WRITING AND TELLING STORIES
|WRITING AND TELLING STORIES
Stories, Folktales, Folklore, Fairy Tales, Legends,
Myths, History, Nursery Rhymes, Fantasy & Facts
Scroll down or click on your choice below
• SOS: Searching Out Stories/Info-Writing-Telling
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians
SOS: SEARCHING OUT STORIES AND INFORMATION - WRITING AND TELLING STORIES
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)
Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them for more information.
Story titles are in quotation marks.
To retell any stories, get permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Storytell posts are added chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.
I know many on this list write as well as tell stories. I am interested to know how you use writing to help you with your work with story and if any particular type of writing happens to most helpful for you.
Most of my stories are orally developed, written only after a lot of oral work. Though sometimes I will write down the bones early on (and I mean "bones").
Oral storytelling is very much a process for me. I am generally more interested in process than product (not to say product isn't important).
Sometimes I will process my work with a story, storytelling, or a process of storytelling (like listening) in my journaling. My journaling type is probably best called stream of consciousness journaling though I do use a variety of forms.
I approach my writing of story in a very similar manner as I do oral storytelling - it is like I am telling it as I am writing it - this may not sound right but is the best I can do to describe it.
Actually, I approach both storytelling and writing similarly to working on collage work - very exploratorily (yes, I didn't think Word would think that is a word - BUT it ought to be :)
Mary K.C. 10/24/05
a) My writing seems to follow what you described. That is, I write like I'm telling the story. This may sound odd, but if I write a story, I can't seem to tell it orally. It's like I don't want to risk missing anything I wrote, since I don't memorize the stories I tell. So, if I write a story I'm telling, I usually write a bare bones of it.
When I do write and it isn't that often, I get an idea in my head and then sit down to write it out. I compose the story as I'm writing. I don't outline it first or jot down elements of the story and then write from the notes.
Since I've only had one college writing course in my life, I don't consider myself a skilled or polished writer. I'm also self-taught on typing or keyboarding as they call it now. So, my writing or typing is atrocious! I can come up with a story in very quick time, but it takes me hours to type it. Thank God someone invented word processing and spell/grammer check.
Tim M. 10/24/05
b) As you know, I write a good bit and tell what I write also. I do tell a lot of folk tales and Jack tales as well as about anything I am asked to do... but love telling my stuff a lot.
For me it all starts the same way. I spend a lot of time in the car as I drive from place to place for work. I am in the car for several hours at a time at least 3 days a week. That is where I ponder stories. I turn off the radio (I really don't listen much, now that I think of it!) and spend time thinking about the story I am working on. Sometimes I will roll a phrase around in my head and then repeat it out loud to see how it sounds. Written word sounds different than spoken.
I try to write things down these days because I have had some great story ideas that I forgot by the time I arrived back home days later. I keep journals all over the place and jot down just ideas in them to get me started.
It seems like I play with a story a long time before I write it down. I have a good idea of the direction and when I sit down it flows a lot easier.
For example, I am working on a character right now. His name is Ronnie Ray and the inspiration is from a friend of mine in Texas by the same name. I have tried him out in a couple stories in my head but he doesn't fit in one yet. Ronnie Ray is a big ol' boy an' just as good hearted as he is big. He wears his hair short and always dresses neat. He can eat like he was in the Olympics for eatin'! By writing about him just now I committed myself to some general traits that I knew he had. I just don't know much more about him yet and am not sure how he fits into my hometown of Beloved, KY... but he does fit there.
I will write about him before I tell about him and I may not tell the story I write. Ronnie Ray may populate another story and he may fit into a tall tale I tell someday that is not mine. He may just feel like the character of a story I read or hear about.
The main thing about writing, Mary, is that I don't like the static nature of it. I told a story Saturday night that I created about 2 years ago. It doesn't look the same. I sing "Wayfarin' Stranger" in it now and didn't even imagine doing that at first. If I had written it down I am not sure if it would have evolved to the full and hearty tale it is now.
Does that give you an idea of how I do it? I don't know, dear cousin if it makes sense, for it is just my way of getting to the story.
Stephen H. 10/24/05
c) My muse hits me as I am writing. My writings are more like me speaking, but it allows me to polish it a bit with some well-placed images and solid story structure. I don't feel my stories originate in the oral process. In fact, I feel that my extemporaneous speaking is a bit lacking. I only feel free to add something to the story or try a different characterization once I know the story. To me it's more like learning the lines in a play. Once I know the lines and know the play, then I'm able to let the muse do it's thing. When I finally tell the story, it may or (more probably) may not be what was on my written page. I rather envy those tellers who tell orally, but I love that I have the talent that I do have with writing.
Marilyn K. 10/24/05
d) The Magic Brush, The Little Tree That Wished for Different Leaves, and the Blue Rose (available at http://www.rosethestorylady.com ) are some of the stories that I have written down. I researched several versions of each of these folktales and developed my own version which I then wrote down. In the written version I wrote and edited and wrote and edited until the words and phrasing seemed right.
However, when I tell these stories, my own written version becomes one of the versions my oral story is based on and each telling is different. Writing it down on paper also writes it in my heart and mind and helps it more truly to become my story. While the written version is "fixed" in the writing, the oral version is fluid and changes with time. The oral version has evolved beyond the written version and will continue to do so.
Rose the story lady 10/24/05
e) About your question about writing and telling. The stories in this book were written first. Then, as I tell them, they change. In fact the teller's version is not always the same as the written one.
