Getting Started with Storytelling

What sort of stories can one tell?

All sorts!

Here's an A to Z of possibilities and there are more...

  • animal tales, big stories, cultural ones, epics, episodes from epics,
  • fables, fairy-tales, folk-tales, funny stories
  • ghost stories, heritage, historical, inspirational, jokes, legends, literary, myths,
  • narratives, poems, parables, personal stories, sacred stories, slice of life,
  • tall stories, trickster stories, urban myths, wisdom tales, wonderous, yarns,
  • zoom stories (for a z entry)

Themes and motifs - an infinite range

Stories are also grouped in collections by reference to:

  • a theme e.g. animals, ecology, monsters
  • specific region or country e.g. India, Ghana, Iceland, sea or desert
  • recurrent motifs e.g. quest, abandonment, transformation, lost, journey
  • feel - light, dark, racy, sad, humorous, sad, heavy, short, lengthy, rhythic

Your Purpose?

We tell stories to…

  • entertain, distract, and divert
  • develop oracy and literacy
  • express oneself (as teller)
  • enthuse about ... historical events, people etc.
  • nurture particular social attitudes and values
  • develop problem-solving skills
  • provide a vehicle and narrative genre for learning a language
  • nurture an appreciation of cultural diversity
  • supplement school subject learning (e.g. literature, history, reading & science)
  • nurture imagination and creativity
  • transmit cultural and family stories across generations
  • contribute to psychological healing
  • practice storytelling skills
  • develop an organisational culture
  • provoke self-reflection on personal attitudes re controversial topics (e.g. racism, sexism etc)
  • "play" and "dance" with the spoken language and audience participation
  • embed quality language patterns for children as they listen and learn
  • to have a jolly good time
  • ... and more!

Is there anything that can’t be done with storytelling?

By far the most common purposes are to entertain, distract, and divert. And of course, these main purposes may be achieved concurrently with any others.
Many of these purposes, however, can only be achieved with very specific story types, by using the stories as part of a well-designed workshop, or by incorporating storytelling into skilful teaching processes.

Non-oral storytelling is also part of many cultural activities including film, writing, motivation, News, Ted Talks and such - but is different to the spoken story told to willing listeners within earshot.

Occasions and settings where Storytellers may tell …

Member storytellers tell at:

  • their regular story sharing meetings
  • concerts held from time to time
  • family and community events and clubs where they tell quite professionally (e.g. weddings; birthdays; reunions).
  • special events where a subgroup of Members may tell a program of stories (e.g. Medieval Fair, Residential Care facilities, Festivals. If a payment is involved, a percentage is donated to the association.

Professional Storytellers - Some are career tellers who maintain themselves as a business, others tell by contract as a extra in their lives. Professional Storytellersmay tell at:

  • Social & Educational Institutions: for example, working in schools, kindergartens, universities, festivals, social clubs
  • Business training seminars, in psychotherapy, on trains, planes and cruise ships.
  • Special commissioned project performances - alone or in collaboration with other storytellers, musicians, or visual or performing artists.

In preparation, Tellers think about...

Selecting, modifying or writing a story for oral storytelling, which are all arts in their own right.

In what follows it‘s assumed you have a relatively well-formed story you wish to prepare and learn for telling. There are more detailed guidelines elsewhere to address the practical considerations of what you might do immediately before a telling/performance and during your telling.

It does not take much reflection to discover that how you go about preparing and learning a story depends onthe story, the occasion of telling, the audience, and your own preferences. Working with a story which happens to be a relatively long literary masterpiece (e.g. Oscar Wild's The Selfish Giant ) is quite different from learning to tell Henny Penny or an anecdote; preparing to tell a story for a specific TV audience which will be pre-recorded (thus requiring precise camera cuing and positioning) is quite different to telling to your own child informally at bedtime; and, you may know your own learning style so well that you are already convinced there is only one way for you to learn a story. So… the following guidelines are offered as useful when you seek to prepare some stories, on some occasions, with some audiences, with certain personal preferences.

  • Make the story your own by listening to it and reading it a few times before summarising it. Create your own story skeleton, outline, storyboard (stick figure cartoons), or mind map, of the main events & features in the story. This then becomes a basis for reconstructing your version of the story orally over time (eg 10 days or so). Ideally, visualise in your imagination each scene or event in the story from your notes.
  • Clarify the most important thing about the story that you want the story to convey to the audience/listeners (NOT to tell listeners, but to help shape your own version for telling). For example, the most important thing about a particular story for you may be: the cunning of a character, the mystery of love, or a message – hope will prevail, or that listeners delight in the rich word play of the language. There are many possibilities, which may all shape what you include, delete and change in your story.
  • Note parts of the story that you really prefer (or need) to keep close to the original wording. For example, repeated lines of a chorus (‘Little Pig, Little pig…'), or phrases that appeal to you as poetic, just right, essential. These parts along with the opening and closing sentences are ones to know very well, to over-learn so to speak.
  • Tell the story aloud to yourself (with and then without notes). If possible picture each event/scene in the story as you tell it (some people are better visualiser than others so don't give yourself a hard time doing this)…… Afterwards, note where you have fluency and feel satisfied, where you want to find better wording (e.g. when you get tongue tied), and where your mind goes blank - all normal during practices.
  • Practice & Repeat the process with the same experimental, playful attitude. Space your repetitions. Some people find useful telling…while looking in a mirror; to a dog, cat, parrot or a shrub; a supportive friend/partner; to a baby, making a recording to listen to.

You may like also to obtain a free booklet Tips for Storytelling which includes further hints and guidelines for preparing a story to tell at a story-sharing meeting. These are available at our meetings.