usually come back to somewhere (resolve themselves).

Bill Harley says, "Relax, breathe, take a moment to find your home. This is what you will always come back to." This is usually your arms at your sides. For Sean, it is with his arms slightly bent at the elbows. In the second part of the video, Sean's "home" is with his forearms resting on the table. Most of the time, your gestures come back to (or resolve to) home. But sometimes, like when the fox snatches the cheese, one gesture morphs into the next. But as Sean says, it is still a conscious, intentional decision about what gesture one is using.

So first you must ask yourself what gesture will emphasize the idea or feeling; then, make a conscious decision to use it. Understand where it is coming from; where it is going; make it intentional; activate it; linger and then resolve it.

Rehearsal and practice is the place to "play" with different types of gestures until you get them "right" for your story.


#229 - 9/19/2016
Start with CAN!
Last week in the Tidbits section, I posted a Ted talk by a blind man who can "see" using echo-location. He CAN navigate the world by himself. In the podcast from NPR's Invisibilia, he talks about how, often, sighted people who want to help, are the biggest detriment to blind people. Not that we shouldn't help or assist those in need, but make sure we don't ASSUME that they CAN'T do things for themselves. This was a big eye-opener (pun intended) for me. And here are some ways to utilize the concept:

In my class at GCC this semester, I have a student in a wheelchair who has multiple physical challenges. He approached me and stated that he wants to go on the England trip this year. I had two DISTINCT REACTIONS - One was - OMG how could I take this man on the trip. What are his limitations in traveling, especially in a foreign country? How much work would it be to assist him at every turn on the trip? My second reaction was, How great it would be to have this bright and funny storyteller on the trip, and how much fun would he have? So I set up a meeting with him and his fiancé to discuss the logistics of the trip.

I was fortunate enough to have listened to the podcast before we met. If I hadn't I probably would have focused on the CAN'TS and asked him, "What are your limitations?" Instead, I said, "Let's start from the aspect of what you CAN do? What are your abilities?" He not only told me what he could do, he showed me! He jumped out of and back into his wheelchair. He showed me how he can maneuver. He is quite able to navigate many situations both in and out of his wheelchair. His fiancé also assured me that she would be there to assist him with things that might be difficult. 

I am well aware that I have no experience with assisting a handicapped person on a trip such as this, but I am educating myself, and going with a mindset of CAN.

What if we approached our storytelling like that? In the past, I have looked at the negative side of things. I didn't feel comfortable with Myths. I didn't know any, there were too many difficult names to remember, too many twists and turns in the stories. But what if I started from CAN? I CAN tell stories of heroes and triumph. I love to tell stories of love and betrayal. I CAN tell stories of power struggles between the week and the strong. Hmmm...aren't all those things contained in myths and legends? I believe so.

When approaching storytelling, or any other challenge, if one leads with I CAN, one usually ends up with I WILL and I DID!


#228 - 9/12/2016
Context
The great storyteller and teacher, Elisabeth Ellis, has said that storytelling is all about context. What is the "context" in which your story takes place? The dictionary defines context as: 

The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
So, yes, context is extremely important. If we don't know or don't let the audience know about the context of our story, the message and perhaps even the whole story may be lost. As storytellers, we are taking data and putting it into the context of a story.
 
In one part of the podcast mentioned in Tidbits below, a researcher explains the relationship between data and context.
Research was done on the correlation between drownings and eating ice cream. It was found that as drownings increased, so did the amount of ice cream that people ate. What did that mean? Perhaps that when people ate ice cream, they went swimming and then drowned?
 
The context was left out of the research equation. When one adds the context that each of these events, increased drowning and increased ice cream consumption, both took place in the summer, it becomes more apparent! That's the time when both events increase. People eat more ice cream in the summer, and people go swimming more in the summer, so there are more drownings. So, although there is some correlation between the two, with the addition of context, there is no causation here. But our minds try to put it in the context we know, and unless we understand the context, we see the wrong images.
So be sure to understand, and help your audience understand the context, because the story changes with the context.

#227 - 9/5/2016
Stop - Look - Listen...THEN Re-Create
The fall semester started two weeks ago for my Community College class in Storytelling. Once again, I began by "modeling" and telling a story. Once again, I did some "listening" exercises. Once again, I let my students know that the first step in being a good storyteller is to be a good "listener".

Just for the heck of it, this week, I scanned through my previous tips in the Newsletter - over 200. I found that there were over 120 times I mentioned the word "listen". There were eight tips where "listening" was the focus. So, why the heck am I talking about listening again? Because it's so important! Next time someone is talking to you, just listen. Don't respond, or think of wht you will say when they are finished. Just listen, intently to what they say, and HOW they say it.

Along with listening, observation is the key to re-creating behavior, human or otherwise (Antonio Rocha). Observation is listening with your whole body, eyes, ears, nose, skin, breath, brain. Here's an exercise created by the great actress and teacher Uta Hagen that we used to do: 
Re-create two minutes of your life. Just two minutes! Waking up; looking in the mirror the first of the morning; putting on your shoes; shaving; brushing your teeth; tweezing an eyebrow; making a bowl of cereal; preparing to walk the dog. 
All of these are seemingly mundane actions; but the ability to observe oneself GOING THROUGH THE ACTIONS - AND FEELINGS and then the ability to re-create those ACTIONS and FEELINGS will serve you well as a storyteller. When you tell the story, you will probably NOT take a full two minutes to go through every single piece of action, but knowing and understanding everything underneath will take you AND THE AUDIENCE through the process.
 
To often, we rush through the observation and re-creation process. We think, "Oh yeah, I know what that looks like." Be careful and cautious. Take that old adage from our younger school days to heart: Stop - Look - Listen.
 

#226 - 8/29/2016
Don't Let Your Index Cards Show
This week's tip comes from local Teller-Teacher-Colleague Harriet Cole. In her most recent blog, Harriet shares

Research is how I, as a storyteller, build the world in which my story lives. When the time comes to actually craft my story, I have to remind myself of my mother’s wisdom – don’t let your index cards show. 

I've written before about putting too much information in your story in Connect the Dots and Can't See the Tree for the Branches, but Harriet has a slightly different slant on the subject. And it's a great way to put things into perspective regarding what you keep in and what you keep out of your story. It packs a lot of weight, especially coming from her mother!
  Click here for the entire article on Harriet's blog


#225 - 8/22/2016
Don't Try So Hard
When I am working on a story...or any project, I usually work very hard at trying to solve any problems, and come up with the perfect word, phrase, solution. Often, I can feel my forehead wrinkling up and almost bulging out in order to give my brain more room. There's a part of me that knows this doesn't work, but I continue to stress out and believe, "If I just work on this a little bit more, I will see the solution. I know it's just around the corner!" Then, the harder I try, the less I accomplish.

I think I have learned that concentrating so hard on trying to "fix" something that I believe needs to be fixed almost never fixes it. Most of the time, I am able to take a break, walk away or stop for just a few minutes even. I said "I think..." Sometimes I don't remember to take a break. Sometimes I forget that I don't need to "fix" everything, or make everything perfect!

Sometimes, a story is great, just the way you tell it.


#224 - 8/15/2016
Why, Why, Why?
It's a question that little kids ask all the time, over and over again!

"No, you can't have cookies for breakfast." - "Why?"
"Because we don't eat cookies at breakfast time."  - "Why?"
"Because cookies aren't breakfast food." - Why?"

Yes, that was a real conversation I had many years ago with my nephew when he was 2 years old.

But it's also a question that coaches will ask (and should), over and over again. Question number one:

"Why are you telling this story?"

The first response is usually, and hopefully, "Because I love it." This is a good start. My first rule of storytelling, and what most seasoned tellers will share with you is that you MUST "Tell stories you love!" So, if this is your answer, then you are on your way...but wait, there's more.

"Why do you love it?

"I love the way Goldilocks is different in this version. I try to make her less of a criminal when she goes into the Bears' house. I love the way I have changed the ending and Goldilocks stays with the Bear family."

Great! You are clear about the things in this story that you love. Knowing what draws YOU to this story is the first step, and is crucial in the process. Now, on to the next "Why?", just a bit deeper:

"Why are these things different in your version? Why are these things important to you?

"Because I can relate to Goldilocks. When I was younger, I didn't feel like I belonged in my family. I wanted to have a different family; one where I felt like I fit; one that was warm and loving; and one where everyone responded with love, instead of anger. 

Excellent! You have identified the essence of the story for you; what the story is about. Knowing and understanding this part is very important...partly because it takes you to the next "Why?"

"Why will OTHER people love it?"

"Because it's about wanting something different and good in your life; the desire for love. It's about wanting closeness and loving connections."

Aye, there's the rub! These are universal feelings, and that's what we are looking for in a story! Just because YOU love it is not enough. Other people must be able to relate to the story in some way, otherwise you will lose them part way through the tale. If they can't relate, they won't listen. But touching on universal feelings and emotions is one of the keys to a great story.

The process continues, in a good coaching session, or in your own crafting; what's the answer to all the whys?

Why does Goldilocks want a different life and family?
Why does the Bear family look better to her?"
Why does she "break into" their house?
Why does she do the things she does; eat the porridge; sit in the chair; lie on the bed?
Why aren't the bears angry when they discover the damage that has been done?
     Or if they are angry, why don't they show it the way Goldilocks' family did?
Why do these actions connect with the essence of the story?

If you and your story answer these questions, then you have a great tale that YOU love and the AUDIENCE will love.

So when you are crafting your story, remember that annoying little kid who keeps asking "Why?" - Then be that kid!
 

P.S. Thanks to Mark Compton for reminding me of this and for a great conversation!


#223 - 8/8/2016
Poofread!
Everything! Yes, proofread everything: E-males; text massages; resumays; anything you type or right! It's very impotant, as your righting reflects who you are! 

Taylor Mali says it better than me.-- or maybe he says it "better than I." (see Tidbits below)


#222 - 8/1/2016
Creating Stories...from Nothing (Actually from Something)

The age-old question: Where do stories come from? An original story, one you create yourself, obviously comes from within you! Yes, but how did you start? Where did the idea for the story come from? 
Ay, there's the rub

The answer is that stories can start with anything: an idea; a feeling; an observation; a picture or photo; an object; a person; a fleeting thought...anything. So where does one start? It depends on whether you want to be specific, like a story about a sibling you care about, or just improvise, and see where things go.

Here's an example of improvising. Remember that this is ME improvising. Your thoughts are different, and your mileage may vary!

Consider a bowl of oatmeal; a seemingly inanimate object. 

Start by thinking about all the ways you might describe this object: 
Go ahead and make your own list FIRST.
Before you look at mine.

It's food in a bowl
It was dry and room temperature at first
I added water and heated it up (microwave)
Now it is hot and moist/mushy
The pieces of oatmeal now cling to each other
It has a slight nutty flavor

Do any of these things start to gel in your mind? WHAT ABOUT YOUR LIST? Do they suggest anything else to you? Can you connect the dots in some way? Brainstorm - don't limit yourself or judge anything that comes up. Just imagine, and roll with it. Don't worry about a beginning, middle or end, or all the elements of a good story. You will sort it all out later. Now is a a time for wild energy and imagination! Look at YOUR list and imagine the possibilities.

The next step depends on what you have listed and thought of. There are a myriad number of directions one could go. As I looked at my list, I focused on the words, "Mushy, hot, cligny, nutty." I began to think about, "What if two oatmeal flakes were talking? What would they say?

Oat #1: Hey baby, what do you say?

Oat #2: You're such a dry flake!

Oat #1: Oh  yeah? Well, we're about to get all wet, and things are going to heat up!

And just as the 1st Oat predicted, so it was...

Oat #1: Ooo baby, you're so hot!

Oat #2: You're all wet! Don't be so mushy.

Oat #1: Don't be that way. Why, with just a little brown sugar, you'd be so sweet. We could cling together...maybe even spoon a little.

Oat #2: You're really a little nutty. Be careful, you might just be consumed by all that talk.

And indeed, eventually they both were!

That's just the begining -- of the process, not necessarily the story. It might become a story about two oatmeal flakes. It might also turn out to be a personal love story. Or maybe a story of unrequited love. It might be two stories, side-by-side. The process of imagination and brainstorming and making different connections goes on until you feel there is a good story in the works. Even if it has no connection to where you started (with the bowl of oatmeal). The process is there for exploration, for getting from one place to another, until you fiind yourself in a place that you like.
 
Then you make sure the story has all the elements it needs: Who are all the characters? Where does it take place? What is the problem or obstacle? Is there a "Helper". What is learned along the process of overcoming the obstacle? What is the story about?
 
So where do stories come from? A lot of places. But they can surely start with breakfast - the most important meal of the day!

#221 - 7/25/2016
Pacing
Pacing is important. In many ways.

Pacing in your telling gives the audience a sense of time. Is the action moving slowly or rapidly? Rapid words or sentences can indicate frustration, chaos, excitement or even danger. Pauses, or breaths in between scenes or events not only indicates the passage of time, it gives the audience a chance to digest what has just happened, and then be ready to hear the next piece. Altering your pace gives the listeners a sense of how everything fits together in your story; how does it move from one scene to another? What is the difference in emotion, essence and tone from one scene to the next? Pacing helps the audience breathe with the story.

Pacing helps the teller to breathe. It allows the teller to enter into the spirit and essence of each character or scene. It aids in enhancing body movement and gestures to underscore feelings. Pacing helps the teller transition between characters or scenes, to reveal the differences from one thing to another. The hare is quick, excited, boastful and arrogant. The tortoise is slow, methodical, consistent and accepting. The difference in the pace of each character distinguishes them from each other.

Pacing is important in the life of a teller. Be careful to "pace yourself". Give yourself time to do what is needed. You can't do everything at once. You can't be the hare every single moment; you will burn out. When you go to a conference, pace yourself. You may need to NOT go to every breakout session. Take a "breather"; allow yourself to relax and refresh from the intensity.

The moments in between are as important as what they frame; for the audience; for the story; for you!
 


#220 - 7/18/2016
One Size Does Not Fit All
Every audience is different. The practiced storyteller understands how this affects the event. One must assess many aspects of the audience and attempt to adjust their performance and constantly "listen" to the responses of the "listeners".

This caveat goes for teachers too.

This semester's students in my Art of Storytelling course were quite different from previous ones. As a teacher, I must approach each class as a separate entity, with students from diverse backgrounds, of different ages, with different life experiences. I must assess their levels and styles of learning; what style of learning best suits them both individually and as a whole? With all of this in mind, I must also deliver the content of the course according to the syllabus. Sometimes, the task seems daunting, and I struggle to answer the same questions a hundred times or hopefully rely on them to find the answer themselves.

While discussing all of this with storyteller and colleague Layne Gneiting, he had a suggestion. Much like storytelling coaching, it's good to get a different perspective. Layne suggested that, perhaps some students are auditory learners vs. visual learners and literally get lost when reading the information. He wondered if making recordings would help those who fit into that category. 

So if my students (audience) are not "visual" readers/learners, but instead are "auditory" listeners, then I need to adjust, or find a way to augment my written syllabus. (I think I've got the "kinesthetic" down, with lots of "active" exercises in class to stimulate that side of their learning. )

That means I have one month before the next semester to make recordings of myself "talking about" the parts of the syllabus. Perhaps "short" videos explaining each assignment would work to help the students understand in a different way. 

Who knows, the phrase, "It's in the syllabus!" might just turn into, "Did you watch the video?" We'll see...

Listen to your audience listening to you!


#219 - 7/11/2016
The Digital Age & Storytellers
Last week I went online to research a new battery for my car. In the past, I had always gone to an auto store, bought the least expensive battery and borrowed their tools while I stood in the summer heat and installed it. NOT IN THIS SUMMER'S HEAT! This tiime I went to the AAA website, ordered a battery online and scheduled to have a service van come to my home and install it. I was sent a digital text message confirming the appointment that even had a link to a live, REAL-TIME Google map of where the driver was, and how long it would be before his arrival - updated each minute! Ah, the digital world!

We can't avoid it. We live in the digital age: computers; cell phones; Wi-Fi; mobile hot-spots; 24-7 live-feed web cameras; mobile phone apps, etc. Many of us welcome oral storytelling as a "break" from the cacophony of the digital world; a return to the "good old days" of sitting around the general store, the kitchen table or the campfire and sharing stories in their seemingly "simple and gentler" format. 
 
And yet, it can be detrimental for the "old-school, traditional" storyteller to discount or completely disregard the digital world.
Case in point: ignoring the fact that one may need "amplification", a sound system so that they can be heard by the entire audience, will certainly harm their program and could possibly damage their reputation. To guard against this, I always inquire about a sound system, but also always bring along my own microphone and battery operated speaker.
But let's go beyond that. How can storytellers utilize more of the digital world to augment their storytelling? Some time ago, Sean Buvala told a mesmerizing story while using a small "finger piano" hooked up to a speaker. The simple repetition of the notes he played, amplified by the sound system added another dimension to the story. Although Power Points have largely fallen by the wayside, the use of projected graphics and images is used by many tellers to take the audience on far-flung journeys and enhance the entire storytelling process. Sometimes "voice-overs" or audio recordings from the past can help "immerse" the audience in the moment of the story.

Case in point: The tragedy of the Hindenburg Dirigible. There is little that can recreate the emotional tension and helplessness of the moment, as the actual sound of the radio announcer's passionate cries and cracking voice utering that now-famous phrase, "Oh, the humanity!"

I know what some of you are thinking, "I don't have the knowledge or ability to use that kind technology." It's okay, you don't have to. There are a number of tellers or others that could help you when needed.
 
But here's the important point - don't discount the value or possibilities of what might be of use in this technology saturated world to the traditional oral storyteller. Take some time to search out some "digital storytelling". (See Tidbits article Below.)
 
Be open to the creativity in the form. What can you learn from these stories? Be open to your own creativity in both recreating digital concepts - or turning digital concepts into analog telling.
 
You may find some ideas that could enhance your stories, or even spark some new ones. You may discover something about the structure of a story that will inspire you to play with the current structure of a story you have. You might see (or hear) something in a digital story that will challenge you to translate it into a (analog) sound, or gesture in your own story that makes it more present for the audience.
 

#218 - 7/4/2016
Refresh - Not Just for Your Computer Screen
Do you ever notice that when you go to a website, it appears that the information is not the most recent? Perhaps the date is not current or something just seems out of whack? The page needs to be REFRESHED, or "reloaded". You can do this is several ways: Press F5 on your keyboard; right click your mouse and choose "reload"; hold down the CTRL button and press "R"; click the "refresh" icon on your browser screen (usually a small circle with an arrow).

One might ask, "Why are there so many ways to refresh?" Because reloading or refreshing your screen is important in order for you to get the most current information.

And so it is in life, and in the life of a storyteller. One needs to refresh after long periods of intense work. There are many ways to do this. One can simply "walk away" (see my previous post on this). One can focus on something else; get your mind working on something different. One of the best ways to refresh is to "get out of town." And that's exactly what I did this weekend!

I drove up to Flagstaff Friday afternoon and stayed with my friend Carl. Above is the view from his back porch. When there is a small breeze, you can breathe in the scent of the pine needles and just the faintest aroma of vanilla from the bark of the Ponderosa Pines. Relaxing and just "sitting" in the calm and cool with chirping birds was, in a word, refreshing! I drove back Sunday afternoon with a renewed sense of quiet energy, ready to dive back in to work and the 110+ degree heat.

So next time you believe your "internal" screen gets a little scrambled or doesn't seem to have the most updated information or ability, it may be time to hit your personal REFRESH button!
 


#217 - 6/27/2016
If you had only played the father much older, and more angry than you did.
A fairly LONG post/tip, but one that I feel is important.

Perhaps you have experienced this: after a performance, several audience members pass bay and shake your hand. They smile and tell you that they enjoyed your stories. You are gracious and thank them for coming and for saying such kind words.

Then comes that ONE PERSON. Yes, that ONE who needs to tell you what was wrong, what they didn’t like, or what they think you should change or do differently. NOW what do you do?
 
Essentially, you act the same way, with grace, kindness and thankfulness. 
 
Here’s a story:
Recently, I ate breakfast in a restaurant that was new to me. The food was just “OK”, and the service was fine. But when I asked for some additional syrup with which to finish my waffle, I was told there would be a $1 charge. I balked at this and when a manager came by to check on me, I voiced my displeasure. 
 
One of the owners eventually came to my table to inquire about my remarks. I told her (in a calm, quiet, way that I disagreed with that “policy”. She began to “justify” the up charge, based on their “cost” of the premium product. I told her I understood the economics of the situation, but I still thought it was wrong. The owner continued to argue and tried to “convince” me that she was justified. I was, quietly, not in agreement with her. Eventually, she got angry and barked that she would “take care of” the entire check. Please note: I was not asking for a free meal, merely voicing my (experienced) opinion regarding the up charge
 
From her perspective, she “won”. She got rid of a disgruntled customer (me) and she can continue to believe she is “right”.
 
From my perspective, we BOTH lost. She lost a potential customer and advocate for her business, and I lost a potential place to go back to and eat…and perhaps recommend to others. Had she forgiven the $1 charge  (and lost a few cents profit) and given me more syrup, she would have had a happy and devoted customer who would have told positive stories about her restaurant. Instead, she got so upset that, by angrily comping the check, she lost the entire revenue for that meal, lost me as a customer, and now, I have told many people of my negative experience. 
 
She was so worried about losing the small profit of the up charge that she now lost the cost of the entire meal. Another note: If she had merely been cordial, thanked me for my perspective and apologized that she could not provide the extra product without the charge, I still would have been OK. Perhaps not as happy as getting some more syrup, but at least feeling OK that I had been listened to. Aye there’s the rub!
So how do you handle criticism…from an audience member…from a host or producer? Remember, they are BOTH your clients. One pays (or takes the time) to come see you, and the other pays for you to perform. All three of you have a vested interest in the event.
 
I have spoken previously regarding ways to “make suggestions” to tellers after a performance. But many out there have not read my newsletter or book, and perhaps do not understand how to offer suggestions in positive ways. Even so, YOU as the performer must still engage that person in a positive and accepting way.
 
I recently saw that Yelp had placed a “caveat” on the page where business owners respond to negative reviews. Here is what they caution:
Remember, "the customer is always right." Message with extreme care. (My italics for emphasis)
Thank your customer for their business and feedback.
Be specific about the customer's experience and mention any changes you've made as a result.
Don't argue with the customer or nitpick the review.
If you are upset, come back and message this customer another time.
I thought his was great, and applicable to tellers.
  • Remember who your customers are. They may not always be “right”, but they are the ones who hire and come to see you (if they choose to). Respond to them with extreme care.
     
  • Thank them warmly and sincerely for their suggestions/observations. Tell them you will consider them and review the possibilities for your next performance.
     
  • Don’t argue or try to “convince” them why you have made certain choices (they won’t hear you).
     
  • If you ARE upset, tell them (kindly) that their comments really surprised you and you would like to discuss them. Perhaps they could wait until the rest of the audience has filed out and then speak with you further.
It's easy to be gracious when someone praises you. It's more difficult to respond kindly to cririsism. But as performers, it's important to always respond with extreme care and caring.
 

#216 - 6/20/2016
Here's a TBT: Throw-Back-Tip.
I thought it would be useful to post this again (first posted in February of 2015). I recently used it in the Journeys Workshop and all the participants said it was very useful. I hope you agree.

I created a form that I use in my Community College Storytelling classes that has proved to be quite useful. The students must fill it out prior to even practicing their story in small groups. The information may change once they have told the story, or even several times before they do their required telling in front of the entire class

The form has some basic information about the story (title, origin, genre), but also has a few sections that I believe are important to help understand and craft the story in a more thoughtful and conscious way.

