Saturday, January 28, 2017

Observations of a Storyteller


I was listenig to an interview with Lin Manuel Morales, the creator behind the Broadway super-hit Hamilton. As a writer, he suggested that one way to create writers is to put them in places of discomfort--not a viable option for a teacher! Fortunately he had another suggestion: make them observers.

My quest is to help students become better writers and storytellers, so yesterday, I invited one of my favorite storytellers to class, a fellow teacher whose stories I enjoy. I enjoy them mostly because she is so quick to laugh--not only at the things she says, but as she interacts with her audience (and sometimes that's me). It would give my students a chance to be critical observers of the art of storytelling. They came up with a list of storytelling strengths.

Here they are:

1. The storyteller was sequential and the audience could see the events coming.
2.  The storyteller gave her whole self, both physically and emotionally.
3.  The storyteller shared her culture--didn't shy away from who she was or what she had done in life.
4. She told her story so realistically--she was reliving it as she told it.
5. Yet, the other strength was "not too much emotion."
6. Great details!
7. His or her laugh was contagious.
8.  The storyteller involved the audience.
9. There was variation in volume and speed.
10.  The storyteller gave just the right amount of background needed for his/her scenes and characters.
11.  The storyteller masterfully used the story arch and tension.
12. Choice of tense-present or past, each one has a different impact on story.
13.  The storyteller tells the truth--honesty in story.
14. The storyteller created common ground between the story and the listeners.
15. The story flowed.
16.  The storyteller didn't hold back from laughing which was infectious-"We wanted to laugh too."
17. The story had a unique ending.
18.  The storyteller used his space well.
19. The storyteller broke the rules of the story arch.

We are all storytellers. Story is life. If you want people to listen, to remember, tell a story.

When listening to speakers, I often phase out during their rhetoric, but when they share a story, I pop to life. I learn best from stories. Stories park indelibly into a special place in my brain where they are recalled and retold in the most unexpected moments.

I don't always remember sage wisdom found in sentences, or talks or books. I forget the advice from gurus at the pulpit. Fleeting are the astounding words heard on the radio...but tell me a story, and I'll remember.