By Christine Hennebury, 10 Minute Novelist
Once upon a time, there was a writer who was invited to host a storytelling circle. She knew that she couldn’t bring any of her written work to read aloud, instead she was going to have to combine her writing and acting skills with her love of reading and learn how to TELL a story…
At the time, I thought that storytelling and story writing were very different skills. Since then, I have learned that when your need to communicate is powered by story, it is possible to use your skills in one type of story sharing to enhance your skills in the other.
Here are some ways that I bring my storytelling powers into my writing:
1) Get to the heart of your story
When I’m telling a story aloud to an audience, it’s a dynamic thing. I have to be pretty flexible with content and length so I can respond to changes in audience, location, or run time. The key to that flexibility is in knowing the heart of my story – the basic truth of the tale I’m telling.
When I get down to the heart of a written story, it gives me the same flexibility – no matter how much I have to edit the story for content or length, I can still preserve what I wanted to say.
2) Picture it, Baby
Storytellers rarely memorize stories, instead they ‘learn’ them. I create a sort of visual storyline in my head – not unlike a film directors’ storyboards. Whether I choose to get very detailed or just sketch out the basics, the images are all in there for me to use.
I find the same thing to be useful for my writing – as long as I have a mental image of the scene I am describing, I don’t have to describe all of it. Knowing what *else* is there, even if I don’t include it, makes the rest of my description richer. And this applies equally well to action scenes, character motivation, or scenery.
3) Know your turning points
Every story I tell has specific turning points and I make a conscious decision about how to either build toward them or step back and let them reveal themselves. I emphasize (or reveal) them by my choices to spend time on description or to get into the characters’ heads.
I do the same with my writing – choosing to move quickly from point to point or rolling things out slowly to build the tension.
4) Use Your Own Voice
Storytellers take great pride in making a story their own. So even if every teller on the program was telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood, each tale would have different wording, different emphasis, and different details. And you would probably enjoy each story as a fresh experience.
I bring that knowledge to my writing – people may have read a similar story before but they haven’t read MY version. So, I try to power my stories (written and told) with my own voice – emphasizing what I think is the heart of the story, and illustrating, through word choice and focus, what I think the important details are.
My voice is part of the strength of my stories, and your voice is what powers yours.
5) Let the audience pull the story out
I always practice my stories before I go to perform but I don’t always know *how* I’m going to tell them. Once I get up on the stage, it becomes less about what I put out there and more about what the audience pulls out of my brain.
The details I share, my phrasing, and the things I emphasize change based on whether I am talking to a group of toddlers or a group of business owners. I find details and themes that they will relate to, and I bring those out in my telling.
Now, obviously, when writing, I don’t want to cater to my audience to the detriment of my story, but I do let my knowledge of my readers ‘pull’ the story out so I can be sure I will connect with them.
6) Perspective is Key
Since every story potentially has many points of view, one of the first decisions I make as a teller is to choose whose story I am telling. Is this the tale of a little girl lost in the woods? The tale of a fed-up wolf who can barely find any food because the humans keep encroaching? Or is it the story of a grandmother who will do anything to protect her granddaughter? Obviously the decision will alter how the story is told – even if the basic storyline remains the same.
In writing, I take the same approach – choosing who is sharing the story and what they notice and what they would want the reader to know. What details put them in the best light? What motivates them to act?
When you choose a perspective, it will affect the language you use, the things you choose to emphasize and the audience that you will reach but, since perspective moves a story from the general to the specific, your story will be stronger for it.
7) Remember the point of the story
Stories serve a variety of purposes – they entertain, they inform, they provide warning, they educate, they help build community, and they strengthen cultural ties. So, I like to remind myself that storytelling and story writing is serious business, that I am doing important work.
The same is true for you. You don’t have to be intimidated by the importance of the work, since every story serves one of those purposes, but it helps your story if you know which purpose you are serving.
Just keep writing and get those stories out into the world!
…And all of the storytellers and all of the story writers lived happily ever after with their ideas and their words.