I recently, AGAIN, updated the form and I am offering it here for evaluation and feedback. You may use the "comments" section at the end of this Newsletter, just as one does on Facebook.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A PDF and WORD version of this form may be found at
www.StorytellersWorkbook.com
Feel free to download it, edit and use for yourself or your students as needed (with attribution)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

STORY PREPARATION SHEET


Student Name: ____________________________________________

Story Title: _______________________________________________

Author/Origin: _____________________________________________

Genre & Culture: ___________________________________________

Length of story: ____________ (must be between 5-8 minutes)

This may seem silly, but I believe the teller must know how long the story is when told, or at least have a "first draft" understanding of how long it will be. Many students don't understand the difference between ;"going over the story in their head" and actually speaking it out loud. Keeping them to between 5-8 minutes is a means to make sure they present enough content, and help them keep focused on the most important part(s) of the story.

What’s the POINT or THEME of the story? What's the story about?

"What's the story about?" is a question Doug Lipman (The Storytelling Coach) asks quite often after the story is told in a coaching session. I have also adopted this tenet. This question is so important, that I believe it is essential to know BEFORE one tells the story. Sometimes, this revelation comes after telling and working on the story for a long time, but if the student can approach the telling with some sense of the theme, they will be in a better position to do justice to their tale.

What do you LOVE about this story?

Another question I learned from Doug Lipman. Most seasoned tellers will admonish newbies to "Tell Stories you love!" This is good, and knowing what you LOVE about a story BEFORE you tell it, can inform your whole being about how you might convey that in the telling.

What parts of YOU or YOUR OWN LIFE connect with this story?

In 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.

From what VOICE (Point of View) will the story be told?
--First Person - WHO is speaking?
--Third Person Omniscient (Narrator)?
--Second Person - WHO is speaking and to WHOM are they speaking?

Here, I ask the student to make a choice about the "voice" or Point of view of the story. I ask them to think about how the story might change in any way if it was told from a voice other than that of the traditional narrator voice.

First Line:_________________________________

Most storytellers agree that one should not memorize the whole story. But most also agree that tellers should specifically craft and memorize the first and last lines of a story. (See my previous Tip on First and Last Lines)

What will be the first line of your story? Is there something other than the traditional, "Once upon a time"? First lines can set the scene, tone of the story; introduce characters; tell when and where the story takes place, etc. But the first line must also draw in the audience and make them want to hear more.

Last Line: _________________________

How will you end your story? (See my previous tip about Endings) The end to your story needs to clearly say "The End", but it is best said in the context of the story. Endings should "put a button" on the story; wrap it up in some way...or not. An ending that leaves the audience wondering what really happened can be just as effective...sometimes. Again, the point I want to stress is that I want the student to give some thought to what their last line will be. Ending the story with a great line can make it the most memorable story the audience has ever heard. And isn't that part of what we want?

On the BACK of the form...

BREATH MARKS - Notes on other specifics - Language; Gestures: Body Movement: Facial Expressions; Pauses, etc.

I ask the students to add any important things about the WAY that they will tell the story. Do they need to take a larger breath before letting out a fast paced list of events in the story, so they won't run out of air? Are there specific (intentional) gestures they will use? Where will they pause? What will their facial expressions be? What specific words or language will they use in a particular spot?
 
All these things are part of the "crafting process" that need to be attended to for success.

©Mark Goldman 2015

 


 

#215 - 6/13/2016
Hamilton Creator Nails the Writing Process
This week's tip comes from writer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton.

Last night's Broadway Tony Awards made history, much like the show that it honored. Hamilton is the breakout Broadway hit about the nation's first Treasurer...done in rap and hip-hop. The creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda was interviewed on 60 Minutes. The show was nominated for a record sixteen awards...and won a record eleven, including Best Musical!

This is "part two" of the segment. At 9:20 on the timeline, Lin-Manuel describes his thoughts on writing (and creating). I think it has connections to storytelling, the concept of "back-story" and crafting a story. Incidentally, it took him six years to write this show. He states that it took him a year to write one song, In the Room Where it Happens. Here is what he says about writing:

I think of acting and writing as pretty much the same thing. It's about getting into the skin of your characters and seeing where they are and knowing how they've grown up. You have to know all this, like in your bones. What they've come up against, who they are; and then you just start talking as them, and you write until the rust comes out of the faucet and it's clear water; and you write down the clear water.

I think this is simply quite brilliant! In the future, I will certainly attempt to "Write until the rust comes out of the faucet and it's clear water."

P.S. Sorry if the video looks off center (and sorry about the Viagra ad). I tried several different ways to embed it and it keeps shifting. If you desire, here is a link to the CBS page (click on PART TWO).

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hamilton-encore-60-minutes-charlie-rose/


#214 - 6/6/2016
If you want a Good Story...Just Ask Questions!
I have previously said that the Brits love to tell stories. They'll tell you a story at the drop of a hat! On our recent Storytelling Tour to England, that happened a lot. Often they would recognize that we were American and would want to interact. Often, they would just want someone to interact with, to talk with, to tell their story to.

But if people don't initiate conversation on their own, the storyteller can be the catalyst for opening up a whole world of stories from mere strangers. On a bus, or in a restaurant, just ask someone where they are going, or where they are from to start the ball rolling. Secondary and tertiary questions can follow, in order to delve deeper and elicit more of their story. Most people are dyeing to tell you their story; they are just waiting to be asked.

I recently ran across a TED talk about the Art of the Interview by Marc Pachter, who has conducted live interviews with some of the most intriguing characters in recent American history as part of a remarkable series created for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. Although some of his talk is about what makes for a great interviewee, he shares that our role as the interviewer is to draw out the "life force" of the person we are interviewing. He says that "The key is empathy because everybody in their lives is really waiting for people to ask them questions, so that they can be truthful about who they are and how they became what they are."

There are other, tangible benefits to merely turning to a stranger and asking a question. I am often amazed that people can sit next to each other on a plane (for nine hours across the Atlantic) and barely speak two words to each other. But many have agreed with me that when they do speak, amazing things can happen.

On a plane home from England several years ago, I engaged a woman next to me in great conversation (for almost nine hours). Among other things, she was a kindergarten teacher in Cambridge, England and the following year, I visited and told stories to her class and four other classes and it was a marvelous experience!

So, don't always be so eager to tell someone your story...ask them about theirs!
  View the TED talk here


#213 - 5/30/2016
Start Earlier
Here's a tip for anything you do:

Start EARLIER than you had planned! This way, you will have time to do all that you needed to do, like writing Tips and Tidbits!


#211 - 5/9/2016
Think Story
We do it all the time.... mostly on an unconscious level: we tell stories. We relate what happened at a store in the mall, or how we got cut off on the street. We can't wait to tell a friend what we purchased online, and how it was delivered the next day! We relish relating tales of restaurants and food we savored, even before we took that photograph of it. Telling stories comes naturally to us.

But when someone asks us a question, we quite often revert to offering "data" or a mere list as an answer. What happened to story? It just flew out the window. To truly be storytellers, we must begin to "think story". How can we communicate in story? Two semesters ago, one of my students related that in a job interview, she was asked, "What other places have you worked?" Instead of rattling off a list of her employment, she "told a story"...and got the job! She was thinking in story, and had communicated by telling a story!
 
So next time someone asks you, "What did you buy at the grocery store?" - Don't merely recite your grocery list, tell them about the ADVENTURE you had!

#210 - 5/2/2016
Great Myths of the Future

This week's tip comes from colleague and Irish teller Yvonne Healy. Yvonne did a workshop on Family stories and I found one exercise particularly interesting and exciting. I believe it has many uses!

Quite often, people don't believe that they have done anything worth "telling" about. They feel their lives are "ordinary" vs. extraordinary. This exercise in a group, or with a person you are interviewing can put a whole new perspective on that concept. And... it forces the teller to use their creativity!

Interview a family member and have them tell you something they did. It could be something simple that they feel may not be very "interesting", but have them tell it anyway.

OR - in a group, partner up and have your partner tell you something they did that seemed extremely mundane, like putting away the dishes, or dusting the shelves.

The next step is to project yourself 5000 years into the future. What would the world be like? Now tell the story back to the family member (or partner) but tell it as a GREAT MYTH. How did that one thing that they did affect the world in the future? How might they be remembered in the folklore of the future?

A long, long, long time ago, Mary dusted the shelves in her house, and did a particularly good job. So good, in fact, that when her friend Jane came over, she noticed the excellent job Mary had done. She was also so pleased that there was no dust in the house as Jane had such bad allergies. Jane told so many people about Mary dusting the shelves and how wonderful it was, that they all decided to follow suit and do the same in their own houses. They even took it a step further and cleaned and scrubbed everything. Each time someone visited a home, they marveled at the cleanliness and vowed to clean their own homes and office spaces with great energy and pride. This spread far and wide, across the country and eventually, around the world. And that is why the earth is such a clean place today, in the year 7016!

There is great creativity in this exercise for the teller, finding a way to frame the story in a different way (and time). And there is great power in having that person hear their tale as a Great Legend, or Myth of the future!


#209 - 4/25/2016
Observation - The Key to Creating and Recreating
One of the ways to "show, don't tell" in story is to recreate the world around us. What do people and things look like? Sound like? Smell like? How do people move? Speak? Show how they are feeling? For this - observation is the key!

Antonio Rocha has said, "Authenticity comes from research and observation. Real monkeys don’t scratch their armpits. One must observe without judgment." (see the related Tidbits below)

As storytellers and performers, we are constantly recreating the environments, people and actions of our stories. In order to do this with "authenticity", before we can recreate it, we must be good observers. How does a monkey act? How does a baby crawl? How does and eight year old act when they are nervous or worried? A 20 year old? a 50 year old? What is the sound of one's breath when they are fearful? Happy? In love?

We must be good observers not only of behaviors, but of the human condition. What is happening around us; in our family; in our neighborhood; in the world? These things all have a bearing on how we act and react. Elizabeth Ellis has said that "story is all about context." A good observer understands the context in which everything occurs. A good storyteller can then recreate what they have observed and understand, in order to convey the story to the audience.

So be a good observer. You may also need to be a good "eavesdropper", remember, listening is always the first skill, even if it might be surreptitiously!

Antonio said to "observe without judgment." I think this means be careful of the filter that you may already have regarding the context that you are trying to observe. Can you rid yourself of the assumptions and predispositions you may have? Think about being a detective. Be careful about that magnifying glass you are looking through. Is is colored in a certain way? Be cautious, and read the Tidbit below!


#208 - 4/18/2016
Babies, Puppies, Trains and Other Unexpected Interruptions
Friend, colleague, storyteller and coach Laura Packer is participating in April's A to Z Blog Challenge. She is writing a blog EVERY DAY, each one based on a subsequent letter in the alphabet.

Yesterday, she wrote a brilliant post for the letter "N" titled:
N is for noise - six tips for performance interruption.

Every performer has to deal with interruptions sometimes. It just happens. Live performance is like that. I remind my students that it's their job to be prepared and have some strategies to deal with noise, babies, puppies, trains, etc. They need to be able to maintain their performance, their own comfort and the audience.

To sum it up, her advice is to "Be prepared!" She offers six great tips and perspectives on ways to prepare yourself for the unexpected - YES, there are ways to prepare. It's a great post with great advice from a great coach!
  Read her blog here


#207 - 4/11/2016
One Peril of Working Alone

The concert is over...the workshop is done...NOW WHAT?
 
When I worked as a therapist, I did group therapy, and I had a team. Sometimes two or three people assisting in different ways, sometimes just one person. After EVERY session, we would do what we called, "processing the work." The team (and any students that might have been observing) would ask questions: "Why did you do that? What made you think of that? Why didn't you...?" We would discuss and dissect what happened in the session; what worked and what didn't, and why. This was the most important part of the learning and growth process; more important than much of the classroom learning.
 
I miss that process.
 
Working as a solo performer or workshop leader can be exhausting. But not so much because you are on stage or in front of your group alone, but because afterwards, you are alone. What do you do with all the excitement and energy from performing or teaching? One needs time to both unwind, and to process the work that was done. You can do some of this by yourself, but I believe that just as storytelling is about "connecting" with others, you need to connect in a different way after the story or the class. Connect with yourself, your colleagues, and with the work that was done.
 
This last weekend I did a workshop on creative language at the Whole Life Center at Shadow Rock. There were nineteen participants and the two hours went by very quickly. I was feeling very good about the work. Normally, I would have gathered my stuff and just driven home, with only my own thoughts about how things went. This time, though, I sat down with Judy Schwiebert, the coordinator, and we talked.
 
We talked for an hour! I was able to take a deep breath after the session and unwind. We talked about the workshop, the people, the exercises, and what might have improved it a little. It helped to ground me, to come down a bit from the "high" of teaching (the only thing I love more than telling).
 
It was invaluable.
 
It's more than appreciations or the handshakes and "thank yous" from the group. Its more than merely reading the evaluation sheets. Like storytelling, it's a live interaction between me and at least one discerning member of my audience.
 
So, next time, bring along a friend and/or colleague to talk with afterwards. Let them help you unwind and take a deep breath. Have a dialogue with them. What worked? What didn't? What would make it better? Let them help you scrutinize and process your work...for learning and growing!
 

#206 - 4/4/2016
Pourquoi? Because We Love to Tell Made-Up Stories!

Why does the frog croak? Why does the tiger have stripes? Why is the moon green? Perhaps because it is made of green cheese (see Tidbits below)!
 
Pourquoi stories - why or how something came to be. The initial facts are always true. The tiger does have stripes. The frog actually does croak. The moon really is...oops. Well, maybe that one isn't really true.
 
Last weekend, Liz Warren did a fun workshop on Pourquoi stories. They usually explain how some features of plants or animals (or other events in nature) came to be. Pourquoi stories are a great way to tap into your creativity and imagination. In the workshop, we were all given facts about certain plants or animals, and then asked to create a story as to how they got that way. All the participants came up with great stories!
 
Here are some common features of Pourquoi stories that Liz listed:
They are usually simple and straightforward, and are often humorous.
They are little creation myths, so the time is often "long ago" or "When the world was young."
They usually involve interactions with animals, plants, deities or the elements.
There is usually some sort of conflict or misunderstanding.
The stories are usually built on human foibles like greed, jealousy, etc.
Sometimes the Creator steps in to address a need.
They often end with, "From that day on..." or "That is why the ____ always ____.
Here are some tips for creation:
Start with your main character.
What are they like in the present, or what characteristic do you want them to "end up with?"
What might they have been like BEFORE that?
What are the human characteristics or emotions that you might want to highlight?
What other characters might be involved? (collaborators/antagonists/friends/helpers)
What is the interaction? What is the cause of the change?
Try it out. You might have some fun. And you might just find out that, from that day on, storytellers made up stories of how things came to be.
 
*Note: Be careful about appropriating Native American Pourquoi stories! If it's not your culture, don't.
 

#205 - 3/28/2016
Talk Story...With Your Colleagues!
Do you have storytelling books on your shelf? Have you collected articles on Storytelling? Have you taken notes at workshops and conferences? Great! Fantastic! Now, don't forget one of the most important resources you have as a storyteller... people!

Do you have other storytellers in your community? Use them as a resource. Do you know tellers on FaceBook? Use them. Do you have access to other tellers through a list-serve or other internet avenues? Use them. Do you attend guild meetings? Use them... all of them as resources... often. 

Let's talk story!
Most often, we attend concerts, conferences, guild meetings and listen to each other tell stories. This is great. Experiencing other tellers is one of the best ways to learn. But there is an additional option that we sometimes forget - just talking story!

Two weeks ago, several of us went to Tucson to hear Laura Packer tell stories. On the trip down, we talked about storytelling, tellers and stories. After the concert, we went to dinner and talked story. On the trip back to Phoenix, again, we talked story. Camaraderie and discourse are invaluable tools to glean information and insight from colleagues and friends!

The Pros Do It.
Here's another example, especially for newer tellers. Ask questions...the pros do it. If you are on Facebook, ask your friends and colleagues for their thoughts on a particular subject. Join in when others post questions or pieces concerning storytelling. Join a FaceBook "Group" for storytellers (there are many). Exchange ideas with other tellers or artists.

If you are a member of NSN, you can get access to the List-Serve Discussion Group. Quite often, one teller will post a request for a particular type of story and receive dozens of replies.


Margaret Read MacDonald

Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald has been telling stories for well over 40 years. She has written and published 90+ books or CDs. She was a librarian, a folklorist and has taught storytelling all over the world. She is a fountain of storytelling knowledge! And yet, last week she used the List-Serve to ask for help with identifying "transition" stories. She wrote:

A school is holding an assembly to help their students (elementary) think about transitions…moving on to another grade and class next year. Any ideas? Sounds like a logical request for matching stories, but I am stumped. I can think of ways to torque some of my tales to sort of fit this theme. But there must be just the right story out there that I am not remembering.   
One would have thought that after years of experience, she might have "all the answers". Still, she reached out to the community and her colleagues for help, and she got it. The mark of a true professional!
 
So get out there, connect with your colleagues and when you can...Talk Story!
 

#204 - 3/21/2016
Six Word Stories
Can you tell a story in six words? According to storytelling lore, Hemingway did it with the ad at right - For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

It's a great exercise to see if you can distill your story down to just six words. I have done this with my students with some amazing results. Sometimes, it takes a little coaching to help them focus in on the essence.

Previously, I have spoken about describing your story in ONE SENTENCE. Now, see if you can make it even shorter. Here are some examples:

Played golf. Boss won. Kept job. (I think that was Karen Chace)
Beauty loves Beast. Curse is lifted.
Simpleton plants beans. Giant is defeated.
Princess defeats dragon. Ditches obnoxious prince. (The Paper Bag Princess)
Friends finally visit. Go home tired. (Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle)

Try it yourself. You may need to use a thesaurus. See if you can distill the essence and use only six words.
(P.S. If you get down to seven or even eight, you're doing great!)


 


#203 - 3/14/2016
Animate Inanimate Objects
My storytelling students have finished telling their folk tales / fairytales. Now they are moving on to fact-based stories. One of the major differences between these two genres is that unless one is merely following a chronological list of events in a biography or historical story, tellers must give structure to the fact-based story.

In a previous tip, I have suggested that telling the story in "first person" from the point of view of another character in the story can be quite creative. In essence, tell Edison's story from the POV of his assistant; tell the story of 911 from the POV of a first responder; tell Ben Franklin's story from the POV of his dog (see post here).

Last week, we were discussing different possibilities in class when one of the students asked a question, "Can we tell from the point of view of an inanimate object?" - Yes! - Brilliant!

I have written before about using significant objects to build a back-story (see post here). With this question, the student is moving to a much higher level of creativity. 

Tell Lincoln's story from the point of view of the walls of the oval office. What meetings may have taken place? What conversations may not have been privy to the public? What did Lincoln do in those private moments alone? What stories could the walls tell you?

Tell a war story from the POV of a soldier's rifle. What was it like to go through basic training? How long was it before the soldier went into combat? What was it like the first time the rifle was fired in combat? What happened to the soldier the first time he actually shot at and killed the enemy?

Tell the story of Thomas Edison from the POV of the light bulb - or the tungsten filament that finally worked. "I was the one. After over 1000 different experiments, I was the one that worked. I can tell you about all the problems before he tried me!"

Betsy Ross' needle and thread; Neil Armstrong's space suit; the microphone of the devastated reporter at the Hindenburg tragedy; all of these inanimate objects could tell a very creative story about the people and events involved.

Once again, my students have amazed me. They are starting to think creatively about storytelling. Thinking about the magical possibilities of "what if". Not only are they thinking outside the box, they are thinking about speaking from the point of view of the box. I couldn't ask for more!
 


#202 - 3/7/2016
Is Your Story “Kitchen Tested”?
Many tellers have said that stories need to "simmer" or "percolate". Sean Buvala’s book, Measures of Story, uses a whole range (get it, range) of metaphors for following the recipe of story crafting (read or hear Sean read the first chapter of his book for free, here). In the past, I have said one must take their story and “salt to taste” depending on your various audiences.

Here’s another “cooking” metaphor for stories. Is it kitchen tested?
 
Simmering and percolating denotes that one may let the story “sit with you” for a while. Let it roll around your head and see what happens as you breathe in the aroma of the tale. But there is another option.
 
Have you ever “created” a recipe? I mean actually started from scratch and created your own version of a dish? Baking is the best metaphor I can think of here. Have you tried changing it “just a little” each time you made it? Add a little more baking powder, or a little less? Changed from cinnamon to ginger? Added vanilla extract, or almond? Have you tested it over-and-over again until you get the exact results you want? I think you get the picture.
 
Have you tried that with your story? Have you told it in many different ways? Perhaps you have told it to friends or family, or in a story circle? Have you tried a different opening line, or closing line? Added a scene, or deleted a scene? Have you asked colleagues to “taste” the story and let you know what they think? Have you tested it over-and-over again until you get the exact results you want? Your story will also evolve and change as you tell it to audiences. Each performance will change slightly as your listeners sit down to savor what you are serving. Testing out all the different possibilities in your “storytelling kitchen” can let you know that your recipe works!
 

#201 - 2/29/2016
Be Prepared!
The Scouts' motto - Be Prepared.

Not a bad axiom to follow - for storytellers too! When you have a presentation, it's always a good idea to Be Prepared.

Of Course, one can't anticipate everything that might go wrong, but it's helpful to be ready for the unexpected; a change in plans; or an emergency that may arise. Here are a just few things to consider:

  • Carry a small Kleenex packet - for you or anyone else that might need it.
  • Hand wipes or Wet Wipes in a small packet can help if you are not near water or a restroom.
  • Pe Prepared to HIKE from the entrance to the auditorium, or mobile classroom where you will perform.
  • Bring some lozenges (or mints) to keep your mouth moist.
  • Definitely bring your own FULL water bottle (don't count on there being a fountain near by).
  • Bring a candy bar or snack bar... just in case you have to wait a LONG time to go on.
  • Arrive early. You never know if they have changed the time (30 minutes or an hour early is better than 5 minutes late).
  • Bring something to occupy your time (book/notes) if you do have a long wait.
  • Be prepared to change your program - have more stories or different ones than they originally requested. They may have misunderstood, or you may find yourself with a different audience than you expected. 
  • Also, be ready to change on the fly if your audience needs it in the middle of the performance. Things may go in a different direction than you had planed, and your ability to adjust accordingly (without hesitation) will be crucial to a good outcome.
  • Did they tell you there was a PA system...and now there is not? If you don't have your own in the trunk, you may need to use your voice in a way you didn't expect. Be ready
  • Be ready to think creatively to resolve any issues that may arise. Don't get upset, focus on what the options are. What is the problem? What might solve it? If your attitude is one of options and this will work, then the outcome will be OK, and you will come off as a hero!

If you have some other hints or tips to Be Prepared, write them in the COMMENT section below!


#200 - 2/22/2016
Focus on an Image
We've all had that moment: We just can't think of a story. When a topic for a slam or story circle comes up, we freeze. For some reason, we just can't think of a time or a place or anything related to the "theme" that we might tell a story about. We're thinking too hard, and not about the right thing.

Here's a tip/prompt for finding a story that I recently learned from Liz Warren.

In the past two months, I have attended the Journeys Workshops: Storytelling Out Loud facilitated by Liz Warren. The first was on Family Stories, the second, held last Saturday was on stories of Love and Friendship. In these workshops, Liz would start out by telliing a personal story. Then, she would ask us to "Focus in on an image from that story that stood out for you." Then she would prompt us to "Think of something in your own life related to that image."

What a brilliant prompt this was!

Later, she would provide us with a list of prompts that might help us remember, "A time when..." But that first direction helped us all focus on images

Storytelling is all about images, and all about the connections we make with our audience. How brilliant is it to have us relate to an image and then craft a story (or even a short anecdote) that connects with that. Most of us have experienced that same scenario when we have told a story. An audience member or colleague comes up to us and says, "Your story reminded me of ..." And then they tell you their story!

