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A Story Writer and Teller Delineates How We Process Information
By Gregory Leifel

If we look at how people process information, perhaps from an audience member's perspective there really isn't all that much difference between a read story and a heard story. (heresy in the storytelling world because we don't read stories to audiences, we tell them, but perhaps because it's considered heresy it deserves a closer look) Everything I say in this article about readers could be true about a story listener too.

Editor's note: Not only is this one of the most informative articles I have read about how readers and listeners process information, it is also beautifully written and incredibly fun to read. Don't skip it! You will miss a perfect and useful metaphor.

What are the different ways a child (or even an adult) reads?

  • You have your visual readers, who read quickly, processing sentences and even paragraphs at a time. The whole chapter is a painting for them, vivid and complete before their eyes, because as their eyes absorb the words on the page, they create the painting in their mind of the possible intentions of the words.
  • You have the auditory readers, who perhaps move their lips as they read. They are repeating the words they are reading in that echo chamber in their head. They create this beautiful music in their heads with the words on the page. They love beautiful sounding sentences, and often want to read one out loud or read parts to other folks.
  • You have your tactile readers, who move their fingers across the page as they read. (or even move their bodies as they read). They are touching each sentence, establishing intimate contact with every word their eyes and fingers lead them over. They dance with the words and the story, and they will perspire and swoon and even tingle with the story action.

Now the great writer (or teller for that matter) knows he or she is appealing to each of the types of readers above in every story, and he or she also realizes that there may be combinations of all of the above, and that in addition, the description of a smell or scent easily invades each type of reader. The great writer allows for all of the processing modes above in writing each story, because for a visual reader, getting them to touch the words or experience a tactile meaning is a new, exciting experience. Same for the tactile reader; to visualize is a new and exciting experience. And the auditory reader can add sight and touch to his or her sounds. The combinations vary with every sentence. And we all at one time or another use each mode and many combinations of modes to receive communication.

So any good book or story establishes rapport with the reader/listener in many modes (sight, sound, tactile, olfactory, etc.) and if successful, transitions the reader/listener along with unfolding the story to begin experiencing the story in all of the modes. The goal is to immerse, submerge, capture, and captivate the reader/listener in the story, so that they are running on all cylinders. For everyone is visual in experiencing something, and tactile in others areas, or auditory, and every combination for everything we do. How we experience a story read or told is the process of HOW we experience that particular communication.

The writer who hammers the reader with every physical feeling in a story will not establish rapport with those who strongly desire to have their experiences come in a less physical way, a gentle unfolding of story. If I describe an apple pie hitting you in the face, the force of the blow reeling your head backwards, the goo of the syrup clogging your nose, the sticking of your eyelids, the crust that makes its way onto your neck and under your shirt collar, and say nothing of the warmth of the apples, or the loud slap of surprise, or the scent of Grandma's Golden Delicious recipe, you may only take the physical act as hostile or threatening. If, as author or teller, I wanted you to take the act as threatening, I might leave out the scent and warmth and surprise.

The storyteller controls the meaning in the story with how the story is
communicated and how the story is communicated is in how we appeal to each and all of the above combinations AFTER establishing rapport. The wider your audience, the more one might find worthwhile encompassing many modes to begin with. Once you have a visual listener with description, the action comes easily to them. Once you have a auditory listener with sound, the visual emerges easily. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Now my warm apple pie above that sent your head reeling was followed by a sharp inhale of surprise from you which bordered on a sigh, for you knew, as you giggled and wiped the goo from your eyes, that the table before you had at least one blueberry pie with your friend's name on it. And your friend, who was semi-confidently hiding his giggle, stood there ready to receive the warmth of love as you returned the favor of his communication with the launching of your own communication. And everyone around you would get it too, for there was a table full of pies.

In conclusion, there is little difference between a read story and a heard story because the responsibility of any communication is in HOW anything is communicated in the first place. Establish rapport and then lead. Throwing a pie with a smile is the answer to good communication. Throwing it with a furrowed brow is another thing entirely.

Hungry now?

Gregory Leifel, author of the novel, The Day I Met Walt Whitman, and Storytelling audio CD, Go Ahead and Jump and Other Stories, may be found at


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