Gifts of Story

A Better Storyteller in Five Ways

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Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. Matthew 13:34 Know Your Audience—Who will I be telling to in this moment? What makes this group unique? How do they hear story? Find out as much as you can about your audience. They will cease to be strangers as you enter into that moment of storytelling. Prepare and Pray—The best storyteller is the one that has prepared. Rehearse with your whole body before a mirror. Believing the story versus knowing a story translates to an audience in any culture. When I believe the story with my whole heart, not just my head, I communicate it differently.  You’ve prepared… now pray and release this story to The Great Storyteller! Show and Tell—Hearing a story dramatically told is amazing!  So what else can we offer our audience that will allow them to see, taste, hear, smell and feel? Sensory memory is powerful and Jesus used it as a storyteller. Try a bag of seeds for The Parable of the Sower, red grapes to eat for The Tenants and the Vineyard, an invitation for each person for The Great Banquet. You think of one! Let them talk and you listen—A storyteller learns a great deal when she/he allows their audience to reflect on the story just told to them.  Directed-reflection respects the listener and echoes back to them the story shared. We can pick up cultural nuances and vital information as we listen to our audience reflect back to us what they heard in the story we told. Bless and Review—As you close a time of story, thank your listeners for their attentiveness and sharing. Afterwards, review your storytelling moment with a trusted listener. Is there something you would modify or change in the next telling? You’ll grow as a storyteller as you allow His shaping of your skills....

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Gift Seven: Letting a Story Inside

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Letting a story inside is one of the most wonderful and dangerous places one can go with storytelling—whether telling or listening. I can remember the stories that I have let inside my heart, mind and soul and to this day I can vividly recall the moment of their telling. Some are from as early as my elementary years with my teacher reading The Five Little Peppers after lunch recess. My young teen years when I heard chapters of “The Diary of Anne Frank” powerfully read aloud. And still others into my early young adulthood when I heard the telling of C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, and the re-telling of the Gospel of John by an actor using only a ladder and a box. Gift 7 As a seasoned performer, the hearing of great storytellers thrills me as a listener. Storytellers like Jackie Torrence, Donald Davis, Bill Harley, Buck (Don) Creacy, Laura Simms, David Novak, Kathryn Tucker Windham, Bill Lepp, Sheila Kay Adams, just to name just a few.  They are all different and incredibly gifted at the craft.  Some use music, some are skilled writers telling their own stories, some are fable-fairy-folk-tellers telling the stories around these here parts, some are dramatic and well-spoken from the first word uttered to the last, and some are as natural a teller as one would be sitting at your dinner table! And as a seasoned listener, there’s nothing better than a child giggling through a story they just have to tell someone! So if someone brings the story worth taking in, letting in, opening the door for… what will happen? Nothing too scary or that dangerous.  I like to use the word “dangerous” because there is a risk involved. When one lets go of their inner critic, the bother of someone sitting close to them, the busyness of the day… when one lets go of all of that and a story is allowed to walk in and sit down in the front living room of your life, well anything can happen. And that’s dangerous, just a little bit.  What if you cry? What if you laugh really loud when no one else does?  What if it takes you to a place of pain or loss or a melancholy time gone by? My advice is simple: if it does, don’t be afraid.  Ask the question: Why was I so moved by that story? What is this story really telling me about my life… life around me? Likely, you know already upon its finish. And if you don’t, give it a day or two.  This story that has reached inside of you will come back around. I know this because it’s happened to me. And it is worth it to know whatever this story has to tell me. Insight is no small thing in a world that is in a hurry to say and do everything there is to say and do. It is a gift in a hurried world. In the last six...