So the next time you are having difficulty coming up with a story in a particular genre, go listen to someone telling a story in that same genre. Then focus in on an image from their story... and how/where you can relate it in your own life.

Now you have a starting place for your story. As always... NOW the work begins!


#199 - 2/15/2016
First, You Must Believe You Can Float

At the beginning of last Saturday’s “Eloquent” workshop, Antonio Rocha (pronounced “hōsha”) asked each participant to voice what they hoped to get out of the day. In addition to some specifics, I said, “Oh yeah, and I want to learn how to float!” Antonio’s response set the tone for the whole day: “The first step is that you must believe you can float!”
 
Antonio presented this all-day workshop on the eloquence of “transitions” in storytelling. He shared a vast amount of information, along with many demonstrations, that revealed Antonio’s own inimitable style and philosophy, learned and practiced over many, many years as both a mime and storyteller. 
 
Here, in what may be a somewhat disjointed array, I offer my transcribed notes from the workshop. Each one being a great tip by itself; all together, they barely scratch the surface of what we learned from his examples, dialogue and coaching.
 
Note: Be aware that Antonio's style is slanted way to the performance side of telling. See my previous tip on Where You Are on the Spectrum.
Authenticity comes from research and observation. Real monkeys don’t scratch their armpits. One must observe without judgment.
 
Imagine a movie, where you can place the camera wherever is most important. Understand the POV (point of view) of the audience. What POV will best tell the story? Make your story and your movements “three dimensional”. 
 
Give space. Back up, open your arms and use your whole body when reacting. Be astonished, and give space to that astonishment. You must “materialize” the object or person you see. Show don’t tell. Show the audience the “quality of discovery” by the character.
 
Most often, use the “forward angle” (face front) to focus on the person or thing you are seeing. This is the most powerful position. If you see it, the audience will see it with you.
 
Focus on who is being talked to. Talk only to them, not to the whole audience. (This was not as easy as it would seem. It took great concentration for me and others who are so used to making eye contact with every audience member.)
 
Know the geography of the story. Where is each element, person, place or thing in the story? Know “where you are coming from and where you are going.” Use your body and arms to “cross fade” from one character to another, or one scene to another.
 
Transitions can be done with a sound, with a stare, with stillness. Don’t rush, let the audience see it and feel it… then break the illusion.
 
Let things “simmer” – and here, Antonio revealed that he was inspired when he recently viewed a rehearsal video in which Michael Jackson asked the drummer to, “let it simmer.”
 
After lunch, Antonio coached several willing participants in their stories. Watching him observe and coach each teller was an amazing process and lesson. 
 
The fifteen minutes of focus and coaching I got from Antonio was priceless. It will stay with me forever!
 

#198 - 2/8/2016
Just a Pinch of Salt
We've all been there. The story is crafted; we've rehearsed it over and over; we've told it to friends, at a guild meeting, or in a story circle. But, like tasting a cookie or a sip of soup, there's that niggling feeling that, "It just needs something else."

I love cooking and food metaphors. One of my favorite tips is Salt to Taste. And colleague Sean Buvala wrote a great little book called Measures of Story.

So what do you do when there's that little voice inside that says it's just a "little" off? Well, maybe that's exactly what it is - a "little" off. Maybe it doesn't need a huge overhaul or complete makeover.  Maybe it just needs a "pinch " of salt... or something.

Maybe it just needs an additional sentence. Maybe just a different word here ot there. Perhaps it needs a well-placed pause, or a slightly different expression on your face. What would happen if you stopped to smile - or frown? Just a tweak here and there.

Go back to your recipe. Check the basic ingredients. Are they all there? What's the story about? Are the characters and the events all there, in the right proportions? Have they been mixed well, with the correct flavorings and feelings? Maybe the story needs to "cook" or just "simmer" a little more. Does the sauce need to be reduced a bit, or do you need to deglaze the pan with a bit of sweet or bitter wine? Perhaps the dish just needs to cool down a bit.

Each time we tell a story it's like cooking up a recipe. Maybe it's soup, or Stone Soup; or cookies or The Gingerbread Man; or steak, or Like Salt for Meat. Whatever it is, we make it just a little different each time.

Next time you tell  (cook) the story, try adding just a splash of vanilla for fragrance and sweetness; or a dash of cayenne to spice it up; or just a pinch of salt to bring all the flavors together.

What would your story taste like then? Serve it with pride and gusto!


#197 - 2/1/2016
Some Tips Call for Repeating
Some tips bear repeating AND in honor of one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day as it is tomorrow - I thought I would trot out this tip about Repetition from back in 2013! 

Lather, Rinse, Repeat! - Now Say it With Me!

We are all familiar with the instructions on our bottles of shampoo. Most people have accepted that you only need to shampoo and rinse ONCE, but many still repeat the process, thus using twice as much shampoo as they need to.

But in storytelling, repetition is not considered wasting product, it's considered, building connections!
 
Using repetition in your story helps the audience connect to the story by reinforcing audible touch points. Repeating words or refrains makes the story more familiar to them. Often, they are anticipating those moments of repetition.
 
You can involve the audience even more with a "call and response". Having them join in each time with "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum" builds audience rapport. This audience participation along with the repetition can make for a delightful and communal storytelling experience.
 
In using call and response, you must always gage the level of willingness of the audience to join in. Most listeners want to join you and feel like they are part of the storytelling process. Occasionally, you may get resistance. You must decide whether using this method will engage the audience more, or create more distance between you and them.
 
Look for the places in your story - even personal stories - where you can use repetition and/or call and response to build community, connections and cohesiveness.
 

#196 - 1/25/2016
BE YOU
When telling - BE YOU!

Kim Weitkamp
telling a personal story from 5th grade

Not just "be yourself", but be the YOU that is telling the story. It may actually be YOU if you are telling a personal story. But it might be the narrator of a folktale or other traditional story. It could also be a character in the story. Whoever it is, be the YOU that embodies that entity. Yikes, embody, what the heck is that?

It's not as complicated as it may sound, but it does take time and work. How do you embody a character? First, you have to know three things:

  • What's the story about?
  • What's the character about?
  • What connects YOU to the story and character?

Susan Klein said,

"When something within a folktale resonates with your own story, it calls you to be it's 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." - From The Oral Tradition Today, An Introduction to the Art of Storytelling by Liz Warren (p27)

There's the key: "...the root of what it means to you."
Once you have that, then you can BE YOU. Whether it's in the role of the narrator, a character, or actually YOU in a personal story. You can begin to embodie that person. You can fel all the emotions; the fear; the anger; the joy; the trepidation; and show the one YOU are feeling in the moment.

And if you breathe, and let yourself truly be there, you can experience that feeling as if for the first time. And your audience will experience it with YOU!


#195 - 1/18/2016
Be Passionate
What do you love? Not who, but what? It's important to know...and then act on.

I have a friend who is a bartender. He likes sports, football and soccer. Right now, he talks a lot about football and the playoffs. He has a lot of opinions about who are the best/worst teams, etc. He can simultaneously pour drinks, take orders, and talk for hours about football. But that's not his passion.

His passion is dogs. He is an animal behaviorist. 

The other day, I mentioned an eating quirk of my dog. He stopped what he was doing, turned to me and began a passionate, knowledgeable treatise as to why dogs act in certain ways. He looked straight into my eyes, he leaned forward, I knew he wanted me to understand fully. But not just because he wanted me to know...but because he was passionate about dogs and their behavior.

Perhaps you know someone like that. Someone who lives, eats and breaths the one thing that they are passionate about. It's as if it's in their blood, their DNA. When you talk with them, you know what their passion is.

So here's my tip for this week...know what your passion is.
If you are a storyteller, storytelling does not necessarily need to be your passion. But the subject of the story you tell should be! The first advice of most seasoned tellers is "Tell stories you love." I would go a step further and say, "Tell stories about people or things you are passionate about."

And the second part of the tip is...know what your characters are passionate about.
Do you know what your protagonist loves? Do you know what your antagonist has a passion for? Whether you tell it in the story or not, it's important to know what they are. What drives this person? What turns them on? What turns them off? What runs in their veins?

Being passionate about your story, and knowing your characters' passion(s) will propel you in the story, and make your listeners want to know more. And that's what we always want: our listeners to lean forward, be listening, and want to know...what happens next, and why.


#194 - 1/11/2016
Human Touch
The value and power of human touch is immeasurable.

Last week I had to go back to the ER due to some intense back pain. The doctor wanted me to stay in the hospital "overnight for observation." (I promise...no more hospital stays!) 
 
They had given me some medication to deal with the pain, but at 3:30 am, I awoke with more pain. My nurse, Carmen, felt is was at a severe level and the doctor had ordered morphine.
 
When she told me she was going to give me morphine, I was a little nervous. My Mother had been given morphine in the hospital and she had a severe reaction. So I was a bit concerned, but I said "Okay" as I believed it would help the pain. She administered it intravenously. It was something I had never felt before...and it was not good.
 
I immediately felt flush, as if I had been standing on my head for an hour, but it occurred in a matter of seconds! I got scared, very scared. I began to hyperventilate. I got very emotional and fearful.
 
Carmen was exceptionally wonderful. She stayed with me in the room (many nurses would have left). She stood by my bed and took my hand. She spoke softly. She told me everything was going to be okay. She stroked my hand and put her other hand on my shoulder. She said I was going to be fine.
 
Even though I was in turmoil, there was a part of me that was aware she was holding my hand and stroking my arm. There was a part of me that was so glad she was touching me. I knew she was there, and that she cared and was going to take care of me. She gave me some oxygen and then returned her hand on mine. It had such a calming effect.
 
Even though I was in distress, there was a part of me that said to myself, "This feels good. I must write about this in my newsletter." Strange, wasn't it?
 
But maybe not. Maybe it wasn't so strange that I was aware of how calming her touch was; how important human contact is. As storytellers, we know the power of story. We know that stories connect us all. We know that stories can touch people's hearts. So to understand the power of actual human touch, even in my moment of distress may not have been uncommon.
 
My "tip" this week is to not forget the power that stories hold. And at the same time, to be aware of the power of actual human touch; of a hug; or the touch of a hand on another's, or a shoulder or a forearm. 
 
Stories have the power to touch us all. Actual touching has a power all its own!
 
Thank you Carmen.
 
 

#193 - 1/4/2016
Who's Your Hero?
Do you know who the hero of your story is? Don't be too quick to say, you may be mistaken.

This weekend, I watched The Magnificent Seven; one of the greatest westerns of all time! Based on Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (which he claims was based on watching many westerns) is an epic story with larger-than-life characters, portrayed by iconic actors. Most notably Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen. Brenner's character is the leader of the group of hired guns who travel to a small Mexican village to help the farmers stop the murderous outlaw Calvera from stealing their food.

Surely, one immediately thinks of Brenner as the hero of the movie. He is strong, commanding and decisive. But the hero is not just the one who saves the day (that's what most people think of). If we look at Joseph Campbell's criteria, the hero is the one who is called to adventure; faces many obstacles; gets help from a mentor; gains the magic or knowledge that is needed to overcome the obstacles; and in the end, returns to his or her village to share that knowledge.

In this sense, it is the character of Chico, played by Horst Bucholz, who is the hero. He is young, brash and full of himself. He wants to join the group and fight. He is angry at the villagers for being weak. And yet, it is revealed later in the movie that he also comes from a similar village. Brenner is not the hero, but is Chico's mentor/helper. Chico learns not only how to fight intelligently, but he learns to care for the villagers, one in particular. 

In the end, Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen ride on and continue their lives as hired guns. Chico stays in the village to marry the girl he has fallen in love with. He is transformed. It is really Chico who is the hero.

The hero is not necessarily the bravest, or the strongest, or the wisest. In fact, the hero is usually the opposite.
The hero is the one who becomes brave, strong and wise.


#191 - 12/21/2015
That Moment When...
You remember it. The memory is as clear as if it happened yesterday. It could have been yesterday; it could have been a long time ago. But you can see it, it's like a movie in your head. That moment when...

We all have those "moments" that are significant in our lives. Perhaps it's one of those firsts or lasts, pivotal moments that make or mark a change in our life path.

There are many such moments in Frank Capra's holiday classic, It's a Wonderful Life. Like many of us, Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey experiences ups, downs and challenges that continually test his character.

Watch how Capra captures the nervousness, the doubt, the internal conflict of both characters in this "love" scene between Stewart and Donna Reed. Their subtle expressions, breathing and hesitations set against the fast talking dialogue on the other end of the phone are powerful images.

What if you were to tell this story? How would you do it? What words and language would you use to describe what is going on? What body movements and facial expressions would show us what is happening? How would you use your breathing and voice and eyes to help us see the images for ourselves?

Now think of one of your own "moments". Maybe it's not a love scene, or an earth shattering incident in your life, but it was important to you. It was a moment you will never forget. The memory is crystal clear in your mind.

Now tell us about that moment when...


#190 - 12/14/2015
NO! I Don't Know and I Don't Like
I will not apologize for this rant!

Consider the following paragraph:

So, like, I went to the store and, you know, like there were all these weird things on the shelves, you know. And so I was looking at them, you know and I was like, freaked out, you know. So I picked up this one thing and like, it was so strange, you know. I had no idea what it was, you know.

Would you accept this as a well written piece? I think not.

And yet, we accept it when it is a spoken piece. Why?

Perhaps you read that paragraph and imagined a 16 year-old Valley Girl (California not Arizona) telling it as she was chewing a big wad of gum and twirling the strands of her multi-colored hair. Forget that. Now imagine it is an adult (or at least over 21) who is telling a story. It could be a female OR a male. You've heard them tell their stories with the same vernacular, constantly adding "like" and "you know" into every other phrase.

Perhaps this continual "you know" phrase was originally a way of a speaker "checking in" with the listener. Perhaps it really meant, "Do you know what I mean? Do you understand what I am saying?" I am not sure how it originated, but when I hear it, I want to shout back, "No, I don't know!"

IT DRIVES ME CRAZY! (Did you get that yet?)

Good storytellers don't do that (unless you are creating a character and/or affect). Good storytellers use clear, uncluttered language.

So, I went to the store and there were all these weird things on the shelves. I was looking at them, and I was freaked out. I picked up this one thing and it was so strange. I had no idea what it was.

I do understand that this is a speech pattern that has been learned over time. As a storyteller, it can destroy your credibility.

If it is something you do, find a way to change it. If you are not sure if you do it, record yourself and listen back. Or better yet, ask a trusted friend to listen to you and be honest about what they hear. If you do it, you CAN change it. It may take some conscious effort. 

Thanks for reading this "rant" tip. I was like, I just had to write it, like, you know?
 


#189 - 12/7/2015
Get It In Writing!
I know that we would all rather just work on a handshake and trust, but some things need to be in writing. One of them is a written contract or agreement between the YOU, the Teller and the Client. If only to assure a smooth program, it is a necessity. 

There are all sorts of “standard” agreements out there. You can find some on the WEB, or ask your colleagues what they use. Personally, I like the term agreement vs. contract as it sounds gentler, but many actually use the word contract as it sounds more legal.
 
Having a binding agreement carries some weight, should you have to resort to legal action. Having this type of agreement can also forestall any legal action on the client's part, as it tells them you are a serious business person.
 
A written contract or agreement shows the client you are a PROFESSIONAL!
 
By the way, colleague, friend and long-time storyteller and storytelling business guru Sean Buvala is quite knowledgeable in this area. For those wishing more info/counseling on contracts and agreements, I suggest a session with Sean. 
 
In the mean time, here is an example of a simple agreement (and by no means comprehensive, but should help you get started):
My comments are in red and are not part of the document
 

Agreement for Service

Agreement Date: 12/1/2015
Service Date: 12/30/2015
Client: City Wellness Foundation
Contact: Willy Hireyu
Make sure the dates are correct!

This document shall serve as a binding contract between Anita Job (Performer) and City Wellness Foundation (Client). Legalize - also, this verbiage allows you to make up a template and not have to insert their name in each paragraph.

Performer agrees to provide “oral storytelling” to the Client and their group based on the following criteria.
Make sure they know what they are getting - not reading from a book!

Date of service: 12/30/2015
Starting time: 6:00 PM
Length of Program: Approximately 40-45 minutes
Venue/Location: City Wellness Foundation Offices, 20103 N. Anystreet, Phoenix, AZ  85062
Program Theme: End of Year Stories
Group Makeup: 30-50 Adults
Pretty standard, but make sure it's all there.

Client agrees to provide Performer with adequate and appropriate space as to facilitate the performance of storytelling. Client agrees that there shall be no (or very minimal) sound or activity distractions during the time of performance, including, but not limited to:

  • Noise or sound from any other speaker system or performers
  • Service staff activity
  • Other distractions that may impede the Performer or the listeners

How many times have you been drowned out by dishes clanging, service staff or other distractions?

Client agrees to compensate Performer in the amount of $100 (U.S.) in the form of a check. Check shall be presented to Performer at the event and made out to: Mark Goldman
Crucial! Get the price in writing! - You may want to add a deposit (non-refundable), or other monetary parameters.  

Performer will arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the program, and agrees to provide storytelling and stories appropriate to the group as discussed with the contact.
This helps the client, and you may want to specify more so you are not blind-sided when you arrive with a request that is out of the parameters you discussed.

Should the Client have cause to cancel this event, Client will compensate the Performer in the amount of $25.
A cancelation clause is always a good idea. You may want to specify "days out" parameters too.

In the extreme case of illness or other circumstances that might prevent the Performer from fulfilling these duties, Performer agrees to provide Client adequate notice, and provide an adequate replacement performer, of equal or greater experience, for the event, at the same compensation rate stated above.
This assures the client you are committed to their needs, and protects YOU too.

Should any of the above come into dispute, Client and Performer agree to enter into Mediation, with a local mediator of mutual agreement, to assist in the resolution of the dispute.
This is MY need. Mediation is a much better process than going to court, especially if the client wants to take action against you for any reason. Again, this is clearly stated and both parties agree to it.


___________________________  Date: 12/5/15  ___________________________  Date: ________
Anita Job, Performer                                            For Client
The person signing the contract may not be your contact person. 
By the way... MAKE SURE they sign it and return it to you WELL BEFORE the service date! Otherwise, you could be left out in the cold.

 

 


#188 - 11/30/2015
Personal Stories - A Powerful Communication Tool
Here are some excerpts from the recent workshop I did in Prescott.

When I was your age.

We've all heard the ubiquitous line of "When I was your age, I had to walk 10 miles to school...and 10 miles back to home...uphill...both ways!"

Let's think about personal tales in a slightly different way, not as a "lecture" but as a communication tool with someone you love. Maybe it's your son or daughter; maybe a niece or nephew; perhaps even your partner. A personal story told one-on-one can be a powerful tool that can help you make an important connection with that one, special listener.

Sharing our experiences and feelings through storytelling is the best way to connect with people. Telling personal and family stories is how we bond with and learn from our families and others. Stories handed down from generation to generation help preserve family history and memories. Family stories help give children a sense of “who they are” and “where they fit”; an all-too-often forgotten element of life.

Think about that person in your life that might need to hear your story. 
What might be important for them to know about you? What family history might be important for them to know and/or carry on? What might help them get a better sense of who you are, by understanding who you were? What might they need in the moment? What situations are they experiencing right now? What emotions are they feeling or struggling with? How might your story help them
Think about a time when you...
were very, very late for something
misjudged someone / were misjudged
got turned down for a date / turned someone down for a date
got stood up / stood someone up
gossiped about someone / were a victim of gossip
missed the plane or train
broke an arm or a leg, or some body part
broke something valuable
lost your temper
were embarrassed / embarrassed someone else
said “yes” to the wrong person / said “no” to the wrong person
said “yes” to the right person / said “no” to the right person
misread the recipe or directions
Did you find at least one prompt that struck a chord with you - something that might be important for you to tell, to that special someone? Focus in on that story/event, then think about the following:
Where were you? Who else was there? How old were you? What was your worst fear? What was your greatest hope? What hurdles did you have to overcome? How did you overcome them, or not? What emotions did you have? Who/what stood in your way? Who/what helped you? Did you succeed or fail? What was the outcome? Who/What changed?

Now you've got more than an anecdote, you've got a whole story...that needs to be told. You might even start it by saying:

Let me tell you a story about something that happened to me...when I was your age.


#187 - 11/23/2015

            Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Or Maybe Somewhere Else

Every year, just before Thanksgiving, The Wizard of Oz is broadcast on television. I watched it, again, last night. I have watched it before, many, many times. It is a great story, written by L. Frank Baum. It has stood the test of time, as a story and as a great movie. Over the Rainbow, which almost didn’t make it into the movie, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It became Judy Garland's signature song, as well as one of the most enduring ballads of all time.

I watched it with a slightly different eye this time. I began to wonder how many of us, storytellers or not, have ever felt the same as Dorothy and her three stalwart friends. I know I have. 
 
How many times have I felt as if I didn’t have a brain? How often have I been plagued by that feeling of not knowing what to do; what direction to go? How many times have I questioned myself, not trusted my intuition, yet made a decision in the end that was the right one for me? Oh, there have been a few missteps, but for the most part, I knew what to do. I knew what I needed to do. I knew what I had to do
 
How often have I felt the same sorrow and loneliness of the Tin Man? Was I left out in the rain because I didn’t have a heart, or a good enough heart? If I only had that “one” special someone to love, someone who would love me back, then everything would be alright. And yet, I have had those in my life whom I have shared deeply and intimately. And although those intense relationships may have not lasted as long as I had hoped, I look back and know that I have the capacity to love and be loved. The Wizard tells the Tin Man, “Remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” 
 
Courage! I struggle with it each day, and often doubt my ability to face the unknown. Sometimes in seemingly small ways or with small tasks, often when facing major issues or decisions. Second and third guessing is common to me. The most difficult – Do I have the courage of my convictions? Do I have the courage to do what I know is needed, even when the fear grips me like a giant vise? Somewhere inside I know that I must act. I know that not making a decision is also making a decision. And I have learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability act, even though the fear is there.
 
Like Dorothy, how many times have I wondered if there was a better place for me; that intangible “ideal” place. Dorothy's Aunt Em tells her to "Find yourself a place where you won't get into any trouble." This prompts Dorothy to wonder, "Some place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rainbow…” I too have wondered and dreamed about that elusive “paradise” where everything would be alright; no struggles, no worries, everything would be perfect.
 
At the end of the movie, although Dorothy "seems" to be in the land of OZ, Nirvana, she just wants to "go home." Glinda, the good witch, tells her, "You always had the power. You just had to find it out for yourself." In the end, like Dorothy, somehow I keep coming back to the same realization that, “If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
 
Who among us has not felt some of these things at some point in their life; yet also knows down deep that we have a brain, a heart, the courage, and a “home” inside of us?
 
As Thanksgiving approaches, we all ask ourselves, “What are we thankful for?” It’s a time when we try to focus on the good things in our lives, the people, the experiences, the parts of ourselves that make us who we are. And who we are continues to change and grow! All of who I am and experienced has helped me to be a better storyteller, a better teacher, a better coach and a better writer. And doing each of these things makes me better at all of them, and at being me, every day.
 
        
 
Remember, we all have abundance, both around us and inside of us.
For this, I am thankful.
 

#186 - 11/16/2015
The Heart of a Teacher

I listen to Dave Ramsey, the financial guru on the radio. The other day he answered a query from a listener about, "What questions should I ask when looking for and hiring a financial advisor?"

Dave replied that there are really no specific questions one can ask to find the right person. But he did say, "You need to find someone with the heart of a teacher. The role of a financial advisor is to advise. You are the one who should be making your own decisions."