One of the tools I use to "uncover" my personal stories is the Progoff Intensive Journal Method, which I teach. You can buy the book, At a Journal Workshop, and there is also his book specifically on writing biography...
You say you practice in the car. I practice with a tape recorder. Very interesting difference to hear myself, and very evident what needs changes...
The poet John Masefield used to issue new editions of his books of poetry frequently, because he wasn't satisfied and changed the poems he had already published!...
Dvora S. 10/24/05
f) I"m so glad the subject line reads Writing AND Telling stories, rather than Writing versus Telling stories. Often, it's been debated that the two are oppositional to one another (of course in some instances they are, and some not).
I write both kinds, some for page, some for the "stage". My process of getting a story onto paper is pretty much the same for both. The idea (most often an interesting character, with a dilemma, but at other times just a clever line that popped into my head) comes to me and to capture it, I put it on paper (computer really). Then if it's a literary story, I go about creating it as such. If it's a story I feel would work on the stage, I go about writing it with the qualities of a literary story, but with an ear for a narrator telling it to a live audience. Sometimes I imagine it's an audience of one, and sometimes it's an audience of hundreds in my mind (the comedic ones tend to get much larger audiences in my head, as opposed to an intimate story for a intimate audience).
Once it's on paper, I begin the process of learning it out loud. Over and over for days or weeks or months, depending on the story, I repeat the story whenever I shower (daily), whenever I'm in the car, and often at home with a microphone and amp. Something about the amplification, allows me to fine tune the ups and downs of the character's journey. I seem to work "by ear" at this point. In doing this repetition, the lines of the story change, and I edit like crazy on the paper, simply to remember the newest version (so often and so wildly does the story change).
Only when I know the story (in my case memorization--and proud of it) and it feels right to tell, do I take it to guild, or to my story coachfor further editing, then eventually to the stage setting. At this point the tellable version is set for me, though often in telling it, lines will again change or be improved upon, things will be added based on audience response, things will be deleted for the same reason, and I feel comfortable with moving onto writing/learning something new.
I'd like to comment further on the memorization and proud of it statement above. I memorize my stories, word for word. But that memorization comes from a constant tweaking of the story as I learn it (meaning writing and telling) over weeks or months. (There's one story I'm still learning and it's been nearly a year). So I'm un-memorizing as I learn my stories, too.
My finished product, a story, is memorized to the point of me knowing it so well, it's a part of me (you can read a line off my page and i'll instantly pick up the next line and go on). So comfortable am I with the story at this point, I can allow myself to stray from it during the telling if need be, depending on how it's going over with the audience. I'm usually surprised by each audience reacting to something different in the story, and this helps me edit further.
Much of my memorization requirement is a by-product of the way I structure my stories. Often, things, like my endings, are so predicated on other things happening in a specific order, and at a specific time, it's nearly impossible to leave any sentence out. Maybe that is a bleed-over from my literary work, but it seems to work for me.
It's often said of great writers who write dialog exceptionally well, that they have a "great ear" for dialog. When I "write" my tellable stories, what happens in my head is that I imagine I'm an audience member too. I'm constantly asking myself, does this sound right coming from the narrator in my head? When I rehearse them out loud, it focuses that process for me.
I've resisted enjoining the argument about written stories versus telling stories for the simply reason that my method works for me. I'm a harsh critic on myself and my own work, because a sentence doesn't mean much to me unless it's affecting someone who hears or reads it. I like these kinds of questions for the reason that it educates folks on the different processes people use to learn and tell stories (even for us more literary inclined writers).
I am fully aware that there may be folks out there who do not like my work because they think it's too literary or sounds, God forbid, memorized. But in my mind, that's like saying Bil Lepp's stories are full of Bullsh*t (of course they are, and it works wonderfully for Bil). Hey, if a method of writing and telling works for the individual storyteller, fantastic. There's really enough room for all of us. And I know that because stories have told me so.
Gregory L. 10/25/05
g) A lurker tiptoeing into the conversation...and with some trepidation offering a comment and question.
I tell stories, both in writing and in my work as a speaker and trainer focused on diversity issues. It is the stories that people remember from my training, not the facts and figures. The stories are the conduit for understanding.
Am I a storyteller? I don't know. I'm not sure I know how to make the transition from writing my stories (you can find them at www.37days.typepad.com and I'd welcome your feedback--are they stories?) to being a storyteller. What is that process like?
Perhaps this is prompted by my very first visit to the National Storytelling Festival - at the last minute, I had an opportunity to go on Friday of the Festival as a chaperone for my daughter's 8th grade class (I know, not ideal circumstances). It was fantastic, even in the rain. But I'm not one for making decisions in groups and my daughter and I finally had an opportunity to escape and hear Andy Irwin and Bil Lepp, just the two of us- Emma was entranced and it was magical to watch her see the power of story in practice...a big moment for the two of us to share, laughing in that full tent. We also saw the youth tellers - I could see her wonder if she could do that (as a shy child, it was wonderful to see that door open, just a crack, for her).
How to transition from written to oral? Perhaps that's too big a question...
Patti D. 10/24/05
h) The majority of my time performing has been in the form of improvisational theatre. Storyteller Willy Claflin asked me, oh, so do you improvise your stories?
Oh no, I told him. To me, improvisation is a collaborative process, and I need those other improvisers to work off of. I don't trust myself as a collaborator, I said.
