A Treasure Trunk of Tellers’ Tips
By Chris King, Patti Christensen, Rose the Story Lady, Stephen Hollen, Steve Otto, Mary Morgan Smith, Sharon Kirk Clifton, and Dianne de Las Casas

Every two months I have had the delightful opportunity to share tips from my storytelling friends in the Tips Column in the National Storytelling Network’s (NSN) Storytelling Magazine. Realizing that not everyone who visits this website is a member of NSN – although I highly recommend you join – I have decided to periodically start sharing some of these wonderful tips on this site. Because of space limitations in the magazine, I also have many tips that have been sent to me, but not used. So, this will solve both situations and it will become a win-win-win project for all of us. I hope you enjoy them – I received a lot of great feedback the first time I tried it – and let me know if you like the change of pace and hearing from a full troupe of tellers. Read on!

From Story to Storytelling
The journey from story to storytelling can happen in several ways: 1) A request “Can you tell ________ story?” You must decide yes, you can and will learn it, or no you can’t or won’t. 2) A story grabs you and won’t let you go. You MUST tell it. This may take a short or long time, but it is like wrestling with an angel…it must happen. 3) A story finds its way to you, you decide you’d like to learn it and you do. Knowing which of these situations are happening helps me know how to begin learning the story.

Patti Christensen
Professional Storyteller

Historical Storytelling

I believe historical storytelling should be as accurate as possible. However, there are often conflicting versions of the same story. Whatever stories you decide to tell, be sure to share the information that there are ambiguities in this history. Tell your listeners that you are telling stories that represent how it “might” have happened. The difficulty of doing accurate historical research is a lesson kids can learn also. Just because something is in print does not make it accurate. It’s an important concept, isn’t it?
Rose the Story Lady

Crafting Stories Is a Three Step Process

  1. The first step in crafting stories is leaving the door open for ideas. I keep a file of ideas that I use as I create. These story starters may be news articles, pictures, a phrase in a book or just a thought I had at some point. I keep outdated business cards in my wallet for the purpose of making notes when I think of something. One of my favorite stories started with a note I wrote, “remember sitting on old washing machines?”
  2. Second, I set specific times to practice the “craft” of writing. I go through the idea file to find something that attracts my attention. I tape the original “idea” onto a “story sheet” and begin adding thoughts that could turn into a good story. I often go straight from this step to writing either the “bones” or the entire story, but usually the story grows a step at a time. At any given time I have 30 or 40 of these pages going with ideas and outlines in some form.
  3. The third step is actually writing the story. This is when I play with words and phrases and read things out loud to see how they translate from the printed to spoken word. Oral tradition kicks in and the written notes take a back seat the joy of the sound as the story flows.

Stephen Hollen
Appalachian Storyteller and Humorist

Effective Ghost Stories
The effect of ghost stories is achieved by keeping your audience off balance. Make sure you put a few ghost jokes, in your program, and even add humorous asides to the really scary ones and the impact of the ending is magnified. Get your audience saying “Something’s going to Happen, Something’s going to Happen, Oh it’s all right, it’s a funny, Oh my gosh SOMETHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN!, no . . . it’s a funny . . .” Then cut them off at the knees with the scary ending. What you have done is build the tension of the story while putting the audience off guard and then you get them!
Steve Otto

Timing, Timing, Timing
In humor it’s not location, location, location; it’s timing, timing, timing. Don’t rush! If most beginning tellers tend to talk too fast, that is doubly true for people telling a funny story. Give your audience time to catch the humor. Sort of a … “Huh? … Oh!” reaction is most common before laughter actually begins. If you keep talking, your audience won’t have time to get to the “Oh!” and laugh. That said, there will undoubtedly be times when they won’t catch it no matter how long you wait. Then you just have to forge ahead and give them another chance. Watch really good comedians to see how they use timing.
Mary Morgan Smith

Importance of Program Agreements
Early in my career, I simply shook hands with the client. Experience taught me to use signed “Program Agreements.” Each time I would have a negative business experience, I would live with the results, so as not to make an enemy, and tighten up the contract for future engagements. Last year, my PA was one page of 12-pt. type. This year, I’ve still kept it to one page, but the font size is 10-pt. Shortly after developing the current contract, I was very glad I had it in place. I consider the PA a part of being a pro teller. The client expects and gets a professional quality program. Having a good contract is a part of that professionalism.
Sharon Kirk Clifton
Purveyor of Magic Beans and Seeds of Truth

Take a Risk
How about:
Risk raising your fees and getting paid what you are worth.
Risk tapping into new markets and making inroads for storytelling.
Risk telling a risky story and holding true to your artistic standards.
Dianne de Las Casas

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