I think this is also sound advice for storytellers looking for a coach.

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

Like that old saying, a good coach has the heart of a teacher and should find ways to help the teller understand what it is they want to accomplish, so they can make their own decisions regarding their story. A coach, or any other "critic" who says, "I think you should start the story this way" does little to assist the teller in understanding "why". Most often someone who tells you that is really saying, "If I were telling that story, this is how I would do it." But here's the problem, YOU are the one who is telling the story. You are the one who should make the decision, and understand how you came to that decision.

The process of teaching takes much longer than the process of merely "telling" someone what they should do. One might ask, "But isn't it really more expedient to just tell them?" Even if the suggestion is sound, without understanding and integrating the "why" of something, a person (or teller) will only be a reflection of the "advisor" vs. being themselves.

That being said, there are times when it might be helpful to give direct advice. Dave Ramsey always tells callers, "Don't buy whole life insurance. It's a terrible product." But he also usually tells them "why" he believes that. In the same way, a storytelling coach may tell you, "You need to speak louder." This is a practical matter of fact (not a matter of opinion). If they can't hear you, they won't be able to listen to your story.

Years ago, I was being coached by Doug Lipman, The Storytelling Coach. I was struggling with the tale I told. Doug asked me what the story was about. I gave him some glib answer. Rather than telling me what HE thought the story was about or what I should do, he said, "I'm not sure that's not what I heard." That set my mind spinning, but in a good way. For the next six months, I was constantly thinking about my story and trying to figure out (for me) what the story was about. One day it hit me. "Yes, THAT'S it!" Once I had understood and made that decision, the story, and all of its pieces, fell into place.

So when you need help, look for someone who will not just give you an answer. Look for someone who will give you ways that YOU can find YOUR answer. Someone with the heart of a teacher.


#185 - 11/9/2015
Turn Anything Into a Story
Contrary to the many statements about "everything is story" that are proliferating the internet, "Everything is NOT a story... but it could be."

Every day, we see and hear people, animals, objects, ideas, concepts etc. If one really thinks about it, all these things usually trigger emotions and memories for us. What if we were to be hyper-vigilant about all these things and ask ourselves, "Where does that fit for me? Do I have a story connected with that; a story that would stand up to all the criteria for storytelling?"

Here is a video that came across my Facebook page from a friend of a friend or a friend. It's a great little piece about what advice our "older" selves might give to our "younger" selves. Not only is it a great video, but it lends itself to what I am talking about.

First of all, the premise is one that is timeless regarding "I wish I had known that..." Second of all, listen to each of the individual statements. Are there pieces of your life that you can relate to? Perhaps you could craft a story about that. Or even a few short stories could become a "string of pearls".

Wait for the 93 year old. Priceless!

By the way... for my deaf students...the video is captioned!

And for ALL of my current GCC STUDENTS...
Watch the video. Then write a one-page (at least) (single spaced) story about one piece of advice YOU would give to your younger self. E-mail me a Word document by noon, November 24th. I will grant up to ten extra credit points!


#184 - 11/2/2015
Not so Fast ... Not so Fast!
Perhaps you've heard that phrase before. 

Perhaps you are thinking that this tip is about not talking so fast when you are telling. No, that is another post (It's Not a Race). This is about something else... but your assumptions may just prove my point.

I was making smoothies in a cheap old blender that I had. As the contents began to turn to frozen slush, it kept spinning without drawing the contents down to the blades. I had to constantly stop it and shake the contents and have them settle to the bottom, then start again.

So I bought a new fangled, expensive blender that was supposed to overcome that problem. I opened it with great anticipation of using pre-programmed buttons to complete my culinary tasks. I loaded it with juice and frozen fruit, and hit the automatic "smoothie" button. I watched as the same thing seemed to happen. The blades began to just spin. I turned it off. I tried again. The same thing. I was frustrated.

I thought, how could they market this if it didn't really work? What a racket! And then I thought... maybe it does work. Maybe I just have to wait. So I began again, but this time I didn't stop the machine once it began to spin. I waited. Eureka! It worked. All by itself, it slowed, then sped up, then it did it again. And it kept on blending and not spinning. All I had to do was trust it and wait.

So... where does this fit for storytellers?

First of all, as a teller, don't be so quick to dismiss a story at first glance. Take a second look. There might just be something there, maybe further or deeper into the story. Give it some time. If, in the end, it really doesn't work for you, you can merely return it to the shelf. Kind of like returning a blender to the store and getting your money back. You've only spent a small amount of time to make an intelligent vs. a quick or rash decision.

Second of all, as listeners, perhaps we need to trust the teller and the story when we listen. Don't be so quick to criticize, or dismiss the teller as "unpracticed" or "unseasoned". There may be value in truly listening to their "whole" story.

In the past, when coaching, I used to stop clients after the first few lines if I felt something needed to be addressed. Boy, did that ever put a damper on being a productive session. Now, my intent is to listen for as long as the client or student needs. Then wait some more. Then ask the client what they need, what are they looking for. If I take my time and don' make assumptions, I can usually get to a place where I say "yes" for both me AND the client.

Wait for it... wait for it...


#183 - 10/26/2015
The Ebb and Flow of a Story
This month, I presented my Ebb and Flow of a Story workshop in both Tucson and Phoenix. I will present it at least one more time at the Glendale Tellabration!™ (see listing above) on November 14th. Here is the main tip from the session.

I am a whitewater kayaker. When I first started to learn kayaking, my instructor said, "Anyone can 'bomb' down the center of a river and make it to the end of the run. But if you want to do it with finesse, you can use the ebb and flow of the river, the curves, the rocks, the eddys and the water itself to maneuver the kayak and make it a more interesting and enjoyable experience"

In the same sense, one can tell a story from beginning to end by merely relating the sequence of events. "This happened, then this happened, then this happened, ..." A more creative way to tell a story is to use the plot, the characters, their emotions, YOUR emotions, and the essence of the story itself (the 'main stream') to relate what you want the audience to know and feel. 

When do you slow down? When do you speed up? When do you pause, take breath, look to the side, look back, look ahead? How do you deftly maneuver the audience to experience the ebb and flow of the story, and the ebb and flow of their emotions?

You can examine this process by placing sticky notes on the wall to represent scenes, characters, objects, and even music, poetry or famous quotes. Start with the events of the story in chronological order. Then ask yourself, "What if?" questions. What if I reversed the order? What if I started with a different character? What if I told the story in flashbacks? What if I used music or poetry?

Using the metaphor of a river, and using sticky notes to "map out" the flow of your story can assist in viewing it from a different perspective. You can then make conscious decisions about how you want to tell the story, or even run the rapid!


#182 - 10/19/2015
The First Skill - Listening
This is a reprint of a tip from May 5, 2015

The best way to learn about storytelling is to first listen.

Listen to other tellers tell their stories...as many as you can. By listening (and watching) you will see and hear what the good tellers do. You may also watch and hear some not-so-practiced tellers. This is good too, Your job in listening is to start to understand what the great tellers do that makes them great, and what mistakes many unpracticed tellers do that get them in trouble.

When you listen to a teller, ask yourself some questions:

  • How did they make me feel? - How did they do that?
  • Did they paint a picture that I could see in my mind? - How did they do that?
  • Did I understand the essence and the flow of the story? - How did they do that?
  • Did the beginning engage me? - How did they do that?
  • Did the ending come to a clear conclusion and satisfy me? - How did they do that?
  • What parts of themselves did they use most? - How can I find the best parts of me to use?
  • Did they lose the audience at some point? What was needed to hold the audience's attention?

Listening to as many tellers as you can will be an education in itself. If you didn't like what they did, study it. Understand how you can avoid their pitfalls. If you LOVED them, study that part. How can you learn from that, and use yourself to develop your own successful storytelling space?

Listen to other kinds of speakers too. Newscasters, commentators, video bloggers, TED talk presenters, etc. What do these people do (or not do) that engages their listeners? Your answers will surely relate to the craft of telling stories.

I said in an earlier tip (Learn From The Masters)
Picasso did not paint like the Grand Masters that came before him, but rest assured that he studied them closely before he developed his own unique style.


#181 - 10/12/2015
Be Vewy, Vewy Careful
In the news industry, they're called "sound bites". Often, a sound bite is not only NOT the "whole" story, it's not even the "right" story. Many times a sound bite is used to "spin" a story a certain way, sometimes to the detriment of the person in the story. As Elmer Fudd says, "Be vewy, vewy careful", about what you read on the internet (or anywhere else" that may not be the whole story.

That said, certain types of sound bites, or cryptic phrases can be used by storytellers to "set up" the listeners to think one way, and then later reveal that it meant something else. Once again, Elmer's advice is crucial here. Be careful and wise about how and when theses are used.

A student of mine began his "fact based" story:

"My name is Tom, and I was the property of Benjamin Franklin."

He then continued on to tell us all the ways that he was treated by Franklin: "Had to sleep in the barn; only got fed once a day; was punished with a beating when he didn't obey, etc."

What were we all thinking? That Tom was a slave... but in fact, the teller revealed at the end of the story that Tom was Franklin's dog. This was a very effective technique, using the "assumption" that we all had to show us the analogy of the way a dog is treated to the way slaves were treated. It was well done.

The caveat here is that once an image is placed into the listeners' minds, it may be hard to change. Consider the following statement.

The man insisted that the girl sleep in his bed!

What's your initial reaction? What are you thinking, feeling? As a "sound bite" it could be very disturbing. If one goes further, the image of the man could get worse and worse.

They argued. Their voices got louder. The girl did not want to and said, "There is NO way I will do that!" The man countered, "I will just find a way to force you to."

Pretty strong words, evoking high emotions, right? The longer one continues with this thread, the harder it may be to come back from a dangerous feeling or assumption.

But what if THIS were the scenario:

The man insisted that the girl sleep in his bed! "You are the guest in my house. the couch is too hard. I insist that you take the bed and I take the couch!"

Well, now, that's a whole different kettle of fish - isn't it?

It can be an effective technique, But we always have to ask ourselves, "What will the listeners be feeling? Do I want them to feel, assume that? If I go too long, will I be able to get them back? Will it all SERVE the story?

Stories that start one way and later shift can be very effective. But remember to "Be vewy, vewy careful!"


#180 - 10/5/2015
The Martian - Great Movie and Great Advice
In the new movie with Matt Damon, The Martian, Damon's character is stranded on Mars, all alone. No alien space monsters to fight, only the harsh elements of the planet, and the limitations of food, water and electricity; and any random "glitches" that put seemingly impossible hurdles in his way. This could be another metaphor for STORYTELLERS.

The character's response to this overwhelming predicament?

If there is a problem, you figure out a way to solve it until it’s over. You have to solve one problem... and then solve the next problem, and then solve the next problem, and if you solve enough problems, you get to go home.

Storytellers are not actually ON Mars, even though we often feel like we are that far away and isolated. But the advice can be translated to what we need to do to help ourselves survive and thrive in the "outer space" of storytelling. I have written before about what to do when you don't have access to a coach, using Role Reversal.

The situation of of being (or feeling) completely stranded goes a bit beyond role reversal. In necessitates using your knowledge and a lot of science. That's right, the "science" of storytelling. Damon is a botanist who uses both his basic (water is H2O) and his advanced knowledge ("now I just have to figure out how to make it").

As storytellers, we know the basics of telling: Story-Storyteller-Audience; Stories have a Beginning-Middle-End; The Hero's Journey; Donald Davis Five Ps; Doug Lipman's MIT (Most Important Thing) etc. We also have to figure out "how to make it. What are the right measurements of each element? What goes in first? What comes out last? What do we want it to taste like?

And like Damon, we have to experiment. His first attempt at making water literally blows up in his face. He regroups, figures out the problem, and tries again - and succeeds. 

Storytellers must do no less - understand each problem unto itself and work on solving it. Then go on to the next, and then the next. Experimentation - practice, practice and more practice lets us know what works and what doesn't. If you take each one, one-at-a-time and tackle it, and solve it, eventually you will be able to "go home".

You will have a "story".


#179 - 9/28/2015
Not Everything is a Story
Contrary to the most popular belief, at least on the internet and in the current plethora of business advice, not everything is a story. 

BUT... most everything can be turned into a story! Notice that I said, "can be turned into" a story. That means most of the time, you have to work at it.

You can take everyday, ordinary objects or occurrences and turn them into a story. Often, you can use the magic of "what if" (see my previous tip about using what if in a story you have already crafted). But let's start anew. 

Coming home to your dog (or cat, or other pet OR family). 
--- What if your pet could talk; or a family member couldn't and had to use gestures to communicate?

An encounter on the road with another driver (positive or negative).
--- What if you could hear their thoughts and they could hear yours? What if they misinterpreted EVERYTHING you thought?

Shopping in the grocery store.
--- What if the items on the shelf could talk? What if items started to "jump" off the shelf into your basket? What if the items in someone else's basket could talk? What might they say about that person? 

Dining in a restaurant.
--- What if the food recited all the calories it contained? What if the dessert spoke up and scolded you for ordering it? What if it was still screaming as you swallowed it and said, "I am going straight to your thighs? What if you could hear the waiter's thoughts? (Mel Gibson was in a movie where he could hear the thoughts of ALL the women he knew. Yikes!)

Your Family
What if your 3 year-old child started talking like a 35 year-old, or a Ph.D.? What if your spouse started talking like a 3 year-old? 

You can even combine incidents. What if the driver you had an encounter with showed up at the restaurant? What if a package of spaghetti sat across from you at the restaurant and said, "I cost a lot less than what you are paying for this meal!"

The possibilities are endless. You should have a beginning, middle and end, but you only need an IDEA to get started. Then go to one of the many constructs for story: the Hero's Journey; Donald Davis' Five Ps; Davis' "world turned upside down" or any other plot line construct.  

Not everything is a story... but it could be.


#178 - 9/21/2015
Just Do It!
Lately, I have found myself both giving AND taking this advice.

Immortalized by the famous "Swoosh", the message is one that many new tellers have difficulty with. I seem to have more students this year who come to me with a list of several folk tales they might tell in class. They appear to be asking me, "Which one should I tell?" I never give them a direct answer. Oh what a wicked, wicked teacher I am!

Most often, I ask, "Which one do you love the most?" They often reply, "All of them." So I give them the only answer that makes any sense, "Choose one." Their eyes open wide and glaze over in fear. My next sentence is, "The world will not come to an end, regardless of which story you choose."

Hesitation in making a decision can stop us from EVER making the decision. Sometimes we have to give ourselves the message from Nike, "Just do it!"

Recently, I was contacted by a large company requesting some storytelling. On the initial call, I convinced them that, based on their needs, a "workshop" would be more beneficial to them than just having me "tell" stories. The contact agreed, and said, "Send me a proposal and your fee."

That's when the hesitation set in. How much do I charge? What do I quote them? Is "X" too little? Is "Y" too much? I called a colleague. Their response, "Certainly not LESS than 'Z'." Hesitation...hesitation...then I remembered my attitude with my students. I also told myself, "What's the worst that could happen?" They may ask me to reduce my fee, or say they can't pay anything. In either case, I know how to counter.

So I took the proverbial bull by the horns and gave them an even "higher" (but fair) quote. I didn't flinch. And THEY didn't flinch either. It was a reasonable amount for the work work which they were asking. And they agreed.

Just do it! And let the chips, be they small or large, fall where they may!


#177 - 9/14/2015
Microphones - Friend or Foe?
I've written before about using microphones. I felt it was time again.

Many storytellers fear them. But I believe that's because they just haven't had time to practice with them. Like any other skill, using a microphone with some finesse takes some time, experience and practice.

Rehearsing at home with your own system is optimal, but if you don't have that capability, there are some alternatives. Get to the venue early for a "mic check". Try out the equipment. If that's not possible, take a moment when you get up to the mic to perform. 

First: ADJUST THE STAND (or ask the MC for assistance). If the mic is too high, don't merely swivel it to point down from above. Or if it is too low, don't bend down to talk "into" it (or you will be bending down for the whole story)! I will say it again as I believe it is important. ADJUST THE STAND and the mic so that it is not covering your face. It should be below your lips and a little above your chin. Speak across the top of the mic, not down into it.

Don't tap it. Don't blow into it. Greet the audience with a few words.
And here's the important part: LISTEN TO YOURSELF!

As you greet the audience and say a few introductory words, take that moment to listen to how you sound on the system. Use the sound that you hear to assess whether the mic is "hot" and you need to back off a little, or "dead" and you need to move in close. You also need to know which parts of your story use a louder or softer volume, so you may need to move in, or away from the mic at different times for the best effect.

Unless you are well practiced at using a "hand mic" LEAVE IT IN THE STAND. It takes even more experience to really know how to use gestures and your body while you are also holding the mic.

Here's a great example of expert use of a microphone. Betty Buckley performing Memory from Cats. This video is from 1984, on the Johnny Carson show. It shows how she understands her voice, the volume, and what the microphone is receiving and sending out to the system.

Due to Youtube restrictions, I am unable to embed the video on this page, but click on Betty's photo to open a new window and watch this five minute video. Notice how she moves it in and out depending on how she is singing softer or louder. This is finesse! It is clear here that the microphone is her "friend"! Oh yeah, enjoy the song and the way she sings it too!


#176 - 9/7/2015
It's Not Really a Dinosaur
Although to some younger folk, it sounds like a dinosaur...it's really not. It is actually one of the best tools a writer (and storyteller) has.

What do you do when you are searching for that "perfect" word or phrase? Where do you go? Do you spend hours wracking your brain, gnashing your teeth, and going through various machinations to try and come up with the definitive descriptor for your thoughts?

It could be (should be) right at your fingertips...or your mouse!

The thesaurus is one of the best tools we have for exploring the possibilities for our stories. It can help you find just the right word, or it can lead you in a totally new direction that may result in a far better story.

From Wikipedia:

In antiquity, Philo of Byblos authored the first text that could now be called a thesaurus. In Sanskrit, the Amarakosha is a thesaurus in verse form, written in the 4th century.
 
The first modern thesaurus was Roget's Thesaurus, first compiled in 1805 by Peter Mark Roget, and published in 1852. Since its publication it has never been out of print and is still a widely used work across the English-speaking world.[4] Entries in Roget's Thesaurus are listed conceptually rather than alphabetically. Roget described his thesaurus in the foreword to the first edition:

It is now nearly fifty years since I first projected a system of verbal classification similar to that on which the present work is founded. Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classed catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as the Thesaurus now published.

Pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or bookmark some online versions:
http://www.thesaurus.com
http://www.thesaurus.com/Roget-Alpha-Index.html

So when you need that perfect word, don't gasp, inhale, pant, puff or respire, just consult your thesaurus!


#175 - 8/31/2015
Common Sense - Not so Common
I have added one piece of information to the syllabus for my Community College classes. I am not sure if it really works, but I think it is noteworthy. I also believe it is applicable to storytelling and life.

IN THE ABSENSE OF ANY SPECIFIC WRITTEN OR ORAL GUIDELINES

                                                     


#174 - 8/24/2015
Just Keep Dancing
That's one of the lines from the recent show that Dustin Loehr and I did at the Herberger Theatre. It's also one of the lessons that Dustin learned as a tap dancer. Whether you fall on stage, a telephone rings, the lights go out, etc., "No matter what happens, just keep dancing."

For storytellers, there are two sides to that maxim. And they are both valid, depending on the circumstances.

Go with the flow and incorporate it.
As storytellers, one of the things we have the ability to do is improvise, especially when something goes wrong. If an audience member's phone rings, incorporate it into the story. "And then the Wolf's phone rang, but it was a wrong number." Or, "The Wolf's phone rang, but he was in the middle of his story, so he didn't answer it...and then he turned off the ringer!" Then, move on with the story.

Don't stop, just keep dancing
Often, the situation calls for NOT acknowledging the interruption, mistake, or accident. These are times when to do so would bring further attention to the incident and take away from or not serve the story. In the show with Dustin, one time I jumped ahead and missed a whole section. Dustin was a trooper and merely adjusted his lines to accommodate the missed piece (THANKS Dustin!). One afternoon in the same show, an audience member's phone DID ring, TWICE! There was nothing we could do to incorporate the distraction, so we just went on with the show (the lady did apologize afterwards).

You can practice forever, and try to think of every possible mistake, interruption or distraction, but the reality is that making that decision is instantaneous, and only comes from experience. The more you tell, the more instinct you will have regarding whether you should say something...or just keep dancing!


#173 - 8/17/2015
Never Work with Animals or Kids
It's an old adage from vaudeville. Never work with (or go on after) animal acts or kid acts. They will upsatge you, or make you forgotten every time!

But there is another side to this admonition...Tell Stories about Animals or Kids and you will grab the hearts of the audience!

These stories can be traditional folktales or fairy tales, maybe some weird, macabre old Irish tales like Cassie Cushing loves to tell. Or just some straight forward stories of kids and their animal friends, (talking or not) that will make the audience smile and remember their own encounters with furry friends.

Take things a step further and reach into your own life (and perhaps childhood) and tell a true story of you and your pets. Or maybe it's about your kids and their pets. Find a compelling story that people can relate to in as many ways as possible. Maybe you didn't have a pet like Lassie who could go get help when you fell down the well, or could even dial 911 when the fire department had to be called to put out the blaze you had set.

But maybe your pet just stayed with you till the end. Maybe you encountered an animal in the wild, who wasn't so wild and you found a way to share some kindness. Maybe, like Androcles, you helped a small animal or set them free. Did they come back to help or rescue you at some point? If it's story-worthy, tell us the tale and astonish us with the miracles of life that we don't often see or hear about. Let your stories come alive with the personifications that create compelling creature characters to care about.

Those stories will be remembered!


#172 - 8/10/2015
Connect the Dots
It's not "Paint by Numbers" but you do need to connect the dots, Remember that old game?

As often said, there is no "template" or real "formula" for creating a story. There are some guidelines (Beggining, Middle, End) and there are some clearly defined plot lines.

Please see Loren Niemi's The New Book of Plots. This is a wonderful boook with great insights to storytelling and a specific list of many "plots" that may help you decide on a structure for your story. And the updated version has exercise at the end of each chapter to help you place your story in a particular mode.

But if we go back to the basics of storytelling, one of the most important thinigs we need to do is connect the dots.

This means paying attention to at least three things:

  1. What's the story about?
  2. Does each part connect to the what the story is about?
  3. Does each part connect to the previous and subsequent part?

What's the story about?
I have often said that this is crucial. Once again, I will cite Doug Lipman, the Storytelling Coach, who asks us to understand what is the Most Important Thing (MIT). Keep this simple! Remember, it's not about the succession of events: this happens then that happens.

What is the underlying theme? Is it about true love; unrequited love; forgotten memories; how anger destroys things; the indomitable human spirit? This is a decision that must be clearly made. Remember, after much crafting and many, many tellings... THIS MAY CHANGE! I mentioned recently that Bill Harley discovered after several years of telling a story, that it was really about something different than he had thought!

Does each part connect to what the story is about?
Find a way to make each part or section of your story connect to the MIT. Make sure it is linked, and not somewhere out there in left field, like an unused appendage. Be careful of veering to far away from the main trunk of your story to a branch or limb so far out, the audience (or you) may fall off.

Does each part connect to the previous and subsequent part?
Make sure there is a logical progression from one dot to the next. This doesn't necessarily mean chronological. There can be flashbacks or flash forwards, but make sure the navigation has some clarity; that each piece follow and leads in an understandable way.

It can be helpful to list all of the scenes or moments in your story on a sheet of paper and follow the connections. Even better - put each moment on a sticky note and place them all on the wall. Make note of how each one connects to each of the concepts identified, and to each other. If the flow doesn't fit, try changing the order. Add or delete pieces. But make sure you connect all the dots!


