When we give a gift, we unlock doors to listening.
Giving Gifts: The Basics of Storytelling
All of us wonder about life—why is the sky blue, why does the sun come up in the east, why do we have different colors of hair? The list is endless. Before written language, explanations for these natural phenomena were told in stories. This explanatory aspect of storytelling makes it a wonderful teaching tool. Stories can be used to identify unfamiliar terms, new ideas, present culture, and in myriad other ways. With no tools other than the imagination, we can instruct and entertain for hours through the art of telling and teaching stories.
Crafting the Story
A Cheyenne storyteller once said, “Stories are gifts. It us up to us to take and receive them.” Precious gifts have three elements—just like stories:
1. The Beginning: Unwrapping. Special gifts are always wrapped. There is an anticipation to discover the gift that is contained inside the wrapping. When preparing a short story, a beginning should not delay the story, but grab the reader from the first sentence, or hopefully the first word. Avoid the use of predictable beginnings such as “once upon a time.” Instead, create a beginning with more flavor, like “once where there was no time.”
2. The Gift. The reason the package is wrapped up is so that we can open it up and see the beauty of what lies inside. As much as the beginning of the story builds our curiosity, the gift that lies beneath should satisfy our eagerness to open it. Remember, in order for the story to be effective it should have: 1) conflict, and 2) a dominant idea or purpose. Your story should include a problem that must be solved and it should have a mission. But try not to beat the mission down your listeners’ throats—instead take them on a journey of discovery.
3. The Conclusion: Wrapping. With special gifts comes the desire to store it carefully. Stories should always be “wrapped” so that their flavor can be savored at a later time. Avoid predictable endings like “The End.” Instead build the ending from the conflict. Stories that are neatly wrapped are gifts for another day.
When you are ready to give your gift of a story, remember the following guidelines:
Don’t be ordinary, be extraordinary! No one wants to hear a story if you don’t allow it to become your story. Storytelling gives a sense of ownership; you are the owner of your version of the story.
Use “color” words. Create a picture for the listener. For example, “In the deep dark jungle lived a mangy old tired lion with one tooth.”Practice. Until you feel comfortable telling your story, practice telling it over and over again.Don’t memorize. There is no need to memorize your story. Let your story just pour out of you. Most storytellers do not concentrate on the words, but the moment. It is okay to forget sometimes, but make sure that you create a scene.
Read and listen. In order to be a storyteller, you should read as many stories as you can or listen to stories that other people tell. Consider yourself a detective, and your mission is to explore stories so that you can find one that is right for you to tell.
Follow a path. As you create your story, listen to what you are creating. Make sure that you follow a path, let it be intentional and useful to the purpose of the story.
Write stories. Storytelling and writing are siblings. The more you write the more creative you can become in telling stories. The more you tell stories, the more ideas you will get for writing them.
There is room for everyone when you are serving stories.
When telling a story, you are presenting a gift no one else can give to another person. No one tells a story like you do. Share the gift with everyone.
Kevin Cordi, National Story Consultant
Professional Storyteller, Story Teacher
“Together we make a difference with story.”