Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where Are You on the Story Journey?

Where Are You on the Story Journey?

A simple rubric which may open dialogue and assist storytellers in deciding where they are in their development and help them map out their own skill building and training.

NOVICE - You enjoy listening to stories told but have not yet told a story in public. Have no formal stories to share.

BEGINNER - A few stories to share, little public telling experience, attended 1-5 workshops or classes, still learning .

APPTENTICE - A handful of stories, some public experience (1-15), have attended 5-20 workshops and classes, still learning.

JOURNEY(man/woman/one)- A larger store of stories, shared in 20-50 public concerts, programs, had varied story experiences, able to teach others basic techniques, have developed some specialized telling ability, still learning.

ARTISAN - Greater wealth of stories to share, have done many concerts, programs, workshops 60-100); able to teach skillfully basic to intermediate level classes; have developed a highly personal style and ability; have explored other arts and experimented with merging them with storytelling or explored ways to expand skills and delivery in new and innovative ways.

MASTER - A wealth of stories, publications, recordings, experience in many venues, frequently cited/quoted, able to teach others more advanced techniques, skillfully presents storytelling as an art form, highly developed general and specialized ability/style, adds to the philosophical and artistic understanding of storytelling as an art form through mentoring, writing, teaching; still learning...

--Marilyn A. Hudson

The Basics of Storytelling: First Things First

The Basics of Storytelling: First Things First

One of the first things learned in school was that a story has three parts: a beginning, middle, and an end.  The secret to the success of the final product depends on how those elements are used.  Think of a car since it also has minimally three components: body, tires, and engine. The end result will be much better if the parts are put together in a logical whole where each part performs the function it is best suited to perform. 

Visualize the parts of the story as a mountain you are attempting to climb. Analyze a story of your choice into scenes or movements representing the BEGINNING, MIDDLE, and END elements.    Notice that the beginning will include some introduction that sets the stage, introduces characters, explains the problem and PULLS THE READER/LISTENER IN.   The middle section will connect the events, contain the action, propels the story forward to the CLIMAX. Here the problem is faced and solved.  The end of the story comes quickly after the high point of the story seen in the climax and presents the RESOLUTION to almost all the problems, and challenges that propelled the action in the story.  Like guests at the end of a party, be brief and quickly conclude the story.

Stories come in various forms.  Some tellers find that they have a natural strength in one or more of these, some can work with ease through them all, be aware each is individual – find the voice that is true and comfortable for you.

Folk tales
Family / personal
Fairy Tales
Inspirational / Religious
Science and  Pour quoi Tales
Humorous Tales
Lesson / moral tales
Jump tales & trickster tales
Some of the most common means of sharing stories:
Read aloud from a written work. 
Oral Storytelling. 
Musical story/songs.  
Acting out/ theatrical. 
Tandem told stories. 
 Visual expression 


Make a list of several stories or films that you really enjoy.  What do you like about each one? What do these have in common? What does this say about you and your culture? What are the negative aspects of these same works?   What do the negative elements say about you, and your upbringing?  Would your parents or grandparents have appreciated these same stories or books?  Why or why not?

--Marilyn A. Hudson (c2011)

Basics of Storytelling: Types


Traditional, Oral. This form is defined as the small group gathered in an intimate environment where a story of moral, imaginative, or educational value is shared by a person. This is the primarily and historically the place where folklore, heroes, myths, and legends are passed along to new listeners and preserved for the generations. Although, it can occur in larger venues - many feel that the larger the audience the less impact the stories have. Some traditions required the storyteller to not move or make only limited gestures as they shared a tale.

Nontraditional, Oral. This form is best defined by the Garrison Keillor approach but also includes storytellers who incorporate objects, costumes, movement and more theatrical elements into their stories. This form may incorporate more animated telling styles with gestures, movement, and audience participation.

Digital. Stories created, passed on, and preserved in digital formats as video, animation, or audio forms, most often online.

Visual. This form includes the use of film, cinematography, photographs to "tell a story". The narrative structure of story is translated into a almost entirely visual format in this medium. As with many art forms this one requires the audience to bring with it their own experiences and emotions as a vehicle for the telling of the story.

Book sharing. This is one of the most common uses of storytelling with children. Librarians and parents and teachers all read a book to children to share the experience through followup instruction, interaction, participation, role playing, puppets, and art. Although a viable vehicle for adults and teens, it does require some preparation for reading pace, intonation, volume, and presentational skills and is sometimes most useful as a "teaser" rather than a real reading of an entire teen or adult book. Many librarians and teachers have found, however, that some picture books are really written on a higher level. This makes the useful for older people because they are visually interesting and contain more mature themes, vocabulary or ideas.

Writing. The marriage of the written word and the oral tradition has tremendously benefited modern storytelling. Although two different mediums with differing requirements they can be used collaboratively since all storytellers need writers to provide material and inspiration and all writers need audiences and contact with natural forms of verbal and non-verbal communications.

Performance based. A merger between the modes and values of theater with the stage production of storytelling. Professional storytellers often benefit from classes on how to move, to speech, and express emotion in a natural, artistic, or entertaining manner.

Group or team. A sub group that is very ancient and often found in team or duo exchange storytelling. George Burns & Gracie Allen perfected a comedic form of this style and provide a model for the timing and artistry required to team tell effectively.