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Gift Six: Perspective and Validation of Our Story

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In Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, he states that one of the greatest needs human beings have is validation—“a feeling of importance”—as Mr. Carnegie describes it. Listen Here A story, in its short moments, can unload a great deal of truth about our value, importance.  The person sitting next to us, during the short moments of its telling, would have no idea that a huge searchlight was shining upon our life.  At the same time, a story can give us a generous pat on the back and a big “Woohoo, way to go!”  We might want to stand on the chair we’re sitting on and say, “That story we just heard was all about me! That heroine—yup, that’s me… That person doing the right and virtuous thing—just exchange my name for theirs! ” It’s one of story’s gifts—the gift of validation. In close kinship with this gift is the how story can help us gain perspective on our own story.  Perspective is when we can back away from a situation, a relationship, and experience, and gain insight into its reality. A dear friend of our family, spent his doctoral thesis on this very subject—perspective-taking—naming it one of the single most important lenses we place on our life and all the living going on around us.  You’ve heard that too-often-repeated police officer line, “Step away from the car,” right?  Well, we would be wise to take this advisement of insight our lives:  “Step away from your life and take a good look at it.” The fresh start of a new year, a new semester, a new season, can bring this act of perspective-taking into full view. Here’s a thought: what if we made it a goal to pursue story for the purpose of taking perspective on our lives, the world we live in?  Key to this would be listening—actively listening—to the stories all around us with this goal in mind—“What can I learn, gain or enter into as I hear this story?” There is a wonderful Jewish folktale called “It Could Always Be Worse” or “The Rabbi’s Gift” as found in Brian Cavanaugh’s book The Sower’s Seeds. It’s very fun tale to tell.  A humble father and husband, has a small home, a small income and to top that off, every relative seems to have found their way to his home during a hard time.  Being a good Jew he goes to his Rabbi for counsel.  The Rabbi’s counsel is to bring his livestock, one at a time, into the home to live with his family.  It seems absurd, but the Rabbi is wise so he does this very thing. Finally, he begs the Rabbi to help him—it’s a smelly, noisy, awful mess in his home.  Then the Rabbi advises him to take them all out, one animal group at a time.  What the man realizes is this: the home is roomy, clean and quiet once again. In other words, it wasn’t so bad after all.  In actuality,...

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Gift Five: Re-gifted Reading

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Have you ever picked up a game that you haven’t played for a long time and it was like a new game?  It was so fun and you couldn’t believe how well you played it.  In fact, you won! Have you ever hopped on a bike, a scooter, a pogo stick, laced up a pair of skates (after years of not using these) and managed to stay on it/them and not fall or provide an “America’s Funniest Video” for a future show? What feeling of euphoria!  “Oldie-Smoldie!” you said sarcastically with a puffed up sense of self. Listen Or have you ever picked up a book you haven’t read in a long time, perhaps since childhood, and it was like reading it for the first time, but better? You savored the pictures, the characters, your mind began to recall the next page and the next page.  And after reading it, you placed it somewhere prominent, somewhere special, where you could find it again.  And you made a mental list of those that needed to hear this story. “Perhaps, I’ll read it aloud to them,” you mused. Those experiences I described are the profound wonder of stored memories. I call this last one that I described, the experience of “re-gifted reading”!  What you received was the pleasure of rediscovering a story you held special… sacred. I’ve done this many times with my own children.  I have joyed over my children’s delight in reading Dr. Seuss, The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. And the list could go on and on and, no doubt, you are thinking of several more that rest on your list of “worth reading again!” How to Re-Gift Reading… I love to encourage parents to read to their children.  Now, I know at a certain age, we require children to spend so many moments reading aloud and then it’s reading silently.  However, I love what happens when parents read to their children.  Besides the time spent away from electronic devices, a parent and child are spending time together, using their imaginations and communicating… together. All of this provides a positive memory—one that will carry forward into their adult lives when they are parents. When is a child too old to be read to?  NEVER!  Did you hear that?  NEVER.  That’s what long-time reading specialist, Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook (http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah-ch3-pg3.html) advocates. He encourages us to catch those teens at the dinner table or while they’re doing dishes and can’t escape. It doesn’t have to be from a book, but from places of common interest. They’ll probably never tell you they love it (that would be so not cool), but they do! What about college age? Read to a young adult.  Keep reading. The great thing about reading to a college person (even if it’s some story article you copied from a website) is the adult feedback because it’s cool to...

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Gift Four: Truth and Ah-hahs!

