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Tellers' Tips on Various Topics
by Chris King, Mary Lee and Frank Sweet, Fran Stallings, Kate Dudding, Mel Davenport, Jane Sims and Mary Garrett

Up until 2004, every two months I had the delightful opportunity to share tips from my storytelling friends in my Tips Column in the National Storytelling Network's (NSN) Storytelling Magazine. Realizing that not everyone who visits this website is a member of NSN - although I highly recommend you join - I have decided to periodically start sharing some of these wonderful tips on this site.

Because of space limitations in the magazine, I also have many tips that have been sent to me, but not used. So, this will solve both situations and it will become a win-win-win project for all of us. I hope you enjoy them - I received a lot of great feedback the first time I tried it - and let me know if you like the change of pace and hearing from a full troupe of tellers. Read on!

Tandem tellers provide a lively spirit to history stories, even when there is little dialogue. After a story has been chosen, crafted and divided into parts, each teller must learn his/her part. The next step is to practice together. The last line that one teller says must end with a cue word to let the other teller know when to begin. This is VERY important. As the story unfolds, you may find that certain details are difficult for one teller to remember, but easy for the other. Simply transfer that part to the other teller. I have trouble remembering names. So my partner will say, "Tell them about General John Reynolds." If one of us forgets an important detail, the other can easily work it in. When one teller is speaking, the other should step back a little and look at the speaker.
Mary Lee Sweet

The dilemma in choosing a story is between informative value versus entertainment value. In the immediate, people are entertained by the comforting and familiar. You are keeping their attention when the listener silently exclaims, "That is so true!" But, like a Chinese dinner, the familiar and comforting leaves folks hungry again an hour later. To make a lasting impression, you must make the listener exclaim, "I didn't know that!" All education wrestles with that dilemma, and history is no exception. Tell people what actually happened, and they can be horrified, offended, and turned off to the point that they stop listening. Sugar-coat the tale too much and it no longer informs.
Frank Sweet

Years ago I was pondering the "taste" of different kinds of stories. The tongue can sense only Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salt (and the recently discovered meaty MSG taste, which has a Japanese name I haven't learned yet).
Happy sentimental stories are, of course, sweet.
Teaching tales are meaty.
Anger, defeat, and resentment are bitter – as are tales which keep alive the grudges of the past.
Tales of regret, separation and lost love are tart like lemon or vinegar – but with the passage of time, can mellow into compassion.
In chemistry class we learned that when you neutralize bitter alkali with sour acid, the result is salt.
So I think that humor often develops from Anger neutralized with Compassion. That's why Humor is the salt of life.
Fran Stallings

When creating stories about people who lived in the last 150 years, I search for words that the person spoke or wrote. I find that a person’s own words reveal so much about him/her, and that I want to share those words with my listeners. Obviously, an autobiography is an ideal source. However, contemporary newspaper accounts can include interviews the day after newsworthy events in people’s lives. When researching one person, who lived in New York City in 1905, I had my local library’s interlibrary loan librarian borrow microfilm of a newspaper from the New York Public library. I only paid the postage. When researching another person, with a newsworthy accomplishment in 1883, I went to the library in his town. All issues of the town’s newspaper were on microfilm. He told a reporter that while he received no money for his accomplishment, it had been "a labor of love."
Kate Dudding

Storytelling was somewhat of an isolated experience for me during the first years.
I told stories in specific church related venues or conferences, but didn't really know about the storytelling profession or that other storytellers existed. Then I went back to college, became computer literate, and my small-world tale became an epic saga filled with real-life characters from cyberspace. When I joined STORYTELL, a whole world of storytelling was opened up to me. Cyber-tellers introduced me to state and national organizations, to professional development books and website resources, and to the storytelling profession. These friends sent "bare bones" of stories and my own personal stories were birthed from some of those mere ideas. Computer technology may not count as a down-home, front-porch experience, but for me it has sure enhanced it! Ya'll drop by, set a spell, now, ya here?! I'll save a cyberspace for you.......
Mel Davenport

It is very hard to organize any storytelling event successfully
without getting your PR into print or on the air.

  1. Create an up-to-date database of all broadcast and print media within 100 miles of your event. You may save valuable dollars if they accept news by fax or e-mail.
  2. If you plan a day for students to attend or tellers to visit schools, establish communication with school officials before the annual budget is set.
  3. Well formatted and professional looking press releases, fact sheets, calendar listings, and fliers add credibility to your event. Always "spell check."
  4. Important strategies to remember are Timeliness and Consistency. You can't begin to promote an event or festival too soon: 12 months out is good. Locate Events and Calendar editors, introduce yourself, and set up a meeting to talk about your event. This is particularly important in launching a new event.

Jane Sims

I believe in workshops!
I love to go to workshops! I enjoy the new ideas and the chance to concentrate on the art of story and spend time with other tellers. When I give a workshop, I provide some sample stories and suggestions for selecting, developing, and telling stories. I tell a few of my favorites and, most important, leave some time for participants to tell to each other in pairs or small groups. It's the telling that makes a storyteller! . . . and the encouragement that helps one tell more!!
Mary Garrett


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