#171 - 8/3/2015
Never Stop Learning!
I cannot say this enough. Keep on learning. At the NSN Conference, it was so affirming to see so many seasoned tellers attending the workshops of their colleagues. We must all follow in their footsteps. Attend a class or workshop. Use a coach. Get together with a "story buddy". Collaborate with a friend or colleague on a project. 

Every little bit of knowledge will assist you in your storytelling and move you to a higher level.

Don't stop!


#170 - 7/27/2015
Good Advice from a Crotchety Old Father
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Poloius has the best advice for his son, Laertes, but it also fits for storytellers. "This above all else - To thine own self be true."

The reality is that it's hard to NOT be yourself. Often, storytellers try to be different from who they are. Sometimes they even try to be like other storytellers they have seen, or even admire. In the end, you will only become a weak imitation of someone else.

Rather than trying to emulate another teller, try to enhance and underscore who you are. Think about what techniques that teller has used to mold them into who they are. How have they gone about refining their storytelling personae? What are their likes and dislikes? What stories do they LOVE (the first rule of storytelling)? What makes them unique?

Then, ask yourself the same questions. How can you zone in on the YOU that is a storyteller? How can you best show that to your audience? How can you be true to yourself, true to the story and true to your audience, all at the same time? Isn't that the ultimate goal of a storyteller?
 


#169 - 7/20/2015
Story Inspiration - The Signs are Everywhere
Where do stories come from? Our imagination! Sometimes the imagination needs a catalyst, something that piques our interest. Where does that inspiration come from? Just look around you.

It might be a young girl with lavender hair in the middle of the square in Dublin. It might be the immensity of Stonehenge in England. It might be a small hat in a shop in San Diego; one side a crown, the other a frog.

Or it might be a sign along the street.

Oxley Woodwind & Brass
Repair Specialist

The sign caught my eye. I pulled over to inquire. The storefront was empty. A workplace no longer in existence. I wrote down the name. I searched online. I called the number; out of service. Then, my imagination began to expand.

Who was this man, Oxley? How long did he own this shop? How long had he been repairing instruments? How did he learn his craft? How did he become a "specialist"? What happened to him and the shop? Why or how did it fade away?

These are some of the many questions I had. The answers, whether real or created out of the deep recesses of my mind, could be the makings of a good story. 

So keep your eyes and your imagination open to the signs that are everywhere!


#168 - 7/13/2015
Stretch, Plie, Balance, Warm-Up
A dancers' warm-up: stretch, plie, balance. An athlete's warm-up: bend, stretch, sprint, run, throw. A musician's warm-up: scales, breath, runs, hold long notes. A singer's warm-up: breaths, scales, tongue trills.

A storytellers warm-up: Sit until your turn comes up.

All too often, that's what it seems to be, but we should really follow the example of all the folks above. We should warm up our storytelling instrument.

Storytellers need to warm up like any other performer. They need to prepare their voice, body, arms face and mind for the process of performing (or even simply telling) a story.

Storytellers need to stretch, make their bodies soft and pliable, even if your character is supposed to be "stiff". Your instrument needs to be tuned. 

Storytellers need to warm up their voices. Do mouth exercises to stretch their lips and vocal chords. Pop some "Ps, Ns, and Ms" to get crisp sounds and smooth transitions. Breath in and out.

Storytellers need to stretch their arms and legs. Check your posture and balance. Check your gestures for relevance and flow. Do your movements come from deep inside your core?

Then, when you are ready, just before you go on, take a moment; a breath. It's Showtime!


#167 - 7/6/2015
TWO - TWO - TWO TIPS IN ONE!
Some of you may remember that paraphrase of the old Certs commercial. 
I am re-posting a video by Sean Buvala from last week regarding Using Microphones. It is spot on!

Four Minutes in (Mic) Heaven

So, we did a little Periscope video this week on using a microphone. Then, we messed around with it and created this four minutes in (mic) heaven. Just goofing a bit. #storysat

Posted by Storytelling on Saturday, July 4, 2015


And...
Here's a blog post about microphones that I wrote way back in 2012 - My Tirade on Microphones! Enjoy.


#166 - 6/29/2015
More Weight, More Reps, Longer, Faster
Physical therapy on Monday morning. Everyone rested and rarin' to go after the weekend...at least my therapist is! After a few assessments about "how far you've come", he started in on a regime that pushed my envelope way out of shape, and out of my comfort zone. I hated it...but I knew it was necessary.

Storytelling can be similar. In my beginning classes, I don't push the students too much. For many of them, just getting in front of the group without throwing up is a success! As they progress and know more about the process and their stories, I push a little harder. I ask them to do more.

With coaching clients, I do the same. I go deeper, and ask them to go deeper. Tell it again, one more time. Do it faster, do it slower. Add some gestures. Add some body movement and facial expressions. Add some pauses. Try it again. Add more weight. Try it again.

The mantra of the physical therapist is, "One more set, one more rep." 

The mantra of the storyteller should be, "Let me practice it one more time, so I can tell it better the next time."


#165 - 6/22/2015
Don't Just Customize - Personalize
We've had many discussions regarding playing to your audience, and that you need to know who they are and shape your stories for them. You could go a step further than customization, you could personalize.

I often tell The Faithful Wives to groups of women as it is a story about strong women. Recently, I took the story up a notch. I met a woman named Liz, who I discovered was taking lessons in fencing and swordplay. She had asked for a story, so I changed the middle of the story in this way.

But it was Lady Elizabeth that came to the Duke and said she had a better idea. Elizabeth was a fiery redhead who could wield a sword as well as any man in the castle, and she was a clever as a fox.

My "audience" was one person (oh yeah, did I mention she was a redhead?), and I believe she will remember the story for a long time. But you could do this in a large group too. Personalize some part of it for the group, OR for an individual in the group. If there is a "star" in the group, the leader or organizer, personalize something for them so they can stand out.


#164 - 6/15/2015
Memorialization
What stories do you have about memorialization? Preserving the memories, how do we do it? How have you done it?

In the early days of the Apple Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs and the team that created the Macintosh wanted to memorialize their work. The world had never seen anything like the MAC. Do you remember that iconic, classic commercial with the Orwellian society; the girl running with the hammer and smashing the big screen? Did you know that it was only shown on TV once, on the Super Bowl? Only once!

The original MAC was inspired by Job's study of calligraphy, and it had many cursive fonts, a far departure for the few static fonts that the PC or even the original Apple had. But the manual didn't list all the fonts. The team knew that the users would play around with the keyboard. With some seemingly random combinations of different keystrokes, one could get some very interesting characters on the screen.

But they wanted to memorialize all of their efforts. How could they do that? They had their signatures etched into the cabinet that held all the parts. Most people never saw it. But for the dreamers, the nerds that ventured to open up the cabinet, they would find the names of the creators, etched in stone (or plastic), so to speak, for all eternity.

  Read the whole story here


#163 - 6/8/2015
Peaks and Valleys
Have you looked at a mountain lately? South Mountain? Piestewa Peak? Or look to the east of Phoenix to the Superstition Mountains? Or maybe you have a few mountains where you live?

What do you see? Not just a smooth, curved arc. Not just a rise on one side and falling on the other. You see many peaks and valleys. If you look closely, you will discover what are called "saddles". Those are the small places where you can rest, where the terrain is flat. It usually forms a small connection to the next rise.

Stories should be like mountains; with peaks and valleys; with little places to rest, with a great pinnacle near the end, and sometimes a soft, gentle down slope...the denouement.


#162 - 6/1/2015
If You're Not Irish - Forget About It!
Or Jewish, or French, or Italian...or any other nationality that is not YOU!

Storytellers generally agree: If you ain't got it, don't use it - accents, that is.

Accents are difficult. Unless you come from a specific culture, you shouldn't use them. In Liz Warren's The Oral Tradition Today: An Introduction to the Art of Storytelling, she cautions, 

"It's risky and can easily end in failure and offense. Here is the bottom line: only use an accent or a dialect if it is one that you have mastered and you know you can use with integrity and without causing offense."

Even most actors have a hard time with accents. If you look at the credits at the end of any movie where an actor uses an accent, you will always see a dialect coach listed.

Liz Weir has said that, "You really can't affect an Irish accent, as they change geographically every fifteen miles!"

Two years ago I was in Dublin, buying a ticket on the ferry to England. I stopped a man at the station to get some information and clarification about where to board. He knew immediately that I was from America (duh) and we chatted for a bit. Before parting, I said something to him, trying to use what I thought was an Irish accent. He turned to me, screwed up his face, looked me right in the eye and said, "That's the WORST Irish accent I have ever heard!"

'Nuff said.


#161 - 5/25/2015
Where do Stories Come From?
This is not just a question children may ask. Certainly, many newbie tellers ask, "How do you find stories?" There are many answers to the question. If we put aside, for the moment, folk tales, fairytales and other traditional stories, we are left with a variety of genres, including personal, fact based, family, etc. So where do these "non-structured" stories come from? The answer, again, is "many places".

I am told that the great Donald Davis writes in his journals each night. He jots down all the people he encountered, and all the places he experienced. Donald has always said that a story starts with people and places.

Many coaches and teachers tell us that we need to know what the story is about before we begin. More and more, I am not so sure about the timing of that. I believe that before we tell in front of an audience, yes, we must know that. But we may not know the real answer at the very beginning. Just as a new baby has no real idea of what they will become, or "grow into", stories can get started without knowing the outcome.

Be on the lookout!
For what? Be on the lookout for ANYTHING that will spur your imagination and creativity. It could be a melody you hear; a piece of clothing you or someone else is wearing; a shard of glass along the sidewalk; a curious sign in a shop; words that a passerby utters; a photo; the way two people are interacting in the mall...or anything that stops you for a moment and makes you think.

Be open to what is around you. A story may not come from one single element. Perhaps it will be the succession of three things happening one day. Perhaps it will be different pieces of advice that people have given you. Maybe it starts with you noticing the colors of the things around you, or the shape of the clouds. What are the connections? What are the similarities, or differences that could have some meaning for you?

You don't always have to "start at the beginning" or know everything about the story and the characters. Sometimes you just have fragments or pieces that you are not sure how they fit together. That is when the creativity and crafting begin. Trust the process, and don't be too impatient. It may take time for the images to coalesce.

Wait and see all of the things that come out of that magic hat...then take your time to decide...what could they be? What story would they tell?


#160 - 5/18/2015
Who's Not There?
When we first hear or read a story, we naturally focus on the characters that are presented. Regardless of the genre, we are presented with characters that are most integral to the specific story. Even in a personal story, we may leave out the role of someone who was there, but was not so deeply involved, so we "edit" the story and do not include them. There is an alternate road to take.

When I was a therapist, I would attend "patient staffings". These were gatherings of all the essential therapists, nurses, doctors and other staff who had, or would have contact with the client. The purpose was to understand the "history" of the patient, what brought them into the hospital, and what the best plan of treatment might be. Even then, I would listen to the "story" of how the client came to be in treatment.

As an example, the patient might be an adolescent girl who had run away, or tried to commit suicide. Her mother might have been a single mother, who was alcoholic. There was a long history of the young girl acting out and power struggles between the daughter and mother.

Everyone in the room would start to offer suggestions as to the level of treatment. I would stop and think about the story I just heard, and wonder, "Who is absent from this picture? Who is not there in the story? Where is the Father?" This piece had been seemingly left out of the explanation of the "current" situation. To me, It was essential to ask the question, and understand the connection.

I believe storytellers can benefit from the same type of questioning: "Who is not there? Who is left out? Who 'might' be there?" And even more... "If inanimate objects could talk about this, what would they say?"

Example: Goldilocks and The Three Bears

Where are Goldilocks' Mother and Father? Why is she wandering in the woods alone? What happened just before she went into to the woods? Has she been like this before, mischievous, destructive, and broken into other houses?

How long have the Bears lived in this house? How did they build it, or buy it? What if the chairs and beds and walls could talk? What would they say about this family?

These are just a few. Perhaps they will help us develop a "back story" so we may have greater understanding of the story and characters' motivations.

But they also may lead to a new story; one that includes the "other" characters. What would happen to the story if we added Mr. and Mrs. Goldilocks?

The possibilities are endless!


#159 - 5/11/2015
How to Pick a Good Knee Surgeon...
...or a good plumber, dentist, landscaper, therapist...or a storytelling coach.

That's right, finding the right coach, for you, is just like finding any other type of vendor. Get referrals; make contact; communicate with the person; find out if they are a good fit for you.

Over the years (since I used to be a therapist) people have come to me and asked for a recommendation for a good therapist. I would first ask them what they were looking for in a counselor, then make a few recommendations. But then I would always add on, "If, for some reason, you are not happy with this person, try another."

What? "You mean I don't have to choose the first doctor I see and stay with them?" No you don't. Or the first coach either.

Are you looking for someone to tell you what they think? Are you looking for a coach who will give you direct, no-holds-barred critiques? Perhaps you want a coach who will walk you through a series of steps so you can make your own decisions. Do you want someone to hold your hand through the process? Maybe you want a coach who will give you tons of praise and appreciations. Or maybe you want a coach who will, "Just tell you the bad stuff."

It's your time, your money and your sensibilities. It's what you want (and what you can afford). But even the expensive coaches (surgeons, etc.) may not be a good fit for you. And don't forget, you could hire one type of coach today, and need a different type tomorrow. If you have a gig in two days, you may need a coach who can tell you 1-2-3 what the best steps are. A different kind of coach may be needed if you want someone to help with a long-term project that will work hand-in-hand with you along the way.

All coaches (like all storytellers) are different. And that's a good thing. You have many from which to choose. Ask for references. Who have they coached in the past? If that person liked them, ask why. Then, give them a try. If you like them, stay. If not, move to the next. Find one that's a good fiy for you and for your story.

Bu the way...my knee surgeon is Dr. Russell Chick. I highly recommend him.


#158 - 5/4/2015
Improv Stories - The Next Level
Those who attend the East Valley Tellers of Tales on a regular basis know that we encourage tellers to try doing an "Improv" story. Here's how it generally works. The teller asks for three words from the group. These words may be related in some way...or not. The object is NOT to try and stump the teller, but rather to come up with words that tune into the teller's current feelings and/or state of mind.

The teller then tells a story that must incorporate those three words in some way. It may be literal, or may take other forms of imagination and crafting. This "exercise" came from our colleague, friend and storyteller Laura Packer. Laura has said, "Don't try to create the whole story before you start. Begin with one image. Use and trust your image engine to take you where you need to go." It has proven to be quite a triumph for those who have embraced the challenge! 

Here's the "next step" in this exercise/challenge: Tell an Improv "Pourquoi" story.

Ask the group for four words. These are just suggestions. They have worked for me, you may decide on some other designations:

  • An animal
  • An inanimate object
  • A disaster
  • An emotion

I have tried this in the Guild Group, and also in my classes, and it has produced some interesting stories, like, "How the Giraffe Saved the Peach-Faced Love Birds from the Earthquake", and "How the Dragons Saved Their Children from the Hurricane."

Remember...it's an exercise...but it could turn into a full-blown story!


#157 - 4/27/2015
Having the Audience Decide the Ending
What were your feelings at the end of he movie, Inception? The camera zoomed in on the spinning top...and then...CUT! We never REALLY found out if it was reality or a dream. The director wanted YOU to decide for yourself. Did you get contemplative? Or did you want to burn down the theatre?

I have written about endings before (click here). Today, I wanted to touch on the concept where you let the individual members of the audience make their own decisions about how the story ends. Be cautious about using this technique, as audience members may become dissatisfied or even angry at the fact that YOU did not provide them with a concrete ending!

I came across this while continuing to work on my original story, The Princess and the Storyteller Frog. Previously, at the end of the story, when the Princess kisses him, he DOES turn into a prince, they get married and live happily ever after. I discussed this story with my students, and continued to ask them, "What's the story about?"

Since the answer to the question is really, "TRUE LOVE", I began to think more about the ending. If that is the real meaning of the story, then the frog does not HAVE to turn into a Prince. If the Princess really loves him for "who and what he is" (and not his looks or whether he is a prince), then she loves him no matter what. The closer I got to this "most important thing" (Doug Lipman's MIT) the more I realized I should change the ending.

I am working on the actual language to use. Do I tell the audience, "You decide." Do I merely not address any possibility of transformation but say that they did get married and lived happily ever after? There are many possibilities...I am working on lots of different ones. Suggestions in the comments are most welcome.

When you are working on your OWN stories, ask yourself if it needs a concrete ending. Ask yourself what the ramifications of letting the audience decide for themselves. Try one out and see how it fits!
 


#155 - 4/14/2015
You Charge for Telling Stories?
A continuation of last week's Tips and Tidbits concerning BEING a Professional Storyteller...and charging a fee.

As artists we must realize that consumers have a long-held misconception that "art" should be FREE, or at least not be expensive, unless, of course, the artist is dead! There are some artists/storytellers who believe we need to educate the public regarding all of our "costs" (computer, office space, postage, wardrobe, etc.), in order to convince them (and justify) that we need to be compensated for them. I do not.

I believe that as artists, we must educate the public to only two things: 

"This is what I do for a living."
"There is value to what I do." 

So, how does one decide what to charge? How do you present that initial "offer" to the client? (My usual fee is a bazillion dollars!) How do you respond when the client says they can't pay that much? What do you do when they ask you to do it for free? 

...As this is an imortant subject, it takes a little more space than the Newsletter. Please visit my blog for the whole answer.


#154 - 4/6/2015
So You Want to be a PROFESSIONAL STORYTELLER
Caveat Relator (that meas STORYTELLER BEWARE - as in Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware)

Our Friend/Colleague/Toryteller/Coach Sean Buvala has reposted some great advice for those who are thinking about entering the world of Professional Storytelling and attempting to make a living from it. (see MY caveat above). Sean's advice (and the link to a article about, "Performance Nightmares: I wish I..." is priceless!
 
10 Pieces of Quick, Blunt Advice for Those Who are Starting Out on the Road to New "Professional" StoryTeller-dom.
 
(He actually gives you a DOZEN Tips - two for free!)
1. "Professional" is about you and your ability to deliver, as a storyteller, above and beyond what your clients need. Professional is knowing what those needs are before your client knows they have them. If you call yourself "professional" just because you make money at it, stop. Always give value above and beyond what your client has paid for. Give, give, give.
 
2. You need a storytelling repertoire of at least twice what your client seeks. If they want 1/2 hour, then you need at least an hour. If you want to work festivals, you need at least six hours of no-repeat material and another two hours as back up...
Read the whole article here

#153 - 3/30/2015
Chapter Pauses
I have written previously about the use of pauses, but here's a term I just made up to describe a particular kind of pause and transition in storytelling. My thanks, and credit goes to Pam Faro for so deftly demonstrating how she uses pauses and breathing in her storytelling, that led me to this observation.

There are many differences between "written language" and "oral language." One of the most noticeable is that the storyteller controls the rate at which the story unfolds. In a book, the only real "pauses" are between chapters. One may go immediately to the next chapter, but in the story, usually, "some time has passed" before the next chapter. 

The "chapter pause" in oral storytelling does just that. It denotes the passage of time, short or long. It is a longer pause than usual. It's enough to let the audience know that "something else is happening...I won't tell you all of it, because the important part is coming up."

Pam told a story of when she was a little girl and got a new puppy. A heavy item fell on the puppy, and there was a flurry of activity, consternation, worry and fear. As her "small self'" she bent over and described all of the commotion in that moment.

Then, she took a long breath and pause. She stood up, changed her demeanor, her face and her body. She let "time pass". She then went to "the next chapter" in the story and said, "I remember being in the car with the puppy, and holding it on my lap."

What a great way to transition and move the story along! We didn't need to hear all about the blood, the accusations and recriminations, or even how they rushed to get the puppy in the car. The pause allowed us to know that time had passed, and the important part was that she was now sad and fearful as they drove to the hospital. The rest was not important. The next chapter was.

This is also a great way to "shorten" your story when time is limited. Cut out all the superfluous action; take that long pause for time to pass. Then turn the page and start the next chapter of the story. Trust me; your listeners will turn the page with you.
 


#152 - 3/23/2015
Don't Wait for Carnegie Hall!
We all know the old joke about the young man with a violin case, who seems to be lost on the streets of New York, asks an older man, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" He replies, "Practice, practice, practice!"

The sentiment is true. In order to perform in the larger venues, one must practice, and be practiced. So here's a tip...start small.

House concerts, like the one I did with Pam Faro this last week in Colorado, are a perfect way to get known and practice your craft in front of an audience. These house concerts are different from a guild meeting or story circle, because you are not just practicing with friends, you are performing!

Unlike renting a theatre, or paying for a breakout room in a hotel, or finding a coffee shop that works, the costs are little or nothing. You might need some extra chairs (ask people to bring their own folding or "camp" chairs). You can provide snacks or drinks, or ask folks to BYOBeverages. You can charge a small fee ($3-$5), and break even, or perhaps donate some of the funds (charge a little extra) to charity (a great incentive for people to attend).

It's easy to promote, use e-mail and social media to invite friends, and friends of friends. You could do the whole evening yourself, or have several tellers. You are in control.

As you can see from the photo on the right, its different from performing on a stage. The audience is "up close and personal." This is also a good way to practice "reading the crowd". You will definitely know whether they like your telling when they are only five feet away!

If you start small, in both numbers and space, you have little to lose...and a lot to learn!


#151 - 3/16/2015
Questions Can Ground You in the Story
Master storyteller Donald Davis has said, “Storytelling is the way we move important pictures from our head to someone else’s head ... and you can never spend too much time describing the scene if you want people to see your picture.”

When I was a Psychodrama therapist, the major portion of what we asked clients to do was to “play out” a scene (using members of the group) that would show us part of the “story of their life.” People who had never seen this process often wondered, “How can you do that? How do you know what actually went on; what the other people in their lives were like; what everyone said?”
 
We developed a series of questions to ask the client to get the information we needed. I have found that these questions can help storytellers ground themselves and help them to actually see the characters and the scene – before they begin to craft the story. The answers to them can then be shared in the story in describing to the audience, the People and Place.
 
Here are the questions. 
How old is this person?
What do they look like?
What kind of work do they do?
Describe their personality in just a few words.
Describe their relationship to (each other person) in just a few words.
 
Where does the scene take place?
Describe what is here; what does the space look like?
Is there some object here that is significant (to each of the characters)?
Describe the object and why it is significant (see another tip about using significant objects).
Try it out. You can certainly expand on these questions. They should give you a solid grounding in the back-story of each character.
 
Answer all the questions for each PLACE and each PERSON. Now you should have a head full of images that you can describe to the audience ... a story!

#150 - 3/9/2015
Be Story-Vigilant
These days, the buzzwords seem to be, “Everything is a story”. Not quite true (and if you know Sean Buvala, you know he is cringing right now!). But here’s the thing for storytellers … MANY things can be a story, you just have to be aware of them … and look for them.

Be “Story-Vigilant”. That means that you are looking at everything as a “potential” story (or part of a story). Whatever you may be looking at (or hearing), look at it through the lens of a storyteller. Here are two examples of tellers who are constantly on the lookout for stories:
I have been told that before he goes to bed each night, Donald Davis writes down two things in a book by his bed: all the people he encountered and all the places he went that day. True or not, this is a great way to store up information that could be crafted into a story later on.
Laura Packer has this on her blog:
Ever have a conversation in a public place and think someone might be listening and taking notes? That's me, over there, pretending to look out the window. 
Wherever you are, whatever you may be doing, be on the lookout for stories. You may not know “what the story is about” until later, just keep it in the back of your mind, or better yet, write it down. It may be a small anecdote, something strange of funny that happened at the grocery store, or while waiting for the cashier at the book store. It might be the strange color of the car that just passed you, or the way the two in the front seat seem to be arguing and gesturing at the top of their lungs. It could even be some graffiti on a wall, some song lyrics have originated that way.
 