But that's not quite true, now that this thread has got me thinking about my process.Like Marilyn, I work from writing. The writing process lets the images flow and I can build on them and shape them and work them up into a something tellable. In that case, I'm working off of and building on and (in the language of improv) "yes and"ing my images-- so I am collaborating with myself.
But I don't feel comfortable doing that orally for an audience.
Sure, I need the feedback I get (both internal and external) from telling a story out loud. The telling allows me to shape and edit the story. And like Rose, the oral form of the story will always be fluid. But the written version gives me the bones to work from.
And the physical act of moving a pencil or pen across a page, that kinesthetically prompts my brain to let the imagination go to work. (The physical act of typing on a keyboard is also a prompt, but not as powerful for me).
For writing, I find journaling very helpful in loosening the imagination. Sure, 9 out of 10 pages won't turn into story, but the process keeps my mind active-- especially in making connections and playful leaps of imagination that will be vital when it comes to crafting a story.
i) One of my favorite things to do at children's festivals or gatherings where there are a lot of young people is improvisational storytelling. I will get the young person to tell me what their favorite animal is, and then I will ask them why they like that animal or what is their favorite thing about that animal, or what they would like to know about that animal. I then have 60 seconds to come up with a story about that animal, for instance how the giraffes got their long necks).
I must admit that I am not always successful and end up giving out a lollipop or two for my failure, but the entire process draws in young and old.
Mountain Hermit 10/25/05
j) I do this with older elementary students on a regular basis. I get them into the Beginning, Storyline, ending feeling of story, and then finish my program with a "build your own story". I tell them I will do the beginning and then start calling on them to complete the story. I just point to a kid and ask "and then what happened . . . who was there . . . etc." The kids really get into this after about two picks. They try to gross me out sometimes but I always use what they come up with. This is where the improv comes in . . . I maintain control of the story by taking what they come up with but keep the story mine by doing improv with what I do with their suggestion. I do this right up to the time that the bell is ready to ring and I will suddenly look up at the clock and say "Oh my gosh . . . It is time for the bell to ring . . . What haven't I done?" The kids always come back with " You haven't done the ending yet!" Then I just look lost (sometimes that is not too hard) and say "I don't have time to do the ending . . . Teachers . . . Each of these students has a HOMEWORK assignment! They each have to write their OWN ending to this story!" Many groans from the audience! "They have only two requirements. 1. They cannot kill off the hero, and 2. The hero cannot wake up from a bad dream.
You should see the results I get back from teachers! They send me endings to the story and almost every time there will be one notation "This child has never written more than two sentences since I have had him in class!" and it will be written on a two PAGE ending to the story. IMPROV keeps you as the teller and the class as the listener sharp and develops writing and listening skills.
Steve O. 10/25/05
k) It's not necessarily that I like to hear myself talk (okay, maybe a little), but I find often that the story journey, and here I mean putting the story together correctly, calls for timed moments of loudness, softness, fast talking, dramatic pauses, sound effects, etc., and I just find it easier to hear the need for those moments in a story with amplification. It always amazes me in a story that a storyteller can be whispering on stage and with amplification you still get the effect intended. It's dramatic without a microphone in a more intimate setting, but nearly impossible for a larger audience.
I also like the constant practice of using a microphone. One thing that irritates me is anyone who uses a microphone like a rockstar does, and by this I mean as a consumable. You know, where they are nearly eating the microphone as they speak. (I was recently at a fundraising dinner auction, and the very experience auctioneer was doing this, and he didn't even notice the entire audience turning to one another asking if they heard where the bid was. I felt really bad for the organization, and prayed someone connected with the organization would walk up and pull the microphone a few inches below his mouth.)
With anything, proper microphone usage takes experience, so I'm just killing two birds with one stone as I come up with tellable versions of my stories.
Glad you found it useful.
Gregory L. 10/25/05
l) One more:
I use writing as a 'first try' of a story, when I'm not ready to try doing it outloud. Telling with my fingers keeps me looser, and helps me get images into words.
But before that, I've often drawn pictures or a story board, and perhaps acted the story out silently. I might have drawn pictures of the major characters and written words lists -- descriptive words for the characters and their feelings, often in pairs so that I can see the oppositions of the characters.
Then, the 'performance' by writing -- and perhaps another outline or storyboard if I learned new things about the story.
The only part of that text that I hold onto is the dialogue. For some reason, I like to almost memorize the dialogue, but I'm really against memorizing anything else. Certain words and phrases fall into place with repeated rehearsings, but those feel more like little deer trails in the forest compared to the train track that memorization feels like to me.
This has been a wonderful thread -- Thank you, Jackie for putting it on line because I was hoping to be able to share these notes with my students.
Lee-Ellen M. 10/25/05
m) I don't like to use the term memorizing at all. The fact we don't memorize the stories is one of the things that sets us apart and makes us Storytellers. Knowing the story is different. It allows us to be interactive with the audience. It gives us the flexibility to adapt and makes the telling of the same story fresh every time. Last night I told at a Halloween campfire. With new groups coming in each time I told the same story several times, each fresh and slightly different. As I would tell I could see the faces and reactions and would play on that. If I had just memorized the story I couldn't have done that. Yes it was the same story and for the most part it would have been hard to tell the tellings apart, but each time it fit the audience and was personal to them. Just as each person has their own personality, each audience has its own personality. This aspect of telling carries over in to my Ventriloquist, and magic. It helps to set me apart from others vents and magicians that do memorize their routines. I am so glad that I learned Storytelling first. It is unique.....