Musically embedded storytelling. Using music or instruments in the telling of a tale or as filler between tales.

--Marilyn A. Hudson
Settings for Storytelling: include educational, business, religious, counseling centers, health care, and care facilities.


The Basics of Storytelling: Plots
7 Basic Plots (more or less).
Commonly recognized are: person faces nature; person faces person; person faces the environment; person faces machines/technology; person faces self; and person faces a deity/religion/philosophy. Some authorities say there may be as many as 40 basic plots, while others insist only three.  Almost all stories fit within these 7 basic forms.

PLOT THEMES.  A theme is the guiding idea of a story. Try this: review some favorite movies, books, or stories and identify the theme. Some popular and well-known themes include “love conquers all” (AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER); “family is important” (RV); “the quest” (STAR WARS); “to have friends be a friend”; etc.   List your favorite books, movies, & stories.  What do they have in common?  Why do you like them?

Speaking the Lingo of Literature

• GENRE= a style of writing (i.e., Mystery, Western, Adventure);
• SETTING= Past, present, future; mountains, desert; empty house;
• POINT OF VIEW= How the reader or listener gets their view of the story;
• PLOT = action of a story;
• MYSTERY = story where action is hidden and must be revealed or discovered.



Connecting with others who like to listen to, create, or share stories.  Many organizations exist to help the beginning storyteller.  Some of the major ones are listed below, and some specific to Oklahoma.  

Joining with other tellers is an excellent way to improve your craft, especially if the groups can answer the following:  Are there educational opportunities to improve my skills? Are there performance opportunities so that I can hone my delivery and stage presence? Is the group supportive and willing to help new tellers?



QUICK GUIDE ONE.  Marilyn A. Hudson
Basics of Telling A Story /A story that is told can be 1-15 min. long, however, most stories are in the 3 to 10 minute range.  The teller stands before an audience and speaks to convey a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end; variations include sitting and moving among the audience.  Microphones may be needed in some settings.  Teller introduces them self, names the story or shares the theme; if using another’s work proper credit is given.  The teller speaks clearly and varies tone, emphasis and volume for interest to the listener.
Listen, Read, View and Analyze /Review folklore in books in the library (they are usually found in the 398.2-398.29 area), listen to tellers in person and on audio tape/CD, watch tellers in person or on a video.  What makes them successful?  What did you like?  What did you not like? What works?  
Themes /A good story will have usually a universal theme: hope, love, courage, survival, redemption, self-discovery, community values, respect, justice, peace, family, etc. 
Enhancing the story /The story experience can be enhanced through the addition of repetitions within the story, participation, chants, songs, sounds, music, props, visuals, costume, or dance.  Additionally, puppets (from simple hand creations to complex shadow or marionettes) have been a traditional favorite for some.
Characters /Most stories revolve around a character (hero, protagonist, counterpoint).  A good story has a memorable and sympathetic figure with which the listener can care and empathize.   The character is the “everyman” of the medieval street theater and yet unique enough to peak interest. 
References /Organizations: National Storytelling Network (;
Support Groups /Join or, if none exists, form a support group.  Focus should be on helping other tellers, self-improvement,  and the active, frequent sharing of stories.  Avoid groups where there is no opportunity for telling, learning, or where the atmosphere is elitist.




Every person has the potential to be a storyteller.  There are no “born tellers” – only people with differing levels of gifts in sharing human experiences. Everyone is already involved in the process of story sharing every time they share their experiences, recount historic events, tell a funny anecdote, and share core values.  All these individuals need to become intentional story bearers is for them to make the decision that they will learn to do it better, with greater self-confidence and skill.

Family history stories, magazines, newspapers.
Events from your childhood or personal experiences
Folktales, fairy tales, myths and history books
Simple picture storybooks

The 398.2 area of the library
The picture book area of the library or a bookstore
Older family members or people in the community
Newspaper articles, old magazines
Historical events, oral histories, or biographies of historical people

Find a story you really like (you will be living with it for awhile)
Become familiar with the story (read it several times)and any different versions
Picture in your mind the major parts of the story in the beginning, middle, and end.
Practice telling it to yourself.  Repeat adding details. Repeat until story is firmly in your mind.
Tell it often and enjoy.

Tell every chance you can.
Record yourself: are you too fast, too slow, too soft spoken, too monotone?
Add a gesture to bring your story alive
Practice using voices to help tell the story.
Add a prop (a hat, an object from the story, a visual, a costume, or puppets)
Add music from hands or an instrument
Review what works, delete what does not, and keep learning more stories.
Become a member of a group that will provide training, feedback, and constructive criticism.
Attend training events, workshops, and concerts.  See if the library carries tapes or CD’s of well-known storytellers - listen and learn.


Bauer, C.  Caroline Baur’s New Handbook for Storytellers. 1993.
Cabral, L. Len Cabral’s Storytelling Book. 1997.
Hamilton, M. Stories in My Pocket. 1996.
Macdonald, Margaret Read. Three Minute Tales. 2004.
Pellowski, A. The World of Storytelling. 1977.
Storytelling Etiquette at
Storytelling: It’s Not Just Kid’s Stuff, Milbre Burch homepage at
Story Cue Cares at!sturn/storytelling/cuecard.html (blank form) (tips on building cue cards)