On October 3rd I participated in a live storytelling event organized by Robert Hoekman at the Hob Nobs Cafe in Phoenix. I was one of 5 storytellers, and had 10-15 minutes to relate a somewhat autobiographical tale for the audience.
I’m a gabby fellow to put it mildly, so talking in front of others didn’t worry me. It was when I sat down to really think of how to tell a story that I had a bit of a pause. Telling a story is not the same as talking, and it forced me to consider some basic elements I might have otherwise glossed over.
I needed first to tell the audience where they where, and what they saw. My story took place on a farm, so I explained the sights and sounds, the weather, the dusty tractor. It brought the audience into the picture with me, so as things progressed they had a common anchor. Taking the time to build the setting forced me to think about the pacing and the elements that characters could interact with as I spoke. For example, a farmer climbing up on a tractor is more interesting if I’ve already described the tractor as a big part of the scene, rather than something that appears for the first time when he hops aboard.
Since I was relating something that happened to me, the people in the story were familiar to me. To my audience they were strangers. I needed to set them up as they entered the story – their look, their clothes, their accent, their demeanor. This proved to be a nice way to refresh the characters in my own mind, and emphasize parts of their personality that helped the story.
Did my story have a beginning, a middle, and an end? I gave this only partial thought beforehand to make sure I met this criteria, but I was really glad I did afterwards. There is a clear difference between talking, and going somewhere with what you are saying. Especially when relating something that happened to us personally, we meander down tunnels and tangents. Knowing my story beats kept me much more focused.
What was the point? What did I take away from this event? How should the audience? It didn’t have to be epic, but it needed to be something that gave some context to the story and wrapped it up. If you do it well, the audience should see things wrap up as you go, and be right along with you in the progress.
All the above helped me focus on being able to improvise a bit, and really have fun with the telling. If I had been focused on the structure, and saying things like “Oh yeah, there was also this weird old lady!” as I backtracked around, I wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.
I appreciated being invited, and would love to go it again. Storytelling is an ancient art, and one I’d like to continue to learn from as I practice it.