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The Virtues of Storytelling with Simplicity - Remember KISS … Keep It Simple, Silly!
by Chris King

I recently took part in a storytelling event which involved many tellers - all with stories that held important meanings. We had been asked to tell stories that were between five and seven minutes in length with seven minutes tops. Most took a lot longer than their allotted time - adding all sorts of details and other unnecessary extras.

Thinking about this and also noticing the listener attention and lack of listener attention that was obvious for the different tellers, I realized an important fact. Those who kept the stories short, to the point and simple were appreciated a lot more than those who went over their time limit. In this article I am going to address KISS … Keep It Simple, Silly!

Yes, it is not always easy to shorten a story, but it is important to stay within the time limit. Nothing will produce a poor reputation for us as storytellers than taking longer than we have been asked to. You see, that cuts into someone else’s time and can also throw a whole program off its schedule.

I also know that using ways to cut back the length of a story will often strengthen rather than weaken a story. How can we accomplish this? Read on!

Narrative needs details - but not too many. When a story is written it does need descriptive details to set the place, tone and describe the characters. The advantage we have as storytellers is our facial expressions, tone of voice and pacing. Just by speaking with a character’s inflections and tone can bring that character to life for the listeners. A well placed pause can heighten the suspense and anticipation, and also indicate passing of time. Always remember that "less is more."

Repetition can be a useful and strong tool to use in storytelling. It also works effectively if we have enough time to involve the audience in helping with the repetition - all ages love it. But, repetition can also be overdone. In one of the long stories, the storyteller had certain qualifying phrases that he repeated many times. The problem was that they weren’t actually necessary to strengthen the direction of the story. They distracted more than enhanced.

It is important to remember that anything we do with the telling of a story should enhance the story and the memory of that story - not detract or distract.

This is the reason, that as storytellers, we should use props and/or costumes and/or puppets with care.

  • Musical instruments - I have enjoyed storytellers who use musical instruments that add charm, interest and meaning to their stories. And yet, I have observed tellers who add an instrument that actually drowns out his or her voice and ruins the enjoyment of the tale.
  • Props - which can be an instrument, a special object, a toy, you name it - can also be effective, but incredibly distracting, too. We must make sure that, if we do use them, that our listeners leave remembering the story - not the prop.
  • Puppets - many tell me that they can’t stand puppets. Yet again, when worked with expertise, a puppet can become a delight. As a matter of fact, one of my all time favorite tellers, Willy Claflin, is a master of working with puppets - especially his Maynard Moose, who steals the show.
  • Costumes - there are tellers who dress in particular costumes for their performances. Again, I think this is fine, as long as the costume doesn’t take over the story or substitute for good telling. I have attended storytelling concerts, where I felt that the storyteller used a costume to make up for a lack of ability. And, no costume or get up can do that.

Here are some tips for ways to keep your storytelling simple:

  • Start by reducing your story to its bare bones. This is similar to an outline. In the fewest words possible, tell the essence of the story - beginning, middle or crisis, solution and climax, and ending.
  • Then, see the story in your mind, or create a storyboard, so you have the important visual images that you want your listeners to see.
  • In as few words - but important words - tell your story. I like to make an audio tape. Then, ask yourself, what should I add to make this story come to life and be more exciting? What can I take away that is unnecessary and/or distracting?
  • When you start telling it to a group, watch for squirming, rustling and whispering. This is a clue that your story needs to be simplified for strength and enchantment.
  • Remember, it takes many tellings of a story before you will be happy and comfortable with it.

And always remember KISS - Keep It Simple, Silly!


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