A couple of years ago, while in Dublin, I saw a girl with lavender hair sitting on the steps in a small town square. I wrote a little rhyme, it was all I could muster at the time.
A blue gingham jumper
And small saddle shoes;
She used the steps as a chair.
What was her story?
Where did she come from?
The girl with the lavender hair.
At the last NSN Conference in Phoenix, I was in a workshop where we analyzed the ghost story, The Vanishing Hitchhiker. Two seemingly unrelated incidents, but now I believe I have the beginnings of a derivative story. Perhaps I will see something today that will fill in the gaps, and a new story will emerge.
 
Now, where did I put those storytelling glasses?
 

#149 - 3/2/2015
Stop, Look, Listen ... Feel, Sense, Remember ... Craft
Remember the old adage about crossing the street? STOP, LOOK and LISTEN! Our parents were adamant about us being aware if there were cars coming.

That adage can work today for storytellers! What if we were adamant about the fact that there could be a story coming?

So often, there are stories all around us. Most of the time we go about our day and miss them. We are too busy. We have to get somewhere. Our minds are preoccupied. 

But what if we took our parent's advice for just a moment? What if we stopped, looked, listened, and then allowed ourselves to feel and sense what was around us? We could open ourselves up to all sorts of stories.

Consider this morning ... I opened the back door to look at the rain. I looked at it, I listened to it. I could feel the coolness of it. I asked myself, "What do I remember about the rain?" A flood (pun intended here) of memories came back to me:

  • Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain (and always imaging myself being him)
  • That morning in Canterbury, England when it wouldn't stop raining and we stayed in our tents as long as we could. In my journal I wrote: "Intense rain...in tents, rain."
  • The morning in another campground where we left in the cold rain, took three hours to bicycle and train back to Salisbury; I broke a bicycle wheel and we walked 20 minutes to the Good Heart hotel for a warm cup of tea and a warm bed.
  • The times when I was younger and loved to play in the rain and stomp in rain puddles ... it was only water!
  • The time when I was about five years old. It was raining hard and thundering outside. The phone rang and my Mother's friend had called to tell me that Mom was going to be late because she had been, "Caught in the rain." Believing this meant some strange rain monster had "caught" her, was preventing her from coming home to me, and how helpless she was - made me shake with fright.

There are many more, each one could be turned into a story by itself, or I could craft them all into a string of pearls about rain, fear, reluctance, acceptance ... or many other themes.

Or maybe I would be reminded of Noah and the great flood. Perhaps there are other folk tales, fairytales, or other genres with rain or water as the theme. The possibilities are almost endless.

But in order to get to that point, we have to Stop, Look, Listen ... Feel, Sense, Remember ... and then begin to Craft.


#148 - 2/23/2015
The Movie of My Story
The Oscars are over. Some films that you loved won, and some lost. But here's the "reel" tip for storytellers: You can use the concept of a movie to learn and remember your story.

You can use a storyboard, for sure, but some of us have difficulty translating images of stick  figures into the full Technicolor images we need to see in our minds.

One concept is to visualize all the scenes in your story as a set of images from a movie. Isn't that how we normally tell a story anyway?

When we relate an anecdote to a friend about what happened at the grocery store, we first SEE the sequence of events in our heads. We can recall the expression on that lady's face when we ran into her cart. We can see the look in her eyes, and hear the tone in her voice. Sometimes, we can even imagine what the background music might be as the scene progresses. 

We string these images (some still, some actually moving) together to make the whole story. Sometimes we stay in the role of the narrator, sometimes we play out all the characters in the scenes. Either way, we see it as a movie going on in the projector of our minds, then we describe to the listeners what we see on our screen.

Don't memorize the words, memorize the images, and remember the scenes from the movie.


#147 - 2/16/2015
Story Preparation Worksheet
I created a form that I use in my Community College Storytelling classes that has proved to be quite useful. The students must fill it out prior to even practicing their story in small groups. The information may change once they have told the story, or even several times before the do their required telling in front of the entire class

The form has some basic information about the story (title, origin, genre), but also has a few sections that I believe are important to help understand and craft the story in a more thoughtful and conscious way.

I recently updated the form and I am offering it here for evaluation and feedback. You may use the "comments" section at the end of this Newsletter, just as one does on Facebook.

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A PDF and WORD version of this form may be found at
www.StorytellersWorkbook.com
Feel free to download it, edit and use for yourself or your students as needed (with attribution)
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STORY PREPARATION SHEET


Student Name: ____________________________________________

Story Title: _______________________________________________

Author/Origin: _____________________________________________

Genre & Culture: ___________________________________________

Length of story: ____________ (must be between 5-8 minutes)

This may seem silly, but I believe the teller must know how long the story is when told, or at least have a "first draft" understanding of how long it will be. Many students don't understand the difference between "going over the story in their head" and actually speaking it out loud. Keeping them to between 5-8 minutes is a means to make sure they present enough content, and help them keep focused on the most important part(s) of the story.

What’s the POINT or THEME of the story? What's the story about?

"What's the story about?" is a question Doug Lipman (The Storytelling Coach) asks quite often after the story is told in a coaching session. I have also adopted this tenet. This question is so important, that I believe it is essential to know BEFORE one tells the story. Sometimes, this revelation comes after telling and working on the story for a long time, but if the student can approach the telling with some sense of the theme, they will be in a better position to do justice to their tale.

What do you LOVE about this story? 

Another question I learned from Doug Lipman. Most seasoned tellers will admonish newbies to "Tell Stories you love!" This is good, and knowing what you LOVE about a story BEFORE you tell it, can inform your whole being about how you might convey that in the telling.

What parts of YOU or YOUR OWN LIFE connect with this story? 

In Liz Waren'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.

From what VOICE (Point of View) will the story be told?
    First Person - WHO is speaking? 
    Third Person Omniscient (Narrator)?
    Second Person - WHO is speaking and to WHOM are they speaking?

Here, I ask the student to make a choice about the "voice" or Point of view of the story. I ask them to think about how the story might change in any way if it was told from a voice other than that of the traditional narrator voice.

First Line:_________________________________

Most storytellers agree that one should not memorize the whole story. But most also agree that tellers should specifically craft and memorize the first and last lines of a story. (See my previous Tip on First and Last Lines)

What will be the first line of your story? Is there something other than the traditional, "Once upon a time"? First lines can set the scene, tone of the story; introduce characters; tell when and where the story takes place, etc. But the first line must also draw in the audience and make them want to hear more.

Last Line: _________________________

How will you end your story? (See my previous tip about Endings) The end to your story needs to clearly say "The End", but it is best said in the context of the story. Endings should "put a button" on the story; wrap it up in some way...or not. An ending that leaves the audience wondering what really happened can be just as effective...sometimes. Again, the point I want to stress is that I want the student to give some thought to what their last line will be. Ending the story with a great line can make it the most memorable story the audience has ever heard. And isn't that part of what we want?

©Mark Goldman 2015

 


#146 - 2/9/2015
The Age of Vinyl - Don't Take The Scratches Out
The age of vinyl - NO - not the time when girls wore too-short vinyl skirts!

The Baby Boomers understand. It was long before MP3s and digital sound. It was even before CDs, and cassette tape...and even the infamous 8-Track!

It was the age of the phonograph record. I know, some of you have never even seen one!

But when you do listen to a record played on a turntable, there's something magical about it. It's not the filtered, processed sound that comes from digitally mastered recordings these days. No matter how new or pristine the record may be, it will always have a distinct sound, a slight crackle. The background noise that makes you feel as if you are there! It can even be comforting. 

When you are practicing (or performing) storytelling, you may want to think about the way those records sounded; not perfect (whatever that is), but real, alive. Don't worry about those tiny little flaws or missed gestures. Don't worry about saying "she" when you meant "he". Don't worry about a cough from an audience member when you are going for a silent, dramatic pause.

Just give your story life. Life isn't perfect or pure or filtered. Life has crackle and scratches. Let us see and hear them. It's what makes it real.

Don't take the scratches out of your records - or your stories.


#145 - 2/2/2015
It Ain't Over Till It's Over
Famous words from baseball great Yogi Berra. The quote, is attributed to Yogi In July 1973, when Berra's Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9½ games in the National League East. The Mets rallied to win the division title on the final day of the season.

Aha! Another metaphor for storytelling - actually in two ways.

I am always encouraging my students to "not give up." Quite often they are so nervous the first time they get in front of the class to tell a story, they want to stop before it's over. They lose their place, forget the sequence, have a mind block, etc.

Don't stop! Slow down. Take a breath. Regroup. Focus on the images (not the words). What was the last thing that happened? What's the next thing that happens? Sometimes it takes some prompting and encouragement, but if you stick with it, you'll make it through!

There's another side to Yogi's phrase. I believe: "It's never over!"

Some of you may remember my story about the Dance General, where I reveal that actors often do crazy things on the last night of a show because we believe, "We'll never do this again." But in storytelling, "We can always do this again!"

Unless you decide you hate the story you just told, or you are giving up storytelling forever, you can "ALWAYS TELL IT AGAIN!" Don't dwell on the mistakes you made. Take a tip from Connie Regan-Blake, give yourself an appreciation for what you did well. Then decide, "How will I change the story for the next time?"

The next time I tell? Yes! Remember, "It ain't over till it's over ... and it may never be over."
 


#144 - 1/26/2015
Can't See the Tree for the Branches
You know that old adage: You can't see the forest for the trees?

Well here is a similar one I made up for storytelling:
You can't see the tree for the branches. Think of the tree trunk as your MAIN THEME - What's the story about? Is it finding love; losing love; family is good, work sucks; I lost my way then found it...etc.

Stick to your TRUNK. Be careful of "branching out" too much, or too far or wide. Those branches might be connected, but are they necessary to the main story? Do they take one too far away from the trunk? Often, it's difficult for listeners to follow you out, away from the main story, and then find their way back ... even if you try to tell them, "Remember where I started? I think I'll go back there now."

Make sure each piece is connected to the main trunk, not just connected to a leaf that is connected to a twig that is connected to a branch ... that is connected to the trunk. Whew! Less is more.

We don't need to know EVERYTHING that happens in the story. Unless you are telling an Epic tale, consider pruning your story down to something manageable. Not only for you, but for your audience.


#143 - 1/19/2015
Story and Song - A Great Marriage
There are many tellers who use songs and music along with their storytelling. I admire them greatly for their ability to play an instrument and/or sing out their lyrics. But not having either of those talents doesn't mean you have to abandon song ... in fact, as storytellers we should embrace it ... for rhythm, meter and phrasing.

As a primer, read my Tip about Rhyme, Rhythm and Meter. Then come back and think about how many songs you know that are really stories at their heart? The one that came to mind for me was this great song from 1967 (I know that may pre-date some of you, so here's the song by Bobbie Gentry.

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door,
"Y'all remember to wipe your feet"
Then she said, "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

 

Think less about the rhyming going on here, you can actually abandon the rhymes. Think more about the language and the phrasing. It's clearly broken into sections or "beats". Each beat is a moment. Singers actually place "breath marks" on their sheet music, to indicate where to breathe, not just to get the next breath, but to end one beat and then give some time before the next one begins.
 
Think about just ONE section of ONE of your stories. Think about the beats that are there. If you were singing the story, how would you adjust the phrasing? Where would you take your breaths, your moments? Then, with the same dynamics of a song, but without the music, tell us your story.
 

#142 - 1/12/2015
Another First Person Triumph!
I have written twice about Point of View and telling a story from the First Person voice – of one of the characters. (First Person Elevates Fact-Based Tales, POV Changes Everything). Last Saturday’s East Valley Tellers of Tales guild meeting inspired this additional post on the topic.

Elizabeth Matson (newly elected President of the guild) told a great version of The Fisherman’s Wife, from the point of view of … wait … here it comes … the Fish!  It was an inspired narrative!
 
The tale is usually told from the POV of the Narrator: First Person, Omniscient. The omniscient one is supposed to see all, know all, and most of the time, tell all. But sometimes they don’t tell us everything.
 
When we tell from a different character’s POV, we get just that, the character’s point of view. This can make the listener more sympathetic to that character (or not) as they reveal some of the inner thoughts and emotions they have. Normally, we detest the wife for being so increasingly greedy; and we are sympathetic to the fisherman for having to endure her constant dissatisfaction with her life. 
 
But with the Fish telling the story, we can now connect to its feelings of “being in the middle” and the pressures it feels to play the role of wish granter. But we can now hear more about how the fish is feeling, and why it continues to come to the fisherman and grant the wishes. What is its motivation to keep coming back?
 
And as the teller, we can also “make” any character omniscient.  The Fish can still have knowledge and understanding of the wife and “see” what happens to her each time she is upgraded, and then the resulting discontent.
 
One more thing: don’t assume any character is not a possible first person choice. We would rarely choose the Wife to tell the story as she seems to be the most despicable. But we might discover more about her just by doing it as an exercise. And if we make her omniscient, the ending can still work, as she sits in the once-again hovel of her house and thinks, “I know my husband is sitting in his boat and just smiling at that fish! They probably will talk all day and never even give a thought to poor, old me!”
 

#141 - 1/6/2015
Sometimes ... Less is More
Quite often, coaches (even me) and instructors are asking tellers to do more; add more detail, tell us the back story; tell us how your characters got where they are; demonstrate with gestures; use your body more ... more ... more ...

But, sometimes ... less is more.

Sometimes, it is better to take away all the accoutrements; strip things down to the basics. KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. The real question is: How do you know when to do this? How do you know when more is needed or the story calls for less?

Aye, there's the rub. It's not just knowing your story (and your audience), it's knowing what your story is about. Ask yourself, "What does this story call for? What mood or sense is best? What fits? What doesn't?

Two articles come to mind regarding this subject:
A blog post I wrote back in 2012 called: Always Serve the Story
And an article by Sean Buvala, written back in 2007 about using your Red Pen Storytelling Tool.

Sheesh! First you tell me to do more ... now you tell me to do less! How do I REALLY know which is best? The Proof is in the pudding - how does it taste - to the audience - and does it serve the story!

Note: There is no ultimate black and white. There is no "always-a-never or never-an-always". There are only "tips" and your own sensibilities. Happy crafting and storytelling!


#139 - 12/22/2014
Tip for This week...
In the words of Captain Peter Quincy Taggart from the movie, Galaxy Quest:

                 Never give up! Never surrender!

 


#138 - 12/15/2014
Scrambled Eggs with ... Zucchini?
Some years ago while visiting friends in England, I cooked them one of my favorite dishes, skirt steak. It's a cut of meat that I have always loved. That night, I happened to serve it with green peas and a side of rice. They loved it.

They loved it so much, that after I left, they made it once a week! And each week, they made it the very same way. Steak, peas and rice; no substitutions ... no changes. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but perhaps there is another metaphor here for storytelling.

Most of the time, especially when starting out, we tell a story, like having a piece of chicken, a piece of steak, a slice of ham, etc. No appetizer, no vegetables, no desert. As we progress, we learn how to add a small appetizer, a short intro that "sets the stage" or the mood for our story (read my tip from 11/24/15)

But what about changing up the entire dish? Perhaps sauté with a different spice; and a different side vegetable, quinoa instead of potatoes? A sweet desert like ice cream, or a savory ending, like a cheese plate? Get out of the rut of steak, peas and rice, make some small changes and spice things up a bit. Always remember that you must serve up food (and stories) that YOU like, and have a pretty good idea that your guests (or audience) will like too. And, oh yeah, make sure you've tested (practiced) your new recipe!

So ... instead of scrambled eggs with bacon ... try a little zucchini on the side!


#137 - 12/8/2014
Branding - Just a Thought
Do you recognize the storyteller "brands" at the right?

It starts out with a simple question, "What are you going to wear when you tell?" Will it be something completely different each time? Something similar? The SAME thing?

"Branding" is a word that has been in the business lexicon for quite some time now. We are all familiar with graphic logo branding like Apple Computer, The Pillsbury Doughboy, the Nike Swoosh. These logos make the brands "recognizable" and differentiate them from other businesses in the same line of service or product. So, what about branding yourself as a storyteller?

It's not absolutely necessary, but it could be something to think about. Some storytellers brand with a name, like Granny Sue (Susanna Connelly Holstein). Tellers like Donna Washington and Baba Jamal Koran wear clothes representing and connecting them to their heritage.

It's certainly not necessary. And although many tellers speak of wearing dark or muted clothing so as not to distract from their stories, most tellers do not use their clothes as a "brand". Do you have a "persona" as a teller? Is this something you brand or project every time you tell? Or maybe not. It's OK to just tell. You don't need to put yourself in a specific category and stick to it. It's just a thought...something to get you thinking about who/what you are as a teller.

And what are those brands at the right?
Donald Davis' bow tie
Bil Lepp's Baseball cap (and usually a T-shirt)
And yours truly, with the vest I have been wearing for close to a year now.

P.S. 
There are other ways to brand yourself, like Doug Lipman, The Storytellers' Coach; or Sean Buvala, Executive Speakers' Coach (and one-stop shopping for all your storytelling needs).


#136 - 12/1/2014
December - The Best Month for People Watching
And story crafting!

I am a people watcher. I love to observe people in their "natural habitat" doing what they do; whether at the grocery store, airport, in a shopping mall, wherever! It's kind of like your own, personal, "Candid Camera." If you watch long enough, you will see and hear people exhibiting both strange and amazing behaviors. And you just might see something that could turn into an anecdote, a "snippet" of a story, an intro into a story or even a full-blown slam-pleaser! The holiday season is GREAT for this!

You never know when a story might come along. So you always need to be ready and pay attention to the possibilities.

  • Standing in line at the grocery store
  • Waiting in the dentist's or doctor's office
  • Watching couples or families at the airport
  • That sales person who is trying to get you to buy
  • The tech support worker apologizing for the umpteenth time
  • A chance encounter with your "ex".

Any of these and more can be small anecdotes that might turn into full-scale stories. But you have to be hyper-vigilante in order to find incredible stories.

(Note: This tip is actually an example of "re-gifting" or "re-tipping" - from January 2013)


#135 - 11/24/2014
Personal Intro to Story Can Help Bridge Gap
Perhaps you should read the article and blog referenced below before looking at this tip.

Done? OK, here goes.

Not ready to go full blown on incorporating a personal story into a traditional one? That's OK. You can still make a small link, and enhance your telling of a folktale or fairy tale.

Recently, I told the story of the Two Brothers. It's about their love for each other, and how they sacrifice their own gains to give to the other. Instead of merely beginning the story, I made a reference to my own family, I told of how I did not have any brothers, but did have two sisters. I spoke of how, in our early years, we had a great deal of sibling rivalry. Somehow, when we all got past the age of eighteen, we began to truly show our love for each other. To this day, we are all very close.

This type of personal intro can make an instant bridge and help you connect to the audience even before you start the story. It told the audience a little about me, helped them get in touch with their own feelings regarding family, and set up the premise of the story about two loving brothers.

So, before your story, tell your story.


#134 - 11/17/2014
Write It Down!
They say that, "An elephant never forgets." But some older elephants need to write things down!

My long-term memory is fading...I think. When Donald Davis was here a few weeks ago, his prompts helped me access some old memories. With each telling of a particular story from my days in high school, I was able to remember more and more details, names and places, words that were spoken. Most of the time, the repetition helps to bring back lost memories.

But not always.

Several weeks ago, I was reminiscing, and caught a glimpse of my first girlfriend in the sixth grade. I spoke to someone about it and called out her name...I didn't write it down...and then...it was gone!

I have wracked my brain, I have talked about her golden blonde hair, and the time we sat on the small cliff overlooking the highway and we held hands for the first time...but I couldn't recall her name. I ran through numerous iterations of what I THOUGHT it was: Melanie, Mitzi, Mellissa (something flirty like that). I think she had an alliterative name, like Mitzi Meyers or Melanie Martin. I couldn't re-capture it. I remembered her cute little button nose, her bright blue eyes, her small red lips...but her name still escaped me.

Next time I remember something...I HAVE to WRITE IT DOWN! So I won’t forget it the NEXT time.

Long pause inserted here...
Yes, as I go to the Internet (yes, while I am writing this) for a desperate attempt, and Google
Girl's names that begin with "M":
(LONG PAUSE)

Madison...
Molly...
Marianne...
Michelle
Millie...Millie...no...not MIllie...Millicent!

Aha! I found it! Millicent Meade!

If I had only written it down the first time...but then you never would have seen this tip!
____________________________________________

P.S. - WAY too many elipses (...) here, but I DO love them!


#133 - 11/10/2014
Who's Your Audience?
I went to the movies last weekend. As I watched the trailers, I was reminded of two things: There aren't many Double Features any more - two movies of similar genres run back-to-back. And second, all the trailers were of similar genres. Seems like a no-brainer, right? You'd be surprised.

Unless your goal is to "shock" your audience, it's probably best to tell stories in your program that fit your audience demographics and sensibilities. You wouldn't (or shouldn't) tell an adult/erotic type story with a family oriented audience. By the same token, a cuddly, heart-warming story about your favorite stuffed bunny is probably not the best for the college bar crowd.

The movie houses don't show trailers for horror films before the animated kids' feature film; and they don't show the trailer for Nemo just before the two hour thriller, Halloween 47.

Bottom line: *You should never show (or tell) Bambi and Godzilla on the same bill. 

*I guess I should say that there are always exceptions to the rule, as in the great "short" film, Bambi Meets Godzilla, but that's another story altogether.


#132 - 11/3/2014
Toss It - Don't Trash It!
As storytellers, we are always looking at "what to leave in - what to leave out." Here's a tip from local teller, Louise Laux: "Toss it, don't trash it!"

While crafting her own stories, or helping her niece work on a story of her own, Louise suggests that when you come across a phrase, a character, a description that just doesn't fit right in your story - remove it, but DON"T TRASH IT! - Save it.

You may want to remove it from the current piece you are working on, but make sure you save it - It could work somewhere else.

Many Broadway composers have used this little trick. Some songs written for an original show may have been cut in rehearsals or in previews, before the show opened in New York. Many of these songs were "revived and re-worked" in new shows, or even added to the movie versions.

If you believe you should pull a piece of your story because it just doesn't fit, don't throw it into the "circular file." Place it on the shelf, where you can see it, and grab it for possible use the next time. You'll be in good company!
 


#131 - 10/27/2014
Lost and Found...or Not
Last week I was watching a television show, and there she was. I will not mention her real name. An incredibly gorgeous woman I had dated many years ago while still working as an actor/dancer. The memories began to fill my head like a desert flood.

We've all had them: lost loves. Some left us, we left some. Some are only memories. Some, we tried to find but couldn't. Some we found and won back. Some we found and lost again. Some we found and were still lost. Some were never meant to be.

Love is a powerful prompt for storytelling. Lost love carries the universal emotions of heartbreak, sorrow and sometimes even guilt. Where did we go wrong? Where did I go wrong? What if I saw her/him today? What would I say? Could I ever get her/him back? What if...?

Take a ride through the myriad tunnels of love in your life. What stories you may find! 

When you craft your story...just remember to protect the innocent...and the guilty! Happy hunting.


#130 - 10/20/2014
Jump Sideways - Then Jump Back
Got a short story? Need to S-T-R-E-T-C-H it out and make it a bit longer? Here's an easy way you can do it. 

At any point in the story, jump sideways, and tell us more about a specific element. Then, jump back into the main story. 

Let's use the Three Little Pigs as an example. 

For instance, "The first little piggy built his house out of straw." Now, jump to the SIDE a little and tell us more about this piggy. 

