December 31, 2011

Gratitude, 2011

Gratitude for my clients, who asked me to tell stories.

Gratitude for the audience, who gave me their attention and listened to the stories.

Gratitude for my colleagues, who encouraged, listened, shared, told, coached, confessed, questioned, nudged, and cheered.

Here's to a new year filled with stories.

July 10, 2011

Origin Stories

There were stretches of my childhood when I was really interested in comic books-- but not obsessed. I never had to read any particular title, and my ragtag hand-me-down collection mostly had science fiction and war comics. I didn't follow any one superhero.

But there were anthologies of comics at the local branch of our public library that I would read again and again-- these were the ones that told the origins of the superheroes: the stories of how they became who they were. I read about Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider, and Bruce Wayne seeing his parents killed by a mugger, and Bruce Banner being exposed to gamma radiation. I'm sure I read many more stories about Spiderman and Batman and the Hulk, stories with fantastic adventures and incredible supervillains, but I recall few images or scenes from them.

But these characters' respective "creation myths" --I can still recall them decades later.

I've been thinking about this lately, because a few weeks ago someone asked me how I became a storyteller, and I told them my origin story:

When I was a freshman in college, I took a children's literature class. And one day the professor told us we would be starting a unit on oral literature, and we had a guest storyteller (an upperclassman) who was there to tell us a story. So he began to tell us a traditional ghost story. Now I was a theatre major at the time, and I could see that this person at the front of the room didn't have any stage presence. Wasn't using a memorized script. What could I possibly learn from this guy? I thought.
But there, in a classroom, under bright fluorescent lighting, in the middle of the day, as he told us the story, the class grew hushed. We were all caught up in the experience. And when the ending came, that storyteller scared the living daylights out of us.
There's something to this storytelling, I thought. And so, a few years later in my college career, when Rives Collins started offering a storytelling class, I knew I would be taking it.

I asked on Twitter, and I'll ask again now: do you have an origin story? What called you into storytelling?

June 26, 2011

Farewell, Little Darlings: More Meaning, Less Words

Two years ago I performed a story inspired by Jack and the Beanstalk-- a monologue from the Giant. I enjoyed creating that piece, but have not had an opportunity to tell it since that time. I will have some opportunities soon.

As I have been bringing the story back into the forefront of my consciousness, I realize that I need to operate. The performance captured on video, that's a beta version of the story. A preview of things to come. It's only now, two years later, that I'm carving out the time and energy to shape the finishing details of the story.

I called in an outside ear. I hired storyteller and story coach Nancy Donoval to do a dramaturgical intervention. I asked her a few specific questions I had about how the story comes across, what worked for her as an audience member, what didn't. (Yes, she's just one person, but I first met Nancy when she was a theatre director and I was an actor and I trust her critical eye/ear).

I took pages of notes from our conversation, and promptly laid them aside to let the feedback sink in. (No, really, I was thinking about her comments. I wasn't just putting off the necessary and uncomfortable work of editing).

Coincidentally, a few days later, storyteller Sue Black of Illinois shared her process of winnowing down a favorite story of hers to fit a venue's particular requirements. She took the challenge of bringing a "finished story" (13 minutes, 38 seconds) to where it could fit under ten minutes. "Shave three minutes?" I thought. "Ouch!"

She got it down to 8 minutes 50 seconds.

And then she challenged me to do the same.

Not just me... but all of us storytellers. Challenged us to a simple exercise. Take a story and pare it down:

Consider everything. Get rid of your ‘little darlings’. Throw away what you think is just too cute and everyone ‘must’ hear or their lives won’t be complete.
Delete, delete, delete and still maintain the essence of the story.
You’ll grow with the experience.
Your story will be better.
And your listeners will be glad you did.
Sue went beyond just sharing the news and issuing the challenge: she has posted the before and after texts of each version of the story.

Take a look:
Sue Black's A Storytelling Challenge - More Meaning with Fewer Words
Sue's "Before"
Sue's "After"

See what you think. Did Sue's trimming improve the story?

I can see how the trimmed version is cleaner. Neater. Oh, but having read the earlier version, there are a couple of details I miss. A couple of Sue's 'little darlings.'

I'll admit: I have 'little darling' issues of my own. In college I wrote a one-act play (staged twice, at two different universities) that was a satirical allegory filled with jokes, puns, and arbitrary character choices. Clocking in at one hour and five minutes, it was thirty minutes too long, although at the time I would have denied it. A teacher of mine that I held in high esteem wanted to know when I was going to stop hiding what I wanted to say behind joke after joke and just say it. I never rewrote the play because for years I couldn't bring myself to take out the parts that amused me so much when I first included them.

ScissorsAnd now, as I turn my editor's eye and ear to my Giant's story, with the aim of tightening it up, and shortening how long it takes to tell, I ask myself, "what does the story need?"

And I can see that some of the very 'little darlings' that inspired the story to begin with are going to have to go.

There are also a few questions that Nancy raised about the story. Questions left unanswered. Some of them, I want left that way. But some of them, I don't want the audience to be thinking about-- so I need to add information to the story.

What's your experience with trimming the fat? And getting rid of your 'little darlings?'

Photo credit: Scissors, by Brian Kennish

June 25, 2011

UPDATED - Twitter for Storytellers: Try It on Saturdays

#StorytellerSaturday is out. #StorySat is in.

(Since Twitter only allows you 140 characters in each tweet, we found that shortening the hashtag by 11 characters made it much easier to use)

NOTE: the hashtag is not case-sensitive. Doesn't mAtTeR wHiCH letTERS you capiTALIZe.

