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How to Handle the Beginnings and Endings of Your Stories
by Chris King

It depends on the time, the place, and the audience, but sometimes when you as the storyteller are ready to start telling, the audience is still in the process of getting settled and in the mood. So how do you craft a beginning that will get their attention? Equally important is letting your audience know when the story is finished. Sometimes the story is so engrossing, they are not ready for it to end. In this article, I am going to share ideas and phrases that help storytellers tackle both of these situations — beginnings and endings.

How to start before actually starting. What do I mean by this? It is obvious that the group — many times composed of the very young children — is not calmed down enough to enjoy or appreciate a real story. A good way to get their attention and bond with them is to start with a silly song or a story that they can tell along with you. I have one song where I ask for animal names and sounds and we all sing it together. By the time we’ve done a few verses they are all “with me.” I also have a simple story that uses the fingers, and I tell them that I want them to learn it, so they can share it with their family.

With older children and teenagers, I will often say, “Before I start my program, I just have to tell you something that just happened to me on the way here.” Then I share the scary urban legend about the vanishing hitchhiker describing the setting in the surrounding vicinity, naming streets, buildings, homes, etc., and by the time I have finished, their eyes are as big as saucers and they are hanging on every word.

Create a special poem, activity, or saying that creates a storytelling mood. I know several storytellers who have a special phrase or poem that sets the scene for their telling. One of my daughters made me some delightful storytelling wands that I wave in the air along with a few words to create a special effect. I know another teller who feels that we should begin all storytelling sessions with a special ritual. She will often light a candle that burns the whole time she is performing. Others use “call and response” that stand for “are you ready?” answered by “yes, we are ready.” I suggest that you create your own way to grab attention. It doesn’t always have to be the same way. It can vary from situation to situation.

Use some alternative phrasing for your beginnings. I still love the magic of the words, “Once upon a time, a long, long time ago …” but there are a huge number of different beginnings you can employ. Several years ago, the Storytell listserv compiled a long, long list of different beginnings. You can find these at For examples, these are some of my favorites:

  • A great while ago, when the world was full of wonders…
  • A story, a story, let is come, let it go. (Traditional West African opening)
  • Back in the days when animals could talk…
  • I will tell you a story which was told to me when I was a little boy/girl. Every time I thought of the story, it seemed to me to become more and more charming, for it is with stories as it is with many people: they become better as they grow older.
  • Once on the far side of yesterday…
  • Once upon a time, so long ago, nobody but the storytellers remember…
  • Those are a small sampling of the choices you will find, which go on for page after page. There is a gentleman whose thesis for his Master’s Degree in Storytelling at East Tennessee State University was a collection and analysis of story beginnings and endings. He broke his more than a 1000 findings into categories: A) Once upon a; B) Long, long ago; C) In the beginning; D) Certain time or certain place; E) A story’s coming; F) Truth of story; G) Nonsense beginning; and J) Miscellaneous.

In addition, use some alternate phrasing for your closings. I have noticed that sometimes an audience isn’t sure that you have reached the end of the story. If you visit you will find a long list of endings. Here are some of my favorites, just for example:

  • A mouse did run; my story now is done.
  • And as far as anyone knows, they are living there still to this day.
  • And ever since then, that is the way it has been.
  • And that’s the end of that!
  • And that is a true story. And if it isn’t, it should be.
  • Snip, snap, snout, this tale’s told out.
  • You see, that is my story. I heard it when I was a child. And now you have heard it too!
  • So, there you have it!

Take a risk and change your program by trying a new beginning, a new ending, or both. Have fun telling!


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