Bob S. 10/30/05
n) In the Waldorf kindergarten teaching, we were encouraged to memorize the fairy tales word for word, and to always present it that way. We were definitely in the role of "narrator" and nothing else, and as such we would lead our little ones into a dreamy state with the story. The only problem I had with that was the memorization always seemed a bit rigid, and my delivery of the author's words didn't have my own life in it. I still tell fairy tales, and I know the fairy tales very well, and even use much of the original narration that I learned at first, but I think I've moved into telling from "the position of the story" (drawing from a different post that Ruthanne wrote). The story is not always told exactly the same--there can be surprises, and new discoveries that make it come alive for me as well as my listeners.
Judith W. 10/30/05
o) That's good if the person who wrote the story wrote it better than the teller can tell it, but many fairy and folk tales were and are written in a stilted or patronising style that even a tyro teller can improve. Written language is normally more formal than spoken. Chuck Larkin had the rare ability to write a story in a way that it read as if heard. I suspect he wrote it down while listening to himself tell it in his head.
Richard M. Dublin 10/30/05
p) What is the original version of most fairy & folk tales. Most are lost in antiquity. I guess a performer must decide for them selves if they want to "recite" the tale (memorize) or "tell" the tale (learn as a Storyteller).
The Waldorf method may be good for instilling a love of stories and the words they are were written with, but it is not teaching Storytelling (maybe storytelling in the generic meaning).
Bob S. 10/31/05
q) << Or, we can say to them, "A storyteller commits the story to memory (going in), and then when it comes out it contains not only the story, but the storyteller." >>
I love the above sentiment, it reminds of the story, The Three Dolls, where the teller adds their own twist to the story. In fact, I love your statement so much I am going to share it with my storytelling students today. I have noticed, that in telling my students "not" to memorize, there is a slight level of panic. Since they are new to the art of storytelling they can't quite comprehend how they can tell the story if it isn't memorized. Of course we work through those issues as we continue our journey together, but I think the above statement would make them so much more comfortable. Thank you for the insight!
<<It's a huge part for tandem tellers especially, as many tandem stories rely on precise back and forth timing. It's a huge part just to make sure you proceed through the story from beginning to middle to end. It's a huge part in a well developed storytellers' repertoire, as you must know and remember many stories.>>
Some of you folks may know that Greg and I have done some tandem telling together, and he is right, in that instance we have to memorize the story almost verbatim. Each of us is counting on the other to have the right line to move the story along so the telling partner can continue. Does that mean we haven't done a slight bit of improv when one of us (mainly me :) has tripped over a line? No, luckily, precisely because Greg lives and breathes his stories so well, he is able to improv on the spot so we can continue somewhat seamlessly and the audience is never the wiser. I know two folks on the list, Sue Black and Leanne Johnson, heard Greg and I perform in tandem at Northland's a few years back. I seem to remember they enjoyed the story immensely and didn't seem to think that the story sounded memorized, (unless they chose not to share that with us) when it fact, of course it had to be.
Part of the magic came from Greg and I practicing over and over, switching parts, starting in the middle to see if we could pick up the story midstream, using ridiculous voices, etc., in essence playing with the story over and over so it became a part of us.
I have heard many national tellers share the same story, at different venues, and the intonation, nuances, facial expression, everything, is EXACTLY the same as the last time I heard them tell the tale. Does that disappoint me? No, because it is pretty obvious in those instances that they have honed the story to perfection, know it so well that it seamlessly slips from their mind (i.e. memory), drops delicately into their mouth and out to those of us in the audience waiting to catch it.
I think there is room for every style as long as our focus is on bringing the story to life and light,whether using the original authors words or our own. Viva la difference!
Karen C. 11/1/05
r) I would agree somewhat with you in that we do memorize the "Bones" of the story, but coming from the Theatre side of the business I don't think that we really "Memorize" with a capitol "M". That is what brought me from theatre to Storytelling. We know the bones of the story but we all take the story to the audience though the "Gut Level communication" instead of just parroting words and interpretation. I always tell my classes that you cannot tell a story from your head. You have to share the story and every audience is different and demands to be treated accordingly. I know my story but I never really know how I will be telling it until I get up on stage and start telling. My audience will tell me how to proceed. As an example, my version of Poe's Tell Tale Heart may go from 13 minutes to 20 minutes depending on the audience. I was telling about my program last Friday night and scaring up and down a story based on the audience and that could not be done if word for word recitation was done.
Many stories are meant to be read not told. I we don't adapt the telling to meet the audience we cannot be effective as oral communicators. I think that we are saying the same things but using different words . . . Gee maybe we are storytellers . . .
Steve O. 11/1/05
s) Amen! Greg speaks the truth as it is, as it was, as it ever shall be.
If you don't like to say "memorize," then try "remembered with great precision." But a rose by any other name is still a rose. Memorization is a time-honored skill which preserves the gray cells as we age. Children can't learn the times tables without it (although the education gurus tried to claim they could.)
Check out the Irish tradition
"In Éireann (Ireland) in times past there were those known as Seanachaidh(Shan-ah-kee), tellers who carry the Traditional Tales and history of his people in a particular way. A Seanachaidh is a genealogist, a historian, a documenter of events and agreements, a walking library. In addition, the Seanachaidh carries the Folk Tales. As they are important, they are remembered with great precision, in quite a pure form, something precious, to be handed on intact to the next carrier of the oral tradition. And so it has been for thousands of years."