May 26, 2011

Twitter for Storytellers: Try It on Saturdays

NOTE: this post was updated June 25, 2011

I was using one of those services that analyzes your followers on Twitter. As it was parsing the activity of the 458 names of people who follow me (and are thus nominally interested in what I have to say), I read the instructions that suggested that I look closely at the bottom of the list. If I found Twitter accounts that hadn't posted anything, or hadn't posted since the day they signed up, and that did not have many followers, these could be trouble: automated spam bots.

I looked at my list, and lo and behold, there were dozens of accounts that hadn't posted anything, or hadn't posted since the day they signed up, and who didn't have many followers.

Twitter logo
Funny thing, though. They weren't spam bots. They were storytellers. (I recognized their names from conferences, festivals, the Storytell list, and Facebook.)

I get it. The value of Twitter is not immediately obvious, especially to a pre-mobile phone and pre-digital generation. So this post is a call to reluctant storytellers to try out Twitter again, with baby steps.

Storytelling magazine has been running a primer on how to use Twitter, provided by Slash Coleman. He's got a version of it on his blog, here.

And even if Slash's crash course on @ and # still doesn't make much sense, I'm going to suggest that you try out Twitter again just one day a week. It can be any day, but, if you can manage it, try it on Saturday.

Here's why: Storyteller Paula Reed Nancarrow (@prnancarrow, on Twitter) of Minnesota has come up with a hashtag #storytellerSaturday for storytellers and storytelling fans. That is, every Saturday, there will be a (growing) number of people posting links and comments on storytelling in an effort to connect with other storytellers. They will add "#storytellerSaturday" to their message simply to label it so that storytellers can find it.

UPDATE: to save room (Twitter has a 140 character limit), #storytellerSaturday has been deprecated in favor of #storySat

(#storySat is an obvious analogy to other Twitter traditions, including #followfriday and #teacherTuesday)

There is an active hashtag #storytelling-- unfortunately, there's a lot of noise, as competing interest groups use it, mostly corporate/business storytelling types, but also brand marketers, and those who want to talk about transmedia stories, journalism, and screenwriting-- and not just in English. I've seen the hashtag used in French, Spanish, and Portuguese tweets. And what's with all the tweets in Dutch? Isn't there a word for storytelling in the Dutch language?

So dip your foot into the Twitter waters. Saturday. Go to You don't have to have an account. If you have account, log in.
In either case, use the search box (or from and enter: #StorySat
and see what and who comes up.

Want to join in the conversation? Feel free to reply to any of the tweets (if you've got an account).
Follow the people you find there. Or, post your own 140 character message (you'll need to add the phrase #storySat to your post, so you really only will have 120 characters to get your message across).

You may want to check in several times during the day. There are only a handful of people using the hashtag right now, so it won't be a fast, dynamic scroll of information.

You could also check in on Sunday, and get a complete list of tagged tweets posted the day before.

Baby steps.

And if you are on Twitter, and know what you're doing? Start using #storySat

March 25, 2011

How many storytellers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

How many storytellers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Light bulb Outtake

Two: one to screw it almost all the way in and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

Posted recently to the Storytell Discussion list by Florida storyteller Pat Nease (reprinted here with her permission).

Photo by Kim'n'Cris Knight

March 18, 2011

Counting Down to World Storytelling Day

For many storytellers around the world, the equinox in March means World Storytelling Day, an international tradition going back two decades in some countries.

It's been interesting reading about how various storytellers around the world have been preparing and thinking about this event.

Get Storied founder Michael Margolis, well, he gets things done. I've known aboust W.S.D. planning since September of last year-- I think he just learned about it, but inside of a week he registered some domain names, threw up a website, and invited his network to join in a crowdsourced virtual storytelling event. It's been exciting to see how many of his network are finding out about this global tradition. Anyone can listen to or add to his virtual collection of stories online at

I'm eager to see how the storytelling video fest works out.

I want to participate, but the open call is for personal stories. I don't usually tell personal stories... I actually have one that fits the theme of water... but in thinking about putting it on video, and posting it, I've been practicing the story, and I made a discovery.... I'm terrible at telling my own personal stories.

Gonna rethink this.

February 27, 2011

A marathon runner and a storyteller walk into a bar

A marathon runner and a storyteller walk into a bar. The bartender says, What do you guys want? The marathoner says, I have a story to tell and he has a story to tell, pointing to the storyteller. Which do you want to hear? The bartender says, I'll listen to the marathoner's story. The storyteller pouts and asks the bartender why he chose the marathoner. The bartender says, Because I know in about 2 hours and roughly 10 minutes, HE'S going to get tired of talking.
Reprinted by permission of the author, storyteller Gregory Leifel of Illinois.

February 24, 2011

Noted Recently (February 24, 2011)

Recently noted in the storytelling blogosphere:

Priscilla Howe is blogging from her biannual storytelling tour of Belgium.

Nominated for Best Spoken Word Recording for Children, Bill Harley drops by the Grammy Awards.

Jay O'Callahan writes about a "challenging performance space." Worth a read, although don't miss the buried gem: Buzz Aldrin was in the audience. (Wondering why that matters? Ah, you haven't heard "Forged in the Stars" yet. Do it here.)

February 11, 2011

The Art of Oral Storytelling, Mapped

In case you're a visual thinker, or use mind maps, check out Pearltrees. It's a visual way to organize your Web surfing. I've started a pearltree on storytelling (wait for it to load, and then mouseover and/or click around):

The Art of Oral Storytelling

If you like what you see, especially if you're a visual thinker, sign up, and join in. I'd love other minds curating this collection.