To join the jamboree of National Share a Story Month, an annual celebration of the poer of story sharing, this month’s Get Creative feature will be a little different. While we usually share tips and activities to inspire young creatives to write their own stories, below we share tips to help them (and you) share the magic of stories through the art of telling them.
Given that storytelling can inspire, inform, amuse, enchant, spark empathy, and entertain to the nth degree, it’s certainly something worth celebrating, and a skill worth having under your belt.
What is oral storytelling?
In essence, story-telling is an ancient tradition that sees the teller make close connections to the stories they tell - adapting them, interpreting them, bringing them to life in fresh and uniquely personal ways. This tradition also sees storytellers connect to their audience - it’s a shared experience for teller and listeners.
In short, oral storytelling is the art of interpretation, improvisation, adaptation and connection.
5 fabulous storytelling tips
1. Choose wisely
First up, you need to pick a story you want to tell, remembering that storytelling isn’t just reading aloud. It’s a kind of performance. It involves making stories your own. It means putting yourself into the stories you tell. It means connecting with your audience.
So, in order to tell a story well, you need to love it. You need to want to tell it. It needs to be a story that’s captured your imagination, and maybe your heart, too. What about your favourite myth, legend, or fairy tale? These are stories that have been told, and retold, in thousands of ways for thousands of years, so they’re a great place to start.
2. Read widely
Once you’ve chosen your fairy tale, myth or legend, re-read it a few times. Next, read a few different versions of it. As you read them, try to spot what’s the same, and what’s different. This will help you understand the heart of the story - what it’s really about. Understanding what the story is really about will help you tell your version more powerfully, and more personally, because each of us responds to stories in uniquely personal ways.
While reading different versions, you might come to the conclusion that parts of the story aren’t really needed, or you might think some parts need to be bigger, better, stronger, funnier, or scarier (to give you a few examples). If that happens, congratulations! This means you’re thinking like a storyteller. You’re beginning to make the story your own. You’re beginning to adapt it.
3. Soak up the story
In order to be able to tell your story to an audience, you need to soak it up. That means you need to learn it - remember, you won’t be reading it from a screen, book, or bits of paper!
To do this, reading (and re-reading) different versions of the story can be a big help, so if you’ve already done that (as we suggested above), you might be ready to try telling it aloud to yourself. Go on, give it a go!
Another way to learn your story is to write your own version of it. You don’t have to write every single word - just note down the main points you want to tell your listeners, so they stick in your mind.
Another way to soak up your story is to learn it visually. To do this, create a story board (a bit like a comic strip) that outlines the main points of your story in pictures.
4. Explore your story
Once your story is clear in your mind, it’s time to practice saying it aloud - without looking at your notes or story board! Do this a few times, not worrying if you forget anything, and not worrying if you mix things up, or stumble over any words. This activity is all about getting used to telling your tale aloud - exploring it!
Each time you perform your story aloud, you could look to improve how you tell it. For example, could you add extra drama by pausing in certain places? Could you make your story more exciting by saying certain parts faster, or louder? Could you make it more intriguing by slowing down and speaking quieter? Could you add extra depth by doing different voices for your characters’ dialogue? What about using facial expression and physical movement to express emotion or action?
As you explore your story through practising it aloud, remember that storytelling is about bringing a story to life (its characters, its themes, the story world) as you’ve interpreted it. The best storytellers feel free in their stories, so relax and let yourself go.
5. Share your story
When sharing your story with an audience, it’s worth keeping in mind that storytelling isn’t like taking part in a play. It’s just you, your story, and the audience - there aren’t other actors, and there isn’t a script, So, while you’ve soaked up (learned) your story, one of the magical things about storytelling is improvising - you can add bits, you can leave bits out.
With that in mind, here are some tips for when you’re actually story-telling in front of an actual audience:
- Start strongly so your audience is ready to be drawn into your performance. This is why many storytelling traditions begin with sentences like “Once upon a time” - it tells the audience that the magic is about to begin! Why not invent your own enticing introductory line?
- It’s a good idea to make eye contact with your audience from the start (and throughout) your performance. This will draw them in and make them pay attention.
- If you get muddled up, don’t worry! Slow down, breathe deep, and conjure up your notes or storyboard images to help you get back on track. Also, remember that only you know what you were planning to say (your audience won’t), so if you forget anything (or get jumbled up) you could simply take the story in a different direction. Relax and feel free!
- Remember what you practised when you were exploring your story - things like slowing down, speeding up, speaking louder, or quieter. Varying your voice will keep your audience keen, and your story vibrant.
- If your audience responds well to certain things (for example, if they like a particular voice, or a joke), you could do more of it. Remember what we said about storytelling being about connecting, responding, adapting and improvising?
Joanne Owen is a writer and publishing professional with over twenty years’ experience of the book industry, and the author of a how-to children’s guide to creative writing, You Can Write Awesome Stories. Alongside writing and reviewing books, she hosts writing workshops and is an Editorial Expert for LoveReading.