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“Ten Tips for Working with a Story”

By Dianne de Las Casas
published on web November 2003

Dianne de Las CasasStorytelling is an art form with a truly human connection. Direct eye contact is an essential element of storytelling as your audience creates your story with you. The direct connection with your audience is vital and makes storytelling unique among the arts. Here are some tips for working with a story.

  1. Select a story that has meaning for you. - Choose a story that touches you in some way. When the audience is listening to the story, they can sense a genuine telling of the story. If the story has meaning for you, chances are, when you are telling it to an audience, it will have meaning for them as well.
  2. Learn a story by heart. - Don't try to memorize an entire story. If you do, you may blank out trying to remember the details. Instead, work with the story by learning its outline and basic structure. Visualize and construct images in the story, and fill in the details as you are telling the story.
  3. Allow the story to grow. - Stories will begin to take shape and change with each telling. Allow the story to evolve and don't try to restrict the story to a certain format or structure. Giving the story room to grow will allow you more freedom in the telling of the story.
  4. Remember the story connection. - Stories are a connection between you, your story, and your audience. Stay focused and connected to yourself, the story, and your audience. Centering your telling solely on the story is likely to alienate the audience while concentrating only on the audience can deprive your story of necessary life and energy.
  5. Add movement to your story. - Don't allow your story to become rigid in its telling. This can happen when you have told a story many times or when you are first learning and working with a story. Add movement to the story by way of sound, audience participation, vivid details that make a story come to life, or dance and physical movement.
  6. Breathe life into your story. - Give life to your story by creating vivid scenes, interesting characters, adding humor or drama, and adding your own personal flavor to the story. Create a sense of place and time. These elements are what make your story unique and interesting.
  7. Play with your story. - Have fun with the story and play with it. Add various elements such as humor, unexpected drama, and sound effects, elements that you may not have otherwise incorporated into your story. See where the story goes. Playing with your story can keep it fresh and generate new ideas for telling it.
  8. Create an outline. - Once you have the story "down pat," so to speak, create an outline. Write down the beginning and end of the story, the basic plot outline, and key phrases of the story. Include your sources for the story. You can even create an outline on a tape recorder. Keep the outline for future reference.
  9. Tell the story often. - Tell the story as often as you can. Work with it by yourself to get a feel for the story, then begin telling to a live audience. By telling in front of an audience, you can eliminate the parts that fall flat and keep the portions of the story that generate a positive response. Telling your story will also allow you to become comfortable with the story.
  10. Don't be afraid to "retire" a story. - Though stories may be classic and have universal messages, sometimes it is necessary to retire a story, put it to rest. We all have our favorite stories that we can tell in a pinch, with our eyes closed, and our hands tied behind our backs, but even those stories need to rest. This will keep the story from getting stale and repetitive. When you are ready to return to the story, refer to your outline.

Dianne de Las Casas is the Director of The Story Connection in Louisiana. For more information about Dianne and her storytelling programs, workshops and residencies, her website is at www.storyconnection.net.


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