Mary Lee S. 11/1/05
t) My take - I think that we get hung up on memorization because many people think all we do is open a book and memorize the words to a story. (Okay, exception - a literary piece - see below). It makes us feel that somehow the audience doesn't understand that it is not sheer memorization. That that would be a cheat. Most of us find a folk tale and pare it down and then dress it up with our own words. Yes, we need to memorize (or see) the story path vividly. Then, using our words we fill in with the words and images that make the story unique unto us. That is why it is so easy to remember - because you use the words, sentence structure, emotion, experience, interpretation, etc that is you. I think that if a person heard me tell a folktale once and then heard it again, they would indeed - think - it was memorized word for word. The next time they heard it they would not remember that I said a line this way or that, or that I dropped a line, or that I added something new. They would not remember that (I know I wouldn't), but the story as a whole was the very same.
Personal stories, authored stories, and original stories (all literary in my book) are another whole ball of wax.
One more thing - I tell people I memorize images not words.
Marilyn K. 11/1/05
u) The discussion between memorization and learning the story is very interesting. To me a wonderful and exciting concept of Storytelling is its freedom. I liken the difference between memorization and learning a story to the difference between photography and the watercolor artist. Probably this is because I've been trained in both.
My mother was a trained artist. When she took photographs they were lousy. Why? Because when she would look through the viewfinder of the camera she saw the scene and she would paint it. If she saw a tree, she may make it straighter, or make it crooked, she may fill in the leaves more, or she may make it barer, all in her mind. When she pressed a shutter, the picture was taken as it was, not as she pictured it in her mind. Often that was not very good.
I was a professional photographer for a number of years so when I look through the viewfinder, I think about how to change the angle, how to vary the lighting, what I would do to make it a better picture. To make the reality of the scene what I want, and that is what I would take as a picture. When I paint with watercolors painted on canvas, what I want to see and not what I actually see is what I put on the canvas.
Most stories start out as words in a book. When one memorizes those words, they memorize the reality of the story the way it was when it was written. They recite the words exactly in that reality. Much as a photographer would, they may color it, they may change the angle a little bit, but still it's the work that is the reality of the words of the story. They in fact are reciting the story. The Storyteller on the other hand, is looking at story as they want to see it, they may change colors, they may very the story, they get input from the audience that will help them in the way they tell it. They do not tell the reality of the words but tell the story as an artist would paint it. There is freedom in that and it is the glory of Storytelling that can not be captured in reciting the story.
Of course they of memorized the outline of the story. That is how they know where to go with the story. But like the watercolor artist they are free to move as the story and the audience direct. For a teller to recite the words exactly as they as they were written down is simply an actor portraying a Storyteller.
So is there a place in Storytelling for rote memorization? I believe so. Some tellers like to use poetry. By its very nature poetry requires word for word recitation. It is not Storytelling, and but it certainly can be used in a storytelling performance. Someone mentioned tandem storytelling. Maybe, depending upon the tellers and their style there may need to be memorization, and maybe not. If the story depends on precise timing of the words then probably in has to be memorized. If the synchronization between the two tellers is not some tight end true Storytelling. Still it is an interesting part of Storytelling.
Professional, and some amateur storytellers, encounter a special problem. Many times, when doing a performance the stage lights are up and house lights are down and you simply can't see the audience. Many tellers including myself often ask for the house lights to be at least partially up so we can see the audience. Unfortunately this is not always practical. I have told in venues when I absolutely could not see the audience. They could've gone home for all I knew. Sometimes there is auditory clues, laughter, gasps, etc. (hopefully not tomatoes thrown from the audience) which can help. Mostly what I get in to those situations I tried to picture an audience, either one that I've had, or an imaginary audience where I am trying to imagine the reaction. Still is best if I can see the audience.
As storytellers we suffer from a rather unique problem. In most art forms name of the art form is what it is. Storytelling can be both the name of the particular and specific art form and can also be a generic name. I remember once hearing an architect who claimed that he was primarily a storyteller because wanted his buildings to tell a story. Regardless of what he said he was, he was an architect I would love to have told him that I was a storyteller but primarily I am an architect because I build my stories from the ground up like a building. I suspect he would of thought that was pretty silly. I thought his description of himself as a storyteller was pretty silly.
But it does illustrate the problem. The art of Storytelling is rather specifically an aural art form. Yet there is a generic of storytelling which literally means to tell a story by any means possible. There are musicians that claim to be storytellers. There are artists that claim to be storytellers. There are writers that claim to be storytellers. There are actors that claim to be storytellers. And yes, even an architect that claims to be a storyteller. in a generic sense I guess they are. But in the classic sense they're not.
Storytellers learn and tell their stories. Occasionally they may memorize parts and use those in their performances. They're still Storytellers classic sense. There are some who memorize their entire performance and recite it verbatim. They are actors portraying Storytellers. They're very enjoyable. This takes talent and skill. But it is a unique art form different from storytelling.
Bob S. 11/1/05
v) I really don't memorize. And I don't memorize the bones, either.
I learn them, the same way I learn a route from one place to another.
However, I do wear a path in the woods when I tell a story often -- and if I had an opportunity to tell a story maybe 100 times to big audiences, I think it would sound as if I had memorized the text.
But I didn't. It's just that the path would be really established.
I could perhaps concede that I memorize some of the dialogue and some choice phrases.
