You are most welcome to copy and use this document! It is about 6 printed pages long. You might read some of the good books available on how to tell stories as well.
There are many kinds of stories you can work with. It is recommended you start with simple folktales, with simple elements.
While traditionally stories were learned by listening, the best source today is the childrenís department of the Public Library - particularly in the section (J)398. There you will find all sorts of folk and fairy tales, tall tales, trickster stories, etc. Many stories are on the internet as well. As you browse, look for stories that "touch" you. Start with simple stories, then as your experience grows, be sure to explore and branch out.
With time you will probably find many kinds of tales that will interest you personally. All sorts to choose from including: folktales from many countries and cultures, accumulative stories, droll and humorous tales, traditional fairytales in numerous versions, wish (magic) tales, trickster tales, tall tales, myths, legends and hero tales from the sagas and national epics, animal fables, scary stories, urban legends, Bible and religious stories, literary stories, pourquoi (why?) stories. With time and experience you will want to try a variety of stories and perhaps even branch out into telling your own personal stories or giving Improvisational storytelling a try.
And be aware of copyrights, it is best to work with traditional folklore or tales in public domain, than to plagiarize a living author or storyteller without their permission. Remember to give credit to sources.
Adapting to our audiences:
The audience has a very important role in storytelling - for their minds are the canvas on which the teller paints his tale. Oral storytelling involves much interaction between teller and hearer. I have observed that our audiences have lost some of the skills to follow a narrated story and see things in their minds. Storytelling has become more difficult. Attention spans are shorter and more demanding, more sophisticated, yet less able to independently imagine or visualize. People seem to need more visual stimulation.
Once you settle on a story, you will want to spend plenty of time with it. It will take a considerable period of time and a number of tellings before a new story becomes your own.
Learn the story as a whole rather than in fragments. Master, and then simplify, its structure to a simple outline of scenes. Don't try to memorize it, though you should always know your first and last lines by heart!.
Practice the story often - to the mirror, your cat, driving in the car, with friends, or anyone who will listen. Even when telling an old and familiar story, you must use imagination and all the storyteller's skills to make it come alive. Use your imagination to make the story come alive as you prepare.
Stories are more interesting when there is animation and variety in the voice of the teller.
Particular Oral Storytelling Skills:
A Storytellerís skills include: emphasis, repetition, transition, pause and proportion.
Experience will hone these skills, and when - and how - to use them most effectively.
Beginning a story:
Storytelling is best done in a relaxed atmosphere free of distractions. The audience ought to be comfortable and close. Candle light and campfires are ideal situations for telling stories, but often impractical. The teller needs to give careful attention to the setting before hand - and be prepared to rearrange a room to bring his hearers closer, or use a backdrop or hangings to create atmosphere - especially in classroom settings. Props, costumes, or some getting acquainted patter may also help in getting and keeping attention and creating a mood.
Storytelling traditionally begins with a "Once upon a time..." opening. and then a storytellerís silent pause to gather his thoughts. The traditional openings, of which there are many (often with responses from the audience), were "rituals" that served as a signal that the teller was suspending "time and space" as we know it and transporting the audience to a world of imagination and play. They identified the teller and established the audienceís commitment to accept for the moment that imaginary world and its "rules". Similar "rituals" also signal the end of the story and their return to reality. Many adults today have forgotten these "rules of the game." There are online lists of Beginnings and Endings.
Some attention keepers:
Many factors affect the attention of your listeners. A storyteller always needs to be sensitive to his audience and may need to regain their attention before continuing.
Be especially prepared to deal with disruptions with groups of children. There is always one or two children that want the attention. Sometimes you can just ignore it; sometimes it make take a stare, or a pause till the disruptive behavior ends, sometimes maybe involving a child in your story - whatever you do - do not speak harshly or in anger, or you will lose the audience.
Once you finish the story - stop! Don't ramble on. Leave their thoughts lingering over it. Don't feel you have to explain everything, or tie together all loose ends. Let them go away thinking about what has been said, and drawing their own meaning from it!
Applause is no measure of the effectiveness of a story presentation. Sometimes it will be exuberant, but other times the audience is quietly savoring and treasuring the story. An attentive audience and the feeling you "told it well" are the best reward you can have.
Finally...and most importantly: The more you practice- the more skilled you will become. Don't be afraid to try different methods. Be creative. As you do learn from your experiences. Expect to flop, the best of us do. Don't be overly self- conscious. Have fun and share the joy of story.
In the end, it is most important that you should tell your story in your own words with sincerity and enthusiasm and....
© 1998 Barry McWilliams