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5 Tips on the Fine Art of Storytelling

by Diana Raab, Ph.D.

The purpose of storytelling is to share those stories which unite us as human beings. Stories bring us together and bridge the gaps among our differences. They are also tools for learning and exchanging ideas. But not all storytellers are created equal. Surely you have noticed that some people are wonderful storytellers and others just want to make you yawn.

The idea of storytelling is to convey events in words, images, sounds, and embellishments. It is a way to get across the emotional power of information. Robert McKee says, in his book, Story, “Stories are equipment for living.” In fact, when a story is told well, the listener is transported on a journey to a new place.

Storytelling dates back to the beginning of time. In fact, stories are perhaps the strongest bonds we have with other nations, races and languages. Australian aboriginals painted symbols from stories on cave walls to help the storyteller remember the story. The Egyptians were the first people to actually write down their stories and the Romans, through their travels and conquests, were good at spreading stories.

The skills of a good storyteller can be found in both the oral and written word. A good time to verbally share stories is during gatherings with family, friends and colleagues. The comfort level of the storyteller will influence how the story is shared. Many of our strengths, preferences and comfort zones about storytelling revert back to the patterns of our childhoods. As an only child of working parents, I spent a lot of time reading and writing. My parents were first generation immigrants and worked very long hours to provide food for our table. Typical family dinners were often rushed, with little opportunity for any storytelling. The times when I did hear stories from my parents were when we had visitors to our house and I was able to overhear their conversations. As an only child of busy parents, I spent a lot of time with a large supply of books and paper, but often found myself gravitating to those friends and family who were good storytellers. This is how I learned to be a good listener and a better storyteller in the written form. The biggest motivation for the storyteller is to get their listeners/readers curious and interested.

Oral and written storytelling have similarities and differences. When telling a verbal story, the most important thing to remember is to put on your “story hat.” In other words, before telling a story, get yourself in the mood to share the story. Embody the feeling of the story. Wearing the story-telling hat is also a good way to take your mind off your audience, particularly if you have a tendency to be shy. To increase self-confidence, some people also like sharing their story in front of the mirror and rehearsing before presenting to an audience.

Here are some general storytelling tips, whether you share stories in the oral or written form:

1. Create a strong beginning. The reason for this is that you want to capture your listener’s attention. You want to make them curious about the subject you are about to discuss.

2. Create memorable scenes. When creating the scenes, make sure that the sequence of events is correct and in the right order. If you write good scenes, when the reader puts your article or book down they will more easily remember your story.

3. Make believable characters. To do this, try incorporating all your senses, and show, rather than tell, how your character looks and behaves. Dialogue is also good to help illustrate an individual’s character.

4. Provide a logical plot. In forming the plot, think of the story’s climax. A good story should have a beginning, middle and end.

5. Engage the reader on an emotional level by sharing universal emotions that resonate with your readers and/or listeners.

About the Author Diana Raab

Diana Raab, Ph.D. is a memoirist, poet, blogger, essayist, educator and facilitates workshops in writing for healing and transformation. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology with a concentration in Transpersonal Psychology, and a research focus on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing.

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