Let me tell you a little bit about this piggy, He was the youngest of the clan, and he was not just lazy, he was REALLY lazy. There was the time when he was in school, and his teacher had given an assignment...etc

Here's another option:

Let me tell you some little known facts about straw. Straw is actually a very strong material, when used the correct way. In some cases, when straw is properly bound together, it can be impervious to all the elements of weather. If you travel to England, you will see hundreds of thatched roofs made out of straw. Not only are they sturdy and stand up to the harshest of elements, but they would probably stand up to the foul breath and huffing and puffing of the wolf! Not so with the way that this little pig built his house.

Now, jump back to the rest of the story. Later, make another jump sideways for a bit.

The second pig built his house with sticks. 
You may have already noticed that this little piggy was the MIDDLE child, and he was the CLASSIC middle child! He was always trying to do the right thing. He was also the buffer between his older and younger brother. They would always start fights, and he would always get in the middle. He was a bit clumsy, and would cry at the drop of a hat. He hated conflict, and would avoid it at any cost, thus the role of mediator!

Then back into the main storyline again. These little jumps to the side are great fillers where needed. Don't forget characters that may not actually be present in the storyline. The mother of the pigs...maybe even the mother of the wolf!

Use the setting and other, non-essential characters too: The town pigs, the straw seller, brick seller, etc. Let your imagination spread out and go wild.

You can always shorten the story to its bare bones, but having these little side stories can stretch it out and fill time when necessary.
 


#128 - 10/6/2014
Sean Buvala Nails It
Sean Buvala nailed it last week with a brilliant post on his blog. Four basic, clear and essential advice for begining storytellers. Written in Sean's inimitable, wry style.

Ringmaster Not Roustabout: Those Basic Basics in the Storytelling Tent.

Why, hello there, storytelling newbie. I didn't see you standing there. I've been so busy lately over on other shows that I haven't had near enough time to speak to you.
 
Nonetheless- do you have a moment? Oh, very good. 
 
Welcome to the show. And what a show it is. Storytelling is the mother of all art forms...
  Click here for the entire article

#127 - 9/29/2014
Practice Sense Memory

That old adage of, "Stop and smell the roses" has real meaning for storytellers. It's just ONE of the exercises we must do, observe and fix in our memory as often as we can. We must practice sense memory.
 
If we are to paint a picture for our audiences to see in their imaginations, we must find a way to practice and then recall those specific senses that we experience. In storytelling (as in all things) practice makes better (not perfect).
 
Merely “breathing in” won’t show the audience your ability to “almost make a meal” out of the smells of the bakery; or even detect the sweat and body odor of the baker who comes to hug you after a hot day in the sweltering kitchen.
 
Take time to practice (and remember).
  • Feel the cool autumn breeze on your cheek
  • Feel the sticky summer heat on the back of your neck
  • Taste the sweetness of fresh mint leaves
  • Taste the sour crunch of braised red cabbage
  • See the soft morning dew glistening on the grass and flowers
  • See the rain as it crashes in torrents on the street and turns to floods
  • Hear the deep sounds of an oboe playing a melodic tune
  • Hear the constant wail of the feral cat prowling the night
  • Smell the sugar and cinnamon of the bakery
  • Smell the odor of the peroxide that promises to lighten your hair
Take in and experience all that your senses reveal to you. Commit them to your memory, your sense memory.
 
Then find the right words, gestures, facial expressions, body movements and voice to describe them to your audience. Transfer your sense memory to their senses. Allow them to see, hear, feel, taste and touch what you have. That is when your story comes alive!
 

#126 - 9/22/2014
Will The Real Storyteller Please Step Forward

At last Saturday's "First & Last" concert, a colleague asked how I felt about trying to "copy" another storyteller. My first response was to say, "That depends on your interpretation of the word copy." Then we got into a really good discussion.
 
When we see/hear another teller and we love what they have done, it is not uncommon to think, "I love that. I wish I could do it just like that." Sometimes we try to emulate what they have done. It usually doesn't work very well. The outcome of the discussion was a general agreement that, "When you try to be someone else vs. being your true self, disaster ensues.
 
The bottom line for me is that when you tell a story, you reveal parts of yourself. Many of these parts may show up in very subtle ways. The story you choose, the way you choose to craft it, change it (or not), the way you use your voice, your body; these all say something about YOU. Even if or when you decide to TRY to copy what another teller has done, in that "copying" you are revealing something about yourself.
 
When I admire something a teller has done, I ask myself some questions:
  • How did they make me feel? ... How did they do that?
  • Did they paint a picture that I could see in my mind? ... How did they do that?
  • Did I understand the essence and the flow of the story? ... How did they do that?
  • Did the beginning engage me? ... How did they do that?
  • Did the ending come to a clear conclusion and satisfy me? ... How did they do that?
I then have to ask myself, "How can I use myself to accomplish those things?"

All of this also means that a storyteller needs to know who they are, and what skills, talents, hopes, fears, joys and abilities they have to translate any material they have read or seen or heard into a story that they can make their own!

The search for great stories and your best self to tell them go hand-in-hand!


#125 - 9/15/2014
The Name Game
I'm not really talking about a game, but a critical part of storytelling: Giving your characters names.

If you were at last week's AZ Rep Live Storytelling at the Phoenix Theatre, you witnessed Liz Warren in a masterful telling of a personal story from her high school years. She wowed the crowd with a great and humorous story. It had great content, and all of Donald Davis' "Five Ps" (People, Place, Problem, Progress and Point").

It should be noted that Liz used one additional "P" as an effective tool - pauses. An expertly crafted "dramatic pause" holds the audience's attention and puts them on the edge of their seats, wanting to hear what comes next! (See an earlier tip about Pause and Effect.) At this telling, she held the audience in the palm of her hand!

Liz used one more important, specific technique: naming characters. Characters in your story can be referred to as "archetypal", i.e., The King, The Boy, The Princess, The mayor, etc. This is often a good way for both the teller to keep things clear, and makes things easier on the audience, too. It enables them to worry less about, "Which one was that?"

But some characters NEED to be named. In a workshop with Donald Davis, I learned that "giving characters names, makes them real. It gives the listeners a more solid connection to them. It enables them to see them more clearly."

Liz effectively used this concept by telling us the real names of the two most important people in her story, Principal, Wayne Smith, and the local columnist, Arna Lee. Once described, the repetition of each character's name brought forth the full power and visualization of each of them. Of course, her vocalization of "Arrrrna Lee" gave us an even clearer picture of both her, and Liz's relationship to her. And always using his full title and name "Principal, Wayne Smith" continually reminded us of his "station in life" and in the community.

Artfully done by a storyteller extraordinaire!


#124 - 9/8/2014
Use and Trust Your Image Engine

I will be forever indebted to storyteller, friend, colleague and educator Laura Packer. In a workshop she presented in Phoenix she said, "Use and trust your image engine."

In my Art of Storytelling classes, I use the story of Stealing Smells to demonstrate many different aspects of storytelling;

One concept is, that I have an image in my head and use my voice, body, gestures and facial expressions to portray the character as I see him (without describing him). Each member of the audience sees their OWN image based on my performance. I use a similar image of the bearded man, in this graphic, for the character of Mordechai the Baker. I Then ask the students to describe the image that THEY saw in their heads.

Then, I repeat the process by using a DIFFERENT image (the skinny fellow with glasses) and perform him differently. Then I ask the students to describe THAT character. By trusting my image engine, I can quickly become the character, without hesitation. 

This process is both about having a "back story" for your character, and also trusting your "image engine" and letting it take you where you need to go.

Do you have your engine gassed up and ready to go?


#123 - 9/1/2014
Tell, Tell, Tell - Tell Well!
I've posted this before, but it seems appropriate to do it again.
How do you become a storyteller, a better storyteller, a great storyteller? Heed the advice of seasoned teller Kim Weitkamp

START NOW! There are lots of opportunities to tell here in The Valley of the Sun (and in Tucson). Search through the calendar section (and the ONGOING EVENTS listed below in green), Google "open mics in Phoenix", find as many places to tell stories as you can. This is the best way to get experience and hone your craft! Attend Guild meetings and get appreciations from your peers. Find a "story buddy" and arrange to meet on a regular basis and support each other.

You can't do it in a vacuum - but you could do it while vacuuming! The path is clear. "Tell, Tell, Tell - Tell Well"


#122 - 8/25/2014
Take a Tip From the Reality Shows
This is "sort of" a tip. Or maybe it's just another way of conceptualizing or visualizing stories. 

So, you've got your story. You have it timed and know how long it takes to tell. It's a good, solid piece. But sometimes you think...I want more, how do I add more?

I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last week, and realized that they (and other shows like American Idol) know how to do it!

Each performer does a dance (or on other shows, sings a song, or does some sort of act). For the contestants who fail to go through, that is all we see, the basic storyline.

But for those who continue, more is added. We want to know more about this person. Where do they come from? How have they struggled? What challenges have they overcome? Who encouraged them?

The producers accommodate us and show us "side" stories: How their parents gave up everything for them; how they almost died in an accident, but survived; how they overcame drug addiction, etc. These bits and pieces of the contestants' lives are what make it interesting for us. They make us feel for them and want to cheer them on. Just the way we might see characters in a story.

The guy or gal who comes on and does a whacky song and then gets cut is like a bit of comic relief.

But the singer or dancer, who gets the call to perform, struggles, gets help from a mentor or parents, wins the prize and then returns to their home town...who does that sound like?

So take a tip from the producers of these shows, whom I believe may have read Joseph Campbell. They understand the process of a good story.


#121 - 8/18/2014
Pronunciation...The DEFINITIVE Answer!
Last week I posted questions about the pronunciation of Appalachia and the word "err". My intent with the tip was to say:

"To err is human, to forgive divine, and to research is best!"

There ensued many comments, and a very lively discussion on Facebook. With that in mind, here ia a short video response that contains the definitive answer to the very broad question.
 


#120 - 8/11/2014
To Err is Human...and We All Do It!
Once upon a time (many times), I used the phrase, "To err is human" and pronounced it: "To AIR is human."

Fortunately, one of those times, I was with the great storyteller and academic, Joyce story. She gently, but clearly pointed out to me that the word is pronounced, "er", rhyming with "her" or Ben "Hur". Boy, was I surprised (and foolishly argued with her about it)!
 
We go through life hearing things that may be wrong, but we believe they are right. Broadcasters and even many speakers have pronounced that word incorrectly. The more we heard it that way, the stronger our belief was that THAT was the way to say it. We become adamant about it, even if we have not been diligent in our research or questioning of it. But it is a storytellers' duty to be diligent about all the words we use, as language is our tool, and we must always use our tools properly.

With that in mind, I recently was wondering about the word, Appalachia. I had always pronounced it with a long "a" - appa-LAY-chia. I was also one of those people who believed, "What difference does it make?" Then I discovered this video with Sharyn McCrumb, an American writer whose books celebrate the history and folklore of Appalachia. She had an extremely good "story" explanation and reason as to why it should be "Appa-LATCH-ia". I offer it here.

So remember, "To err is human, to forgive divine, and to research is best!"

 
 

#119 - 8/4/2014
I'd be Delighted!
Most of us have heard the adage that, to be a good storyteller, you have to be a good listener. But what does that mean, a good listener? Doug Lipman (The Storytelling Coach) suggests that we listen delightedly. This means focusing all your attention on the teller, shutting out any drop of criticism, and staying open to the joy of the story and the teller.

In that vein, I offer the first chapter of my new book, Storytelling Tips: Creating, Crafting and Telling Stories (101 Tips). Just some shameless self-promotion. I hope it makes you want to read the other 100 tips.


Start by Listening
It's true. In order to learn about storytelling, the first thing you have to be able to do and practice is listening.

Listen to other tellers tell their stories, as many as you can. By listening and watching, you will see and hear what the good tellers do. You may also watch and hear some not-so-practiced tellers. Your job in listening is to start to understand what the great tellers do that make them great, and what mistakes many beginning tellers do that get them in trouble.

When you listen to a teller, ask yourself some questions:

  • How did they make me feel and how did they do that?
  • Did they paint a picture that I could see in my mind? How did they do that?
  • Did I understand the essence and the flow of the story? How did they do that?
  • Did the beginning engage me? How did they do that?
  • Did the ending come to a clear conclusion and satisfy me? How did they do that?
  • What parts of themselves did they use most? How can I find the best parts of me to use?
  • Did they lose the audience at some point? What was needed to hold the audience's attention?
Listening to as many tellers as possible will be an education in itself. If you don't like what they do, study it. Understand how you can avoid their pitfalls. If you love them, study that part too. How can you learn from that and use yourself to develop your own successful storytelling space? Listen to other kinds of speakers too. Newscasters, commentators, video bloggers, TED talk presenters, etc. What do these people do—or not do—that engages their listeners? Your answers will surely relate to the craft of telling stories.

#118 - 7/28/2014
Stress Reduction Through the Hero's Journey
Giving long-time teller Angela Lloyd a ride to the hotel provided me a real chance to get to know her. I had seen her several times at Jonesborough and other conferences, but this was the first chance I had to spend some quality time with her.

The subject of the Hero's Journey emerged, and Angela had a quite unique take on it.

Whenever I am in a new situation where I am not familiar with what's going on and I might get stressed out, I think of the Hero's Journey. I put my trust in the process that I will find a helper or gain the magic knowledge that I will need to survive." 

What a great way to look at life! Another way that story provides us with what we need in the moment!


#116 - 7/14/2014
The BEST Tip I Can Give You
I've written over 100 tips in the past two years. In fact, I will have a new book out shortly compiling 101 of those Storytelling Tips. Some of the best are: Get Coaching, Practice, Listen to Other Tellers and Learn from the Masters. Guess what? ---The NSN Conference is one of the BEST places to do ALL of these things!

Arizona tellers and students have one of the greatest opportunities starting in 10 days. Hundreds of seasoned professional tellers, coaches and master teachers will descend into our desert climate to present and share at the NSN Conference. Without having to pay for long-distance travel, this is the BEST opportunity to meet and learn from this many great tellers.
 
At MINIMUM, if you are here on Thursday, you MUST attend the FREE opening session at 7:30 pm. Lead by our own Liz Warren, Director of the SMCC Storytelling Institute, a distinguished panel will discuss Kindling Community Connection through Story - with local pastor/teacher/teller Doug Bland, Queen Nur and Kiran Singh Sirah, new Director of the International
Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee. This program event is supported by a grant from the Arizona Humanities Council. 
 
If you are available you can pick up incoming tellers at the airport and “talk story” as you provide transportation to the hotel…AND get paid for it too!
 
If you are in town, I cannot encourage you enough to attend SOME part of this conference. If you can’t afford some sessions, you can always just come to the hotel and “hang out”. You could help staff the East Valley and Tucson Tellers of Tales Sponsor Table while you meet, greet and schmooze with conference attendees. If you’re UP for it, there are sure to be several Late-Night ROOM concerts (unlisted) that will be popping up each evening.
 
In short, THIS will be the place to be this July 24th-27th.
 
Don’t miss this great opportunity to mingle with some of the best minds in the global storytelling community. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.
 

#115 - 7/7/2014
The Last Thing They Hear
In the early days of movies, they put "THE END" up on the screen. This way, everyone in the theatre knew the movie had ended; the story (or at least that part of the story) was over. 

As time went on, movie makers realized that there might be better ways to end the story. Many had what became known as a "tag" line. The last sentence uttered tried to "put a button" on the whole story.

Casablanca:
"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Back to the Future:
"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!"

At some point, dramatic images either told us what the protagonist was feeling, or answered the question that we were all asking. Case in point: Planet of the Apes

Like beginnings, there are some traditional endings that can work well:

  • And they all lived happily ever after.
  • That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
  • And from that day on, the monster (giant, devil, ogre) was never heard from again.
  • ...but that's a story for a different time.

But is there a different approach the storyteller can take, other than merely telling us, "That's the end of my story"?

Endings in storytelling are crucial. They're almost more important than beginnings, as it is the last thing the audience hears. So, first of all, make sure we HEAR the ending. Don't let your voice trail off into the vapor.

Crafting an ending is not always easy. Here are some things to think about when pondering the end of the story

  • Tell us how the character felt
    • I finally learned what it was like to have the shoe on the other foot!
  • Tell us how the character(s) changed
    • From that moment on, Truth and Story always walked hand-in-hand.
  • Reveal the answer to the question we have been asking
    • The baker shall be paid with the sound of the coins.
  • Reveal the "surprise" we have been waiting for
    • And on their backs...each of the wives were carrying...their HUSBANDS!
  • Give us a glimpse of the future
    • So he promised that every day he would tell her stories. And every day she listened, laughed and loved him even more.

​Think about your story. What's it about? What did you want the audience to know or feel? What can you say to us that will wrap up the story? Not necessarily in a pretty pink ribbon. But what will help give the audience closure, or at least closure for the moment. What will make us think about how the future will be?

Sometimes, be very careful here, you can ask the audience to decide: "And what do you think was in the boy's hand?" Make sure this type of ending question will not make them angry and wishing you had just told them.

And as always, PRACTICE your ending, out loud, over and over again.


#114 - 6/30/2014
The Last Time I Saw Paris
Some of you (very few I think) may remember this Jerome Kern tune, some may not. But the message for storytellers is a great prompt!

Quite often, one of the best prompts for story creation is to think about firsts (see my tip on firsts). Let's take a look at the opposite...let's take a look at lasts.

Audiences are always interested in what special, difficult or strange things may have happened the last time you did something.

  • The last time I was on an airplane
  • The last time I ate meat
  • The last time I smoked a cigarette
  • The last time I worked at a regular job
  • The last time I told a scary story
  • The last time I told at a five year-old's birthday party (will definitely be the last time)
"Lasts" can be great stories by themselves, connect to more stories from the past or bring you up-to-date to the present and/or future. They can be funny, nostalgic, sad, tragic, or run the gamut of emotions. Combine them with a first time story and you've got a ready-made "bookend" structure. 
 
So,what happened the last time you saw Paris, or Rome, or your kids, or your parents, or...?
 

#113 - 6/23/2014
Give The Organizer What They Want...or Maybe NOT?
Good tellers are always aware of the “golden triangle” relationship between the teller, story and audience. We always stress that one should attempt to meet the needs of the audience. But there is a fourth entity that creeps in from time to time. This is the “organizer”. Certainly, when we are paid, part of our responsibility is to adhere to the wishes of the producer/organizer. But what if something doesn’t feel right?

A colleague shared recently that an organizer asked her to tell “A story about building relationships that would make people cry.” The hairs on the back of my once-therapist neck stood straight up! Inside my brain I am asking "Why?"
 
Here is where a dialogue is clearly mandated.
 
I think when a request such as this is made; it behooves the teller to go deeper (which the colleague did). WHY did they want people to cry? Crying is only one possible outcome of strong emotions, but one can make people cry with many different techniques. Two people can hear the same story and one be moved to sadness and tears; the other may be moved to laughter, smiles, feelings of triumph and the realization that they are valuable…all without tears.
 
More than the outcome of people “crying” I need to know what the organizers hope to accomplish. What do they want the audience to hopefully experience or feel? Do they want them to move to some sort of action, and if so, what? What is the makeup of the group; kids; adults; mixed? Are they from a specified group? What is the purpose of the gathering?
 
We often say that we must meet the needs of our audience. But I believe it is our responsibility to educate the organizers when we assess that they may not be clear about their goals, or what can or should be an appropriate goal in storytelling. If an organizer told me to “scare the pants off” of a group of small children around a campfire, I would not only balk, I would, most likely, say a polite but emphatic "NO!"
 
So when you speak to the organizer and get a request that makes you cock your head in disbelief, or makes the hairs on your neck stand up, it’s time to ask some questions...maybe a LOT of questions.
 

#112 - 6/16/2014
Combine Character Actions and Narrative Voice

Last Saturday, at East Valley Tellers, Judd Lee told a great story of the Poor Traveler and the Fishmonger, A Burmese justice tale. Judd is a master at showing the action of the characters. He used a great technique that day.
 
As the character of the Poor Traveler, Judd knelt down by the campfire, but with the voice of the Narrator, described his actions of "setting out his cooking equipment and unwrapping his utensils and food."
 
Then, he looked up at the audience. He continued to tell the story from kneeling on the ground, for just a moment, but his facial expression and voice was clearly coming from the role of narrator. He slowly rose up, and kept eye contact with the audience as physically he now transformed from the Traveler to 100% the Narrator. 
 
This mixing of character action and narration was quite effective. We were drawn to the action of the traveler, and when Judd looked up at the audience, we knew he was the Narrator and his eye contact (and dramatic pause) held our attention. As he rose, we continued to lean forward attentively, listening and wanting to know what happened next.
 
The subtle difference between the character(s) and the narrator can prove to be immensely engaging.
 

#111 - 6/9/2014
The Devil is in the Details. . .Or is it Feelings?
Normally, storytellers don’t focus on details. We leave that for the writers. Often, too many details squelch the listeners' imagination. Too much description can make it difficult for us to “imagine” in our own heads. When details become minutia, disconnected from emotions, they don’t seem to help.

But if you want the listeners to connect to the feelings, details can bring us back to (or help us to imagine) a time in our lives that mirrors the emotions of the characters and the story.
 
Simple:
John and Millie, sat on the hood of his car, parked on the side street. John wanted to reach out and hold her hand, but was hesitant; afraid of what might happen if he reached out. What if she pulled away and rejected him? Slowly, his hand reached out and touched the fingers of her hand. . .
Detailed:
John and Millie, sat on the hood of his car, parked on the side street.  Her name was like music to him. Millicent Meade. Millicent Meade. He had said it over and over, a hundred times in his head. Her white-blonde hair almost blinded him as if it was the sun. He always seemed to see it move in slow motion. Each time she quickly turned her head, her hair seemed to hesitate at first, then slowly follow across the curves of her face, bounce to one side and then back in place to the other. For an instant, it would cover her nose and mouth.
 
It was the cutest nose he had ever seen, small, and turned upward just enough. It matched her soft lips that were just slightly larger in the middle than at the edges. They looked slightly pursed, as if ready to be kissed. And soft, so soft. He had imagined that softness dozens of times, soft and moist against his. But now, here, today, he dare not even think that. Kissing would be too bold, at first. 
 
“There’s no way I could start with a kiss”, he thought. “No, certainly not a kiss. I have to start small, and work my way up. We could hold hands. Yes! That would be a good way to start. She’s just sitting there, with her hand so very close to mine. It’s only a few inches away. Why can’t I reach out? She’s so close.”  
 
He had almost stopped breathing; as if holding his breath could freeze all time and he could, perhaps, move in between those frozen moments without her actually seeing his hand move towards hers. She would only know that one moment it was a few inches away and the next moment, it was touching her. 
 
He wanted to find that perfect moment to reach out. “Wait, was that the perfect moment? I missed it!” Each perfect moment seemed to pass so quickly. He couldn’t grasp them. Each one was gone in an instant. He wasn’t watching the cars go by, or noticing the wind, or even hearing what she was saying about school.
 
His heart was racing. His mind was racing. “What if it’s too soon? What if she doesn’t want to hold hands? What if she pulls away? What if she rejects me?” There were a thousand what ifs. . .Then, somehow, he didn’t know how, time did seem to stop. Slowly, his hand reached out and touched the fingers of her hand. . .
 

#110 - 6/2/2014
Ask These Questions...At Least TWICE
Inside the Actor's Studio, a mainstay on public television for years, presented host James Lipton showcasing the lives and careers of many famous actors. At the end of the hour-long interviews he would ask ten questions of the guest. 

These questions were adapted from a questionnaire presented on a French interview show that Lipton had seen and admired, called "Bouillon de Culture" hosted by Bernard Pivot. Lipton (and Pivot) both knew that this series of questions revealed a tremendous amount about the person's thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What is your favorite curse word?
  6. What sound or noise do you love?
  7. What sound or noise do you hate?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

You can use these questions in storytelling too. But you must ask them at least twice..