Albert Lord of Harvard University did an extensive study of epic ballad singers of Yugoslavia and his transcripts of performers recounting the same segments of epics over a few years time were -not- word for word the same. He discovered that epic singers have certain "formulas" that are used in different stories. All of this research was to prove that the Homerian epics really could be performed by one person.
Lee-Ellen M. 11/1/05
x) Well said. I really like "wearing the path." My storytelling workshops for young tellers feature a segment of learning vs. memorizing. Its wonderful when they "see the light."
y) My husband Gary and I did tandem storytelling with puppets. We figured the bones of the story - what was absolutely necessary, the flow of the plot. Then we filled in the spaces while performing. Most of the fill in was the same from performance, but it adapted to the situation. And sometimes one of us - usually me - would take the space somewhere unexpected! Because we knew where the story was to be at certain junctions, and because we worked like one mind, it worked.
And it was a tons of fun!
Margaret S. 11/1/05
z) To add to the discussion and forestall argument, perhaps we could agree that we non- or anti-memorisers memorise (or thoroughly know, if you prefer) the story -- otherwise we would forget the names and what comes next -- but we don't memorise the words. I rarely tell a story the same way. That's mainly because I'm often telling to audiences that have different levels of comprehension -- native English-speaking Irish adults, native English-speaking non-Irish adults, children, foreigners with limited English, horses. (The latter get the full 9 yards, including footnotes, because the point of the exercise is to calm them while soaking an abscessed hoof so they don't absquatulate* from the stall.)
That said, some stories have to memorised. How else can you tell "High Cockalorum"? And many stories have runs, single or repeated, that are time-tested -- if only by the teller -- and come out the same each time: "And not only the people and Jack and his mother, but all the pots and pans and kettles and cans on the kitchen shelves in all the houses began to dance ..." Also, especially during the 12-15th centuries in Ireland and Spain and elsewhere, many of the major stories were in verse with music accompaniment, and so the words had to be memorised. Sacred myth, of course, is a whole nother category, and like the Gospel the words cannot be changed without serious damage to the form and meaning. Witness modern "accessible" English versions of the Bible that spectacularly manage to destroy the poetry.
On the other hand, actors frequently find that they cannot convincingly deliver a line as written, and so they change it, usually with good results. I've heard that an actor in one of the Star Wars films went ballistic about having to recite George Lucas's crap script. But it didn't seem to help. His dialogue remains crap.
*My new favourite word meaning "to leave abruptly".
Richard M. Dublin 11/1/05
aa) Even though I can say with confidence that I don't memorize, I would also have to disagree with this. It certainly is possible to perform memorized literature and really enthrall an audience. This is what theater does, and it's a heck of a wonderful art form! With much larger audiences than storytelling.
Lee-Ellen M. 11/1/05
bb) You brought up some various ways that storytellers can share stories, one example was reciting poetry. I have recited poetry pieces during some of my venues, which also offered the traditional way of telling stories, I have memorized some pieces when there was a need, re: tandem telling, and I have told stories that were ingrained in my mind because I learned them as Lee Ellen said, "wearing a path in the woods." There are many ways to live and breathe a story, many ways to approach each tale, many tellers who find their own individual path.
I think it may be a bit of hubris to declare there is only one way. What may work for me may not work for others, and vice versa. I tell my students that each one is an individual, no one student will learn their story, or tell their story in the same way, and that is okay! My mantra in the class is "Storytelling is about connection, not perfection," which hopefully leaves a lot of wiggle room for different styles, talents, views and opinions. We all need to find our own "path to wear" in the woods, and hopefully, when we come out the other side, we will be greeted by supportful peers.
Karen C. 11/1/05
cc) I agree. What you said is consistent with my original post. There must be a uniqueness to Storytelling or we are not an separate art form, just actors and actresses doing dramatic monologs.....
Added comments: I don't agree. While it may not be classic Storytelling, it can be wonderful. I have heard some fantastic dramatic monologs. Patrick Stewart doing "A Christmas Carol" comes to mind. Not classic Storytelling but none the less as good as it gets.....
Bob S. 11/1/05
dd) Thank you all for taking this discussion ball and running with it. I am learning a lot about my fellow storytellers, as well as other ways to work. I was hoping the discussion would stay away from us versus them, or memorizers versus non memorizers, and for the most part it has. So congratulate yourselves.
I think we all agree that Storytelling is a unique artform (isn't that why we are all on Storytell?). Defining exactly what it is maybe isn't the easiest thing, but I'm glad some folks want to broaden the spectrum rather than confine it. This way, we can have storytellers like Kevin Kling, Waddie Mitchel, Eth No Tec, and Kathryn Windham share the same stage at a festival.
For myself, I suppose one might say that I am a little closer on the storytelling spectrum to theater or dramatic monologue, since I essentially admit to memorizing what I've written (taking into account the hundreds of changes each story of mine goes through before I bring it to the stage) and perform it nearly verbatim. Of course one might realize that verbatim for me means months of rewriting and honed telling practice until I'm satisfied it will work with an audience live, (and even then I'm open to changes based on immediate audience response). Maybe, also, it's different because I am writing original stories of a specific kind, so perhaps you may not be tipped off that it is verbatim, because unless you read my story in a book you don't know where it's going, as you might with a more well known tale. But it should only be a problem if I appear I'm reciting a memorized piece.
