Becoming Your Family’s Storyteller
by Kevin Strauss (c) 2002

Once upon a time, when the light faded into evening and people gathered on porches and in kitchens to rest and finish their work, back in those days before television and electric lights and radios, people told stories. Today, many people can remember when they have heard a particularly good storyteller, a person who held them at the edge of their seats while she told a story. Sometimes the story was about an uncle or a friend, or about a northwoods vacation that they took years ago. Other times it was about a folk character like Brer Rabbit or Reynard the Fox. But no matter the topic, when hearing a well-told story, listeners are transported to another place and time.

Storytelling is different from other forms of entertainment in that listeners have to exercise their imaginations and make the story pictures in their own heads. What’s more, listeners get to make the story “their own” by imagining how the characters look and how the setting appears.

Children and adults who listen to stories seem to use their imaginations and creative skills much more than when they are watching television or a movie. Of course, people don’t tell stories merely for educational reasons. People tell stories because it is fun, for both the teller and the listener.

By following the simple steps below, you can improve your storytelling skills and “stretch your storytelling muscles.”

  1. Find a story that you like. It could be a story in a children’s book, a fairy tale that you heard as a child, or a memory that you had from childhood. The key to being a good storyteller is to start with a story that you like. If you like a story, then you will be able to project that enthusiasm to your audience.
  2. Read over the story several times to get a feel for the story. Read it once for the plot, once for the characters and once for the setting. Then put the book down and try to tell the story without the book. This is by far the scariest part of being a storyteller. But many tellers are surprised with how well they can tell a story after reading it just a few times.
  3. Another way to learn a story is to read through it and then write down an outline of the important events in the story. For instance in the story “Wolf and Dog” the important events include a) a hungry wolf goes to farm to find food b) wolf and dog discuss jobs c) wolf decides that he doesn’t want to work the way dog does.If a storyteller remembers just those three critical images, he or she will be able to tell that story.
  4. Once you know a story, try adding details to the story. Change the character voices. Add some details to the setting or characters. Young children often love hearing the same story over and over again, and that will give you ample opportunities to practice a story. Tellers often find that the more they tell a story, the better the story becomes.
  5. If your story has a moral to it, like in “Aesop’s Fables,” don’t tell your child the moral of a story. If you want your child to think about what a story means for him or her, ask them what they think it means. Keep in mind that a story can mean different things to different people. Asking a child what they think a story means can also open up the lines of communication between parents and children.
  6. Find new stories or old favorites at your library at 398.2 (or j398.2 for the children’s section). Or visit the Naturestory Library Page.
  7. Some beginning storytellers like the security of having the storybook in front of them as they tell. Try to resist that urge. A person becomes a “storyteller” when they can tell a story without the book. By using the “outline technique” above, most tellers can remember enough of the story to tell it.
  8. If you want to further develop your storytelling skills, contact local storytelling groups or attend storytelling events to see how the professionals take part in this art form.