First, of yourself:
Knowing yourself is one of the most crucial tools of storytelling. Understanding what motivates you to tell, what stories you choose, how you choose to shape and craft them are essential to being a good storyteller. The more you know about who you are, the better it is for you to make clear decisions about your storytelling.

Second, of your characters:
These same questions will offer insight into the “character” of your characters. What motivates them? Why do they say and do the things that they do? What do they believe in, or not believe in? They will open the door to the essence of your characters. When you know the answers for each character, you have a rich story supported by a rich “back story”.

P.S. These are only the beginning questions. What else might you need to understand about the characters in your story? 

 


#109 - 5/26/2014
Does the Language Fit?
In the old Clint Eastwood movie, Unforgiven, a young fellow rides up to Eastwood's character and says, "You don’t look like no rootin-tootin son of a bitch cold blooded assassin." Clintwood responds, "Say what?"

Whoa there. Hold up just a minute. "Say What?" Hmmm...

Didn't fit for me. It wasn't right for the movie. The term didn't come into use until long after that period in history. Oh, the audience laughed at it, but don't get me started along that path!

In your stories, the language you use should be purposeful and proper for the story. Using a word or a phrase "out of context" doesn't serve the story. It's important that the language of your story is collateral, that it goes along with the meaning and intent of the story, and fit the historical vernacular. It should serve to support or reinforce everything else in your story.

Case in point:
I tell the story of The Pickpockets' Baby. This story takes place around the early 1900's in England. Eventually, the two characters fall in love and get married. Then, the wife...well...how shall we say this?

  • gets pregnant
  • Is going to have a baby
  • gets knocked up
  • is in a family way
  • has a bun in the oven
  • is preggers

All of the above mean the same thing. But I needed a term or a phrase that was more genteel, that fit the times and the morays of the culture. I chose, "She was with child."

Be cautious and careful about how you choose the words and language of your story. Make sure everything you do or say goes along with everything else in the story. Does it fit? Does it serve the story? Then we most definitely want to hear it!

 


#108 - 5/19/2014
The Reviews Are In - Now What?
The reviews of your storytelling performance are in! Now what do you do? Rejoice in the fact that they loved you? Get depressed because they hated you? Or perhaps something else.

When we perform, in any capacity, we get reviewed. Sometimes it is informal or unspoken. Sometimes it is formal and very outspoken. Feedback can run the gamut from great adulation, to non-committal statements like, "You did it again." Or you might get a scathing, written review in a private E-mail, public print, or a viral internet post, or many spaces in between.
 
How we handle and respond to any of that “feedback” is quite important. For most of us, it’s easy to accept praise. It feels good and validating. Getting negative messages is usually more difficult. It cuts at our core. It can send us into a downward spiral of doubt and depression. The emotional response can send us high as a kite, or as low as the bottom of the well. It’s easy enough to accept the praise and dismiss the criticism. But how can we say, “This person is right and that person is wrong”? Shouldn’t we consider everything that is said?
 
We cannot avoid responding with emotions. It is in our nature. But once we have moved through the highs and lows of all the comments, there is one more thing we should do. It is the most important part of the process, and it’s not easy. It comes from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is step #4:
Make a searching and fearless moral inventory. (The key word here is fearless.)
Often, we can do this with a good coach. Sometimes, we can do it by ourselves. But we must ask ourselves the difficult questions. What did I do that may have triggered that? How might I change it the next time? How can I be better?
In my first semester of teaching at Glendale Community College, I got some pretty tough reviews from a number of my students. I was in a real funk for several days. After the emotions settled down, I began to look at how I had performed as a teacher, and how I could make things better. I made changes to the syllabus; to the structure of the class; and perhaps most of all, to my expectations of the students.
 
Many of the changes I made had a positive impact on the class. It was much more fun for the students and for me this semester. The students were more enthusiastic, and excelled in the progress of learning how to tell stories.
 
Now the reviews from this class are in. They are both positive (more than before) and negative (less than before). The overall feedback is much better than before…but I still must do my 4th step. I cannot rest on my better laurels, I must assess what can be done to improve, and take action.
So the next time you tell, and the reviews come in, consider your options. Be considerate of your feelings. Then do Step #4. Then move into action. And then, soon, the process will start all over again!
 
 

#107 - 5/12/2014
Miracles...Large and Small
Have you ever experienced a miracle? Maybe not the kind of cloud parting, blazing sun or bright-light type that are portrayed in movies, but perhaps still a miracle to you? It could make a great story!

  • The time you almost got into a major accident.
  • The time you (by chance) came across the person you thought you had lost forever and rekindled the love.
  • The time when you were eight years old and almost burned down the house (yes, I almost did).
  • All the times when something almost happened, but for some strange, inexplicable reason, it didn't.

Search your memory for those times. Maybe you thought it was just a strange anecdote, or a funny coincidence. Was it really fate? Or was it a miracle of some sort?

Was it something you can turn into a story? We've all had them. We all want to hear about yours, because it will remind us of ours. And that's part of what storytelling is about!

See the Tidbit below for a great Miracle story.
 


#106 - 5/5/2014
Start Telling by Listenng
I want to be a great teller. How do I start?

Start by listening!

It's true! The best way to learn about storytelling is to first listen.

Listen to other tellers tell their stories...as many as you can. By listening (and watching) you will see and hear what the good tellers do. You may also watch and hear some not-so-practiced tellers. This is good too, Your job in listening is to start to understand what the great tellers do that makes them great, and what mistakes many beginning tellers do that get them in trouble.

When you listen to a teller, ask yourself some questions:

  • How did they make me feel? - How did they do that?
  • Did they paint a picture that I could see in my mind? - How did they do that?
  • Did I understand the essence and the flow of the story? - How did they do that?
  • Did the beginning engage me? - How did they do that?
  • Did the ending come to a clear conclusion and satisfy me? - How did they do that?
  • What parts of themselves did they use most? - How can I find the best parts of me to use?
  • Did they lose the audience at some point? What was needed to hold the audience's attention?

Listening to as many tellers as you can will be an education in itself. If you didn't like what they did, study it. Understand how you can avoid their pitfalls. If you LOVED them, study that part. How can you learn from that, and use yourself to develop your own successful storytelling space?

Listen to other kinds of speakers too. Newscasters, commentators, video bloggers, TED talk presenters, etc. What do these people do (or not do) that engages their listeners? Your answers will surely relate to the craft of telling stories.

I said in an earlier tip (Learn From The Masters)
Picasso did not paint like the Grand Masters that came before him, but rest assured that he studied them closely before he developed his own unique style.
 


#105 - 4/28/2014
Tell, Tell, Tell
Here's a tip that's so simple, I should have posted it a long time ago. Sometimes the simplest of things fall through the cracks. 

In order to tell well...you have to tell a lot. Tell as often as you can. Tell as many different stories as you can, as many times as you can.Tell to different audiences so you get a diverse cross-section of demographics and responses. The more you tell, the more you learn.

Sage words from friend and colleague Storyteller Extraordinaire Kim Weitkamp (while at the 2010 Jonesborough Festival).

 


#104 - 4/21/2014
More Than A Graphic Model - It's a Process
It happened last week, and again this week. Last Monday, both Sean Buvala and I talked about heroes in our newsletter blogs. Then, on Saturday, colleague and friend Pam Faro posted in her A-Z blog with a piece about "Questions" regarding the "Storytelling Triangle", which I had already begun to write for THIS newsletter. Well, I guess it just means we're all in good company!

We're all familiar with the "Golden Triangle" of storytelling. In order for storytelling to take place, one has to have a Teller, a Story and an Audience. They are all equally important, and the relationship between all three is of utmost importance.

But wait, there's more! 

This graphic "map" for storytelling should be your guide for all performances, both planned and unplanned. Pam's blog (read it here) has some great questions about each of the elements. And, as she says,

"Often it’s the case that specific answers are not even what is needed – but the questioning process itself is what leads you forward, deeper and farther into your story selecting, preparation, and telling!"

Here's my "story" example:

A few months ago I was at Delux, the gourmet burger restaurant owned by my friend Lenny Rosenberg (32nd and Camelback for those who might be interested). 
 
We were in his office, and on the way out, passed by the private dining room where a group of eight business women were having a dinner meeting. Lenny stepped in to check on them, and pulled me in and introduced me as “a great storyteller”. The ladies couldn’t resist asking me to share a story with them. –
NOW – What do I do?
 
I had about five seconds (maybe six) to decide if I should tell, and then what story. The quick questions:
 
Teller? – Me. Lenny had already pumped up my abilities, and we had already shared a laugh or two. Rapport had been established.
 
Audience? – High-powered, strong, decisive (and by the sound of their laughter, fun-loving) business women.
 
Story?The Castle of the Faithful Wives (clever, strong women who save the lives of their families).
 
So I asked them (a calculated measure to see if they were really ready for a story), “How about a story about strong women?” — I think I had them in the palm of my hand.
 
I kept it short, two to three minutes, and made sure that the reveal of the “women carrying their husbands away from the castle, on their backs” was both humorous, and drove home the point of clever, strong women.
 
They laughed, cheered in triumph, and gave me (and the story) a great round of applause.
The Golden Triangle was glowing bright.
 

#103 - 4/14/2014
Who's The Hero Here?
A cautionary tale.

Many years ago, when I first began my journey in storytelling, I attended a weekly "story circle" where we swapped stories and got feedback. One day, I got up and told an "off the cuff" story about a mediation I had done where I was quite successful in getting the parties to come to a resolution. I was very proud of myself and my story. Oops.

One of the group took me to task. "This was not a 'story', it was more like boasting about how smart you had been. You can't make yourself the hero in your own story." I wasn't so sure about that statement, but I certainly never told that story again.

A couple of years back, Donald Davis did a workshop and said the same thing, "In a personal story, you can't make yourself the hero. If you saved a child, you can't be the 'hero' in the story. You have to make the child be the hero." The wheels in my head were turning, but there was still part of me that was not so sure.

Present Day: Now focusing on Stories in Business. How do we (I) communicate who we are and what we do (as a storyteller) without telling (boasting) about how good we are? And the message comes back load and clear: "Make your client the hero."

The message is finally starting to come through.

The good part is that I went back to that story of the mediation and looked at how I could make the client the hero. I found it! I found the part where the client's husband was her hero, she just hadn't recognized that part of the story. Once she did, she and her husband both became the triumphant heroes of their own story.

Here's my new version:

Stories are the best way to communicate, even in a dispute. People don’t listen to “facts”. People listen to stories. People remember stories.
 
Some years ago, in a mediation, I had a woman and her husband as clients who were suing the wedding photographer. The story she brought to the mediation was that she didn’t get the photographs she wanted from her most special day, her wedding. 
 
The story she told was one of anger and sadness. It was a story she had been telling for the entire first year of her marriage. Telling it to herself, to her husband, to her mother, to her friends, and trying to tell it to the photographer.
 
After an hour of back and forth, they could still not come to an agreement. The photographer offered one resolution: he would give the couple all of the proofs and negatives, and then they would be done with everything. He left the room so the couple could discuss their options.
 
I continued to listen as, once again, the woman cried and focused on how she did not have pictures of her “special day”. The husband turned to her and said, “Honey, I think we should take his deal and walk away, but I will do whatever you want.”
 
That was the real story – The husband said he would do “whatever she wanted.”
 
I turned to her and said, “I know you didn’t get the pictures you wanted, but I wonder if that’s the whole story. I wonder if the story you should be telling is that after a year of marriage, you have something that many women don’t; you have a husband that will “do whatever you want.” Maybe that’s the more important story.
 
She cried and fell into her husband’s arms, and within five minutes, the mediation was finished.
 
More important than the dispute coming to a resolution is that by going through this process and hearing her own story, the wife was able to focus on her new story, the story she hadn’t really heard yet. The story that just might get her unstuck. The story that made her husband the hero and that made their marriage a triumph. 
In your personal and business stories, look beyond yourself for the hero.
 

#102 - 4/7/2014
Clothes Make the Man (or the Woman)
Here's a tip for story creation; this one is similar to many of the "prompts" offered by Donald Davis.

What's in your closet? I mean clothing. What's the oldest shirt, pair of pants, skirt, etc. that's in there? Where did you get it? When? What's the story behind that article of clothing?

Maybe it's a piece of clothing that was handed down. An old shirt that was too small for your brother. Maybe something you bought on a whim. Maybe a blouse you just "had to have" for that special occasion.

Did you buy something that you have never worn? What's the story behind that?

Clothes often remind us of when and where we wore them, who was there, who did we want to impress?

Is it something out of date now fashion-wise? Why do you still keep it? If it could speak, what would it tell you?

There's probably a lot of stories, just hanging there. Take a look and see.


#101 - 3/31/2014
What If?
Last week, Sean Buvala produced a fantastic concert in Avondale, One Story, Many Tellers. Five tellers told different (and distinct) versions of their images of Beauty and the Beast. All the stories were quite marvelous. One teller, Elly Reidy had a slightly different slant with her story. In the Q & A afterwards, she shared with the group that she is always looking for the "back story" and asking herself "What if?" She asked herself, "What if Beauty and the Beast were already married before the curse was placed?" The result was a very powerful story!

The magic of asking ourselves "What if?" has limitless possibilities.

What if...the characters were all animals, instead of humans?
What if...the characters were all humans, instead of animals?
What if...this was on another planet?
What if...this took place 1000 years ago...1000 years in the future?
What if...the genders were reversed...or all men...or all women?
What if...there were no police?
What if...we only saw ourselves through the eyes of our lover...or our enemy?
What if...all the characters were blind...or deaf...or deaf and blind?
What if...the punishment for every crime, even jay-walking, was death?
What if...all the characters spoke in a language that none of the listeners understood?
What if...we heard what each character was saying...and what they were feeling?
What if...insert your own questions here.

Okay, your turn. - Start asking the questions!
 


#100 - 3/24/2014
Near. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Far
Some of you may remember Grover from Sesame Street teaching kids about "near" and "far". For storytellers, near and far can be used as a great device for crafting a story. There are (at least) three ways to use it:

Physical Distance

The old man looked off in the distance. He saw a figure that looked like it was turning and twirling, as if dancing. As he got closer, he could see that it was a young boy, and he was not dancing, but was bending over and picking up items from the beach and throwing them into the ocean. Getting even closer, the man realized that there were hundreds of starfish on the beach. The boy was gathering them from the beach and throwing them into the ocean.

With each step that closes the physical distance, the audience knows that more and more will be revealed. We are anticipating more, and want to know what the end result will be.

Distance in Terms of Time

As each day passed, the princess grew stronger. In a week, the color had come back to her cheeks. In two more weeks, the smile came back to her face. By the time a month had passed, she was a changed woman.

We can add more details to the transformation. The time element can be short or long, depending on the type of story.

Emotional Distance

When I was thirteen years old, my father and I did not get along very well. As I got older, our relationship changed almost yearly. By the time I had graduated from high school, it was even worse. But when I turned twenty-one, something even more incredible happened; we began to get closer. I don't know if it was him, or me, or perhaps both of us. But something good was definitely happening to us!

One of the interesting things about this concept, is that the teller can use it backwards too, as in a flashback.

When my father passed away at the age of seventy, he and I were very close. It wasn't always like that. In fact, when I was thirteen years old, my father and I did not get along very well at all.

This makes the audience wonder, "Well, we know it changed. We want to know when and how and what happened."

Near and far - not just for Grover and kids who watch Sesame Street.


#99 - 3/17/2014
Wag First - Then Bark
There's a standard phrase in storytelling: "Show, don't tell."

I know that sounds a bit funny, since we call what we do, story "telling". But the truth of the matter is that a good storyteller will "show" us what's going on first and then the words come. This is also what good actors do, and we should try to emulate them.

Think about a dog. When a dog is happy to see you, the first thing it does is wag its tail. Actually, when my dog is happy to see me, she wags her whole body. Her tail is going. Her feet are tapping. Her head is going from side to side. She can't sit still. And if I do tell her to sit, she sits...but her whole body is still shaking, as if she is going to burst!

That's what storytellers should do too. If you were telling the story of what happened when you came home, you could merely say, "My dog was excited to see me." Or...
You could SHOW us how excited your dog was FIRST. BE your dog. Let us see the excitement and anticipation in the dog. Often, you won't even have to say the words. We see it, we know what is happening.

Sometimes, these actions are quite subtle. It might just be the beginning of a smile, or your eyes opening wider, or taking a breath. Often, the action starts just a fraction of a second before you TELL us. You begin to crack a smile...as it gets bigger, you continue by telling us, "Her face grew brighter as her smile filled the room." If you merely say the words without the actions, and without the intonation of your voice, the story falls flat.

So wag your tail first. Tap your feet first, Shake your head first. Then bark. Then tell us, "Oh she was so happy to see me! She knew that every time I came home...she got a treat!"


#98 - 3/10/2014
First Person Elevates Fact-Based Tales
I've written about "point of view" before. Here's a bit more about the first person POV.

In my Art of Storytelling classes at Glendale Community College, we are beginning our section on Fact-Based stories. At first look, this genre seems to be one of the more difficult ones for students (and some seasoned tellers) to get their heads around. The trick here is, how does one make this story more than just a "report" or a mere "list of events"? One of the best ways to do this is to change the POV to first person.

In a biographical story, one could choose to tell from the point of view of the central character; be Ben Franklin, Einstein, Edison, Tesla. Another way is to choose some other character in the story to tell from their POV. Tell from the POV of the Parent, Lover, Partner or Teacher of the central character. Tell the events of a historical story from the point of view of a, seemingly uninterested, bystander or observer of the incidents. Perhaps the Butler, Carpenter or even the pet belonging to one of the characters.

Last semester, one student told the story of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, but not about the attack. He told the story of how the Towers were built, from the POV of a steelworker that had helped to build the towers. He told of his pride in building the towers and at the end, his sadness at their destruction. It was brilliant. 

This semester, the first up to tell told the story of Mark "Marky-Mark" Wahlberg...from the point of view of his Mother. This was a great choice. We hear of his turbulent youth and how he went to jail, as his mother lovingly said those ubiquitous words, "But he's really a good boy!" This showed us not only the "events" of his life, but his mother's struggle to deal with his self-destructive behavior, and eventually her pride and love at his success as an actor.

Telling from the first person can lend a creative element to the story and bring the audience closer in to the experience. In a case where they may not relate to the main character, they may be able to relate to the character telling the story.


#97 - 3/3/2014
What's The Best Camping Stove?
Many of you know that I am a bicycle/camping enthusiast. Over the years, I have modified and purchased newer and newer gear for camping and cooking at the campground. Of course, every camper has their “favorite” camping stove: the lightest; the smallest; the quietest; the best gas burner, etc. Everyone believes their choice is “the best.”

A few years ago I was at REI (the “best” camping store) and overheard a customer ask the salesperson, “What’s the best camping stove?” Eager to hear his take, I was surprised when, instead, he asked a question. “What kind of food are you going to be cooking?”
 
Ah! Brilliant!
 
Here was not just a great salesperson, but a great “coach”. Rather than tell the customer what stove “he” thought, or even “others” thought was the best, he used specific questions to ascertain more information about the “needs of the customer.”
 
Good coaching for storytellers is quite similar. Quite often, students and coaching clients ask me, “What’s the best way to…?; How do I…?; How can I…?” My “best” response to any of these queries is to follow up with another question; questions that will assist the client in focusing in on their goals and understanding of their story.
 
Who’s your audience?
What’s the story about?
What do you want the audience to feel, experience?
How long do you have to tell?
 
These and other secondary and tertiary questions will lead the client AND the coach along the appropriate path for this particular story/situation.
 
Last year I had a coaching session with Sean Buvala.  I presented an idea for a new character-specific story. I was having difficulty finding the right direction to go; understanding how to begin. Sean asked one simple question that got me thinking and going. He said, “Who are you telling the story to?”
 
The “best” answer to a question about the “best” way to accomplish something is most likely another, specific  question.
 

#96 - 2/24/2014
Shallow End of Pool Best for Beginning Tellers Too

The deep end. The high dive. These are not good places for beginning swimmers to start. Also not the best place for beginning tellers to get their feet wet. 
 
This semester at GCC, I am trying something new with my storytelling students. Instead of having them get up, for the very first time, telling in front of twenty pairs of riveting eyes, they are starting in the shallow end of the pool. They sit (or stand if comfortable) with two or three other students, and tell their story.
 
Many seasoned tellers, like Doug Lipman and Jay O'Callahan, start telling newly crafted tales with just one friend or a "story buddy". See my article on telling at the kitchen table
 
Telling to a small group is much less intimidating. It's like having those steps and that hand railing to hold on to, just in case you slip. It's a way to "get their feet wet" without having to be literally "thrown into the deep end."
 
They have a day off between classes, then come back and tell in front of the whole group. Some interesting things are happening with this process. First, students are reporting (and showing) that they are much more relaxed when they finally get up in front of the whole class, after having had the opportunity to "practice" in smaller groups.
 
Secondly, they are practicing and changing their stories between classes. Many of the students, having experienced "telling out loud", decide to change parts of their story. They are reporting, "I needed a better ending" or "I decided to change the way that character makes his decision." They are learning and practicing the process of "crafting" their stories!
 
And lastly, they are getting great accolades from their peers. The students that heard their stories in the smaller groups are heaping praise and great appreciations on them for their "well-tuned" versions. The tellers are experiencing great pride in themselves for a job well done.
 
They are learning!
 

 


#95 - 2/17/2014
Personification - Make it Personal
Anthropomorphism, or personification, is the attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. Like: talking animals, trees, or the walls of a house. Personification happens in folk tales and Fairytales all the time. The Three Bears live in a house; eat porridge, talk and act like humans. Personification is rife in these genres. Disney does it in every animated film.

But what about personal stories? Using personification in personal stories can add many different levels of interest for the audience. Instead of telling the audience that "My dog looked as though she wanted to go out," we could actually have the dog speak.

"Aw, c'mon dad. Let's go. I've been waiting here for hours just go outside. Are you blind? Do I not have the leash in my mouth? What the heck? YOU taught me to do that. So, now you don't understand? Sheesh! What do I have to do to train YOU?!?!"

One can add humor, insight, or even spooky, dark elements, like:

"The walls spoke to me. They whispered an eerie warning, 'Don't stay here. You'll go insane.' I felt as if I already was heading there."

Think about all the animals and objects in your story. Is there a way to incorporate them as living, breathing entities using personification? 


#94 - 2/10/2014
Your First Bike!
Your FIRST - A great topic for stories.
Great stories are all about emotions - universal emotions. What better way to tap into the feelings that are shared by everyone, the first time they attempt to do something. The excitement, fear, joy, anxiety, helplessness, fear of failure, and all the other inner trepidations and expectations of doing something for the first time!

The possibilities for stories are almost limitless:

  • Your first bike
  • Your first day of school
  • Your first time on an airplane
  • Your first job
  • Your first time outside of the country
  • Your first time telling a story
  • The first time you - won a race, conquered the mountain, did 100 push-ups, ate a strange food, jumped off the cliff, took a dare

What other "firsts" can you come up with? Focus in on it. Where were you? Who else was there? How old were you? What was your worst fear? What was your best hope? What hurdles did you have to overcome? What emotions did you have? Who helped you, or who stood in your way? Did you succeed or fail? 

And what about the first time you fell in love? Remember that song, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"? Recall that special moment and all the emotions surrounding it. . .then craft your story!
 


#93 - 2/3/2014
Rubric, Rubric, I've Been Thinking
Just over a year ago, I wrote a TIP about "Measuring Success". With the new semester at the Community College, and my visits to the Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center classes, the topic has reared its ugly head again. I say "ugly" because there are so many levels that have to be weighed. Consider this excerpt from that ea