Have I just set myself up for folks who hear me to judge whether or not it sounds as if I'm reciting a memorized piece, since I admit to it? Perhaps. But that only makes me work harder at making sure what I write and memorize doesn't sound rehearsed, but rather that you become entranced in my stories. But then I like a challenge, or I wouldn't have admitted I memorize.
Gregory L. 11/1/05
ee) Memorizing a script verbatim and performing it, doesn't make you a storyteller. The performance is only a recital - a recital likely to sound like one, and one also likely to chase away an audience feeling cheated.
Timber Rock 11/1/05
I grew up in a parsonage where every week my father would write and "learn" a twenty minute sermon which he would give twice on Sunday [9:30 and 11:00] and he would never carry any notes with him into the pulpit. Sometimes he memorizes quotations, verbatim. But in general he outlines his talk and learns the outline, remembering the illustrations [small stories] that go with each point.
He still preaches from time to time at age 89, though he can't do it standing anymore. Still no notes.
If my dad could do it, why not me? I never had much difficulty remembering stories. The only time I blanked in performance was when I was attempting to recite Richard Kennedy's Song of the Horse--a lovely piece--but more a poem than a story.
Rev. Moon's advice: If it's in a logical order it's easy to remember. So I always try to create the logic I need to sequence the events of a story.
Sandy [Moon] Farley 11/2/05
gg) We are Storytellers. We're proud of that. We come in many flavors. That is wonderful! But what makes us Storytellers?
We are a Performing Art. There are many types of performer; singers, musicians, actor. actresses, Stand-up comedians, et al. So what makes us unique? Lets look at the possibilities.
Our stories are unique to us. We only tell personal stories, well not all. We tell folk tales, well not all. We tell only, well, stories. That's not unique. Actors doing dramatic monologs do also. So its not that we tell stories that makes us unique.
Dress! We dress differently. Well maybe that doesn't hold up well. A general rule in Performers is to dress a step above our audiences. I also say beside. The performer should look like the performer, not one of the audience. Generally speaking from my observations, Storyteller follow this rule the least of any type performer. We often do look like one of the audience. Maybe that's it. Well I know a number of Storytellers, including myself, that do dress uniquely so that can't be it.
We don't sing. Maybe that's it! Well some Storytellers do sing, and many actors don't (some sing but shouldn't) That rules that out.
We don't play musical instruments. I guess that falls into singing so that's not it.
Poetry, reciting poetry. Well some do and some don't.
We not all men, or women so that can be ruled out.
Make-up. No that doesn't work either.
We tell in first person. Well not all.
My take is the memorization vs. learning. Sure we do memorize parts of our shows but I believe Storytellers learn and tell flexibly. Then change in various ways as they tell the story. I think in my case part of my mind is telling the story and part is getting feedback from the audience and adjusting the story a little in the future. For instance if a part of the story is getting laughs I may think about how to play that a little longer, and if it supposed to be funny and not getting the expected reaction, I will shorten and move on. Reciting word for word doesn't lend itself to that.
If this isn't the difference then what make us unique. Why are we different from an actor doing a dramatic monolog. If we aren't different then why are we Storytellers and not just generic storytellers like all the other performers. For that matter let computer voice synthesizer perform the stories word for word.
That is at least my opinion.....
Bob S. 11/2/05
hh) Indeed, what makes us different? Perhaps instead of folks insisting that we must all do A + B - M (memorization) to = storyteller, maybe we could say we are all artists! St. Franics of Assisi said, ""He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist." I think that about covers all of us.
Karen C. 11/2/05
ii) Interesting, but it does widen the definition not only to all performing artists but also to non-performing artists too. I like to think we do something that IS a unique art form.
I am also a Ventriloquist. Vents are also puppeteers. But there is something that makes us unique, and that is lip control. In that art form there are those that argue if it is the MOST important. But all agree that it is important even is not the most important. We are also artists, we are performing artists, we are ventriloquists. For Storytellers we can say we are artists, we are performing artists, we are....... If there is no answer there we are not unique but just performing artists like all the rest. Is that what you are satisfied with. Do you want to be a storyteller or a Storyteller? Each must answer that question their own way. For me I want to be a Storyteller carrying on a oral tradition that the origins of which are lost in history.
Bob S. 11/2/05
De-lurking for a while to tell about an experience of mine. I have been telling stories for about ten years, and there are some that have passages in them that are so good rhythmically that I tell with the same words each time (or nearly) but there is room to play with the rhythm, the feel. then they get freed again, and new series and rhythms develop. It is fascinating and gratifying.
For the past few months I have been commiting to memory the first book of the Odyssey, in modern greek. we have, at last a "tellable" translation, that made it possible to imagine that such a thing can be done.
The results are amazing. It is like having for a teacher the greatest storyteller of all time. "eating" the words of Homer, telling them again and again, I have learnt more about telling than I thought possible. I am living with Telemachus and Athena and Penelope, conversing with them, thinking about what they do and why. I am discovering and learning, with feelings of awe and respect, the technique of the master teller. how he builds up the scene, when to give information and how much, how to juxtapose different atmospheres and sentiments. also everything about rhythm and alliteration, movement, description, action, feeling, etc.
My storytelling has risen to another level. at the moment, working for about an hour and a half each day, I commit to memory about thirty lines. it becomes easier and easier. I am looking forward te learning the whole epic (12000 lines). I will be telling the first book starting in May.
I recommend this experience, it is creative, fascinating, satisfying, surprising.
I used to be anti- memorisation. Now I know that the trick is to know what is good to memorise. commiting the work of a storytelling master to memory can be the greatest learning experience of a lifetime. it can also make you humble, and make you think about what "my words" means.
Now I feel proud of myself if I can turn out one effective sentence, a true crafted scheme of words, and I hold on to it as if it were a jewel. if anothers words serve the story well, it is my honour to repeat them.
Manya M. 11/6/05
a) Interesting to hear of your project, Manya - respect is indeed a word which comes to mind! Did you ever hear Hugh Lupton's Odyssey? I once caught just a bit of it at Beyond the Border. But I have heard Ben Haggerty's Gilgameth complete - awe-inspiring.
Richard M. Germany 11/6/05
b) I'm glad that Manya raised the topic again. I had this swimming around in my head this week, and Manya's post prompted me to sit down and write it out this morning, clarifying for me where memorization fits into what I do as a storyteller, and how I see it working for other artist. Some of this was also sparked by a dance class we took last fall, and how difficult it was to learn at first. best, Leanne
To dance effortlessly on the stage of the world
Bit by bit,
Step by step,
Note by note,
Word by word,
Stroke by stroke
Number by number,
The slow process of building the dream.
The mind to stretch,
The muscles to bend
The hand to still the brush
The mind to override the trembling muscles
The fingers to rub the aching head
The palm to wipe the tears away
To cleanse the brush,
To erase the page,
To play it again,
To try again to reach the dream.
And again and again.
Stumbling through the steps,
Dropping the brush,
Forgetting the words,
Phrase by phrase,
Sequence by sequence,
Piece by piece.
Time and time again,
Repeating the steps,
Working the phrases,
Sweeping the brush,
Honing the skills,
Finding the dream.
Living beyond the rote of recall
To where memorization sinks into memory
And recognition becomes bred into the bone
A subtle tension through the muscles,
A flip of the wrist,
A pivot of the ankle,
A simile, a metaphor,
A pin-point of white in the black eye of a bird,
To the dream.
To the creation.
To the artist,
Dancing effortlessly on the stage of the world.
Written by Leanne J. 11/7/05
c) This is beautiful, moving and so true!
Chris K. 11/7/05
d) Well, I envy you. I haven't found a story that felt right to memorize in that fashion. My sweetie Leanne Ponder and I-- not the same Leanne who is on this list, but another storyteller who is my life and work partner-- we learn lines for the stories we do together, but the learning and the writing go back and forth, shaping each other, often well into the performance phase of the piece. That's different.
But once in a long while I'll be in a play, and boy does it feel good when the guy who wrote it is a great writer of the spoken word. Did "Waiting for Godot" a few years back, and it was great-- not as great as Homer, maybe, but great none the less, and in the same way you describe.
I saw Spalding Grey do his one-man show "Monster in a Box", a kind of personal-experience storytelling. He was touring with it, after a critically successful run as The Stage Manager character in Wilder's play "Our Town." He concluded this original solo show with his final lines from the Wilder play, a kind of coda, and it was unquestionably the best part of the show. I don't mind Grey, but Wilder was *far* better.
By the way, while Leanne and I were in Jonesborough we caught part of Odds Bodkin's Odyssey, for the first time. I was almost completely unaware of the (carefully chosen and edited) words as they went by, but *man* was that a show! Yow! Several daring touches, one of which is, his Greek sailors talk like the pirates they are. It's not silly, it works.
Tom J. 11/7/05
e) I have the same experience with the Hebrew version of "Canterbury Tales". Although the work was originally written in middle English the Hebrew translation is a masterpiece in it's own right. The person who made the translation has a rare sense of "Oralness" and telling his translation is sheer delight. There were many problems he had to solve and each one of them was attended with amazing creativity I'm sure Chauser himself would be proud of. As I was memorizing it I could hear the voice of the storyteller emerging from the text. Eventually I got to meet him (the translator) - he attended one of my performances without me knowing he was there. At the end he came up smiling and introduced himself. He said he was amazed to hear the voices he heard in his head while working with the English spoken on stage in Hebrew. Somehow the voice of the storyteller managed to cross through the languages. I find this valid for any lingual masterpiece that has started it's way as oral.
I had another interesting experience with this although difficult - last year I was asked to participate in a "Canterbury Tales" production where four tellers were telling one story each. The person who directed the production is from the theatre originally and so were the other three tellers. I was telling one story and also "playing" the part of the innkeeper - we were dressed up with costumes too. I walked off the stage in a terrible state of disorientation - something in the theatrical situation took away my sense of storyweaving. Storytellers who were in the audience could feel my disorientation - when I tell that is all I do - open my mouth and tell. Stagelights, costumes, staging, dramatizing - all these were such a burden for me - I could not feel they were serving the story or my ability to tell. What eventually saved me from my urge to leave the stage was me deciding in my mind to eliminate the orders of the director and listen to the story. I could feel the audience could feel it - suddenly there was a kind of vvvvooom in the hall - the story shifted into gear, into it's natural tempo, into the drama latent in the spoken word. I've learned from that experience that actors and storytellers are used to approach memorizing texts is a rather different way - for those I was working with memorizing the text was the starting point of any production. Everything else was laid upon the text, in addition to the text etc. For me, memorizing was already walking in the world of the story, trying on costumes, smelling, hearing, tasting, learning the inner life of the story, learning it's pace from the life it conveys. I feel words in the hands of a master can do that.
Limor S. Israel 11/8/05
Created 2003; last update 9/26/09
Story Lovers World ... 707-996-1996