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There is a mirror near my front door that I pass by every day. Sometimes… several times a day. It’s handy too.  I can smooth my hair, put on a dash of lipstick, and check my reflection before dashing or opening the door to a familiar or not-so familiar someone. There have been times when the reflection has checked me, if you know what I mean. I’ve looked at a worried face, a hurried person, a confused face placing something in the mail basket that sits beneath the mirror. Ah-hahs… Gift Four: Truth and Ah-hahs! Stories are mirrors, too.  They reflect back to us their characters, pictures and story lines and what I like to think provide more than a few “Ah-hahs” in our lives. An ah-hah is a reflection in a story that brings us encouragement, the surprise of genuine joy, a solution to an issue, an “Ah-hah, I get it now!”  There have been times when the reflection has provided a warning to me and there have been times when a story has taken me back to the pain and disappointment of my story and said, “Look, look one more time… it’s safe to look.” Folktales are great ah-hah stories. The folktales of old were stories that spoke to the listener in an in-direct but familiar way. Obvious themes of un-selfishness, beauty, serving others, integrity, prestige, position, acceptance, the power of money’s hold, love, and the list could go on and on.  They were told around the common fire–indoors around the home fires, at the table, the sides of beds, and along the road.  We often find similar folktale versions in other countries because they were memorized stories—not out of book—but told by faithful patriarchal and matriarchal family member. Yes, there were those traveling storytellers but who better to tell the story of the German folktale, “The Wooden Bowl,”(add a listening link for this one from my folktales audio)—a parent or a traveling entertainer? The telling might have been memorable and well-performed by a bard (a storyteller), but the parent or grandparent was there in the house the next day when the questions came or better yet, the insight into the story’s truth began to unfold. If truth be told… One of the wonders about a story is that it is retained by the mind until it is ready for a deeper examination.  A story that we heard weeks ago will fly back into our minds and nest there at some of the most mundane times.  There is shelf-life in a story that gets inside of our story.  And that’s when some of the best ah-hahs come forward.  Rarely, do they happen in those moments of the telling, but more so when we are quiet and doing something as mundane as driving a long stretch of road, washing the pots and pans from dinner, watering the lawn, or folding clothes. You probably have heard quite a few of those TIME + DISTANCE equations (some of them are...

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Gift Three… Connection and Community

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Now, this wonderful gift of connection and community could apply to many things in our lives. We are a culture that is losing its front porch, actively lending a helping hand to a neighbor, holding the door open, the social graces of waiting your turn, “please” and “thank you,” and the list goes on and on. Small as these may be, they are a connection to our greater community of human kind. We assume we’re connected in every way possible, yet we can drag around a gnawing sense of disconnect that we are unaware of most of the time, until… we sit down with a few people for a meal at a table, are an invited guest to a wedding ceremony, attend a funeral, watch a movie in a theater that gets the audience engaged, attend a concert where we applaud and vocalize, … you go ahead and name one. I just quickly listed some occasions where we find ourselves in a group connecting to people in community and this connection had nothing to do with our hand-held devices or laptops. As users of the internet and hand-held devices (and count me in), we are connected and yet isolated at the same time. Nothing will ever replace the real thing of being with other human beings.  And it is the yearning of our souls to hear the words “you matter in this world”. As humans, we have wired into us a chemistry to connect. (see Dr. Henry S. Lodge’s book, “Younger Next Year”) We need the human connection to keep us healthy and vital. It has the capacity to extend life just like diet and exercise. So how can storytelling produce such a thing?  How does it create connection and community? As I have said in earlier blogs, storytelling is an invitation to relationship—an invitation the storyteller extends to their listener or listeners of “Let me tell you a story.” From there, all parties involved have agreed to participate in connecting through a story in a community, in a setting. That setting could be the living room, the side of a bed, a backyard, a church, a classroom, a concert hall or a conference. When it’s a whole bunch of people on the rug, so to speak, storytelling breaks down our apprehensive posture and caution with strangers. In storytelling events, I like to break down the fourth wall of theater and invite my audience to engage in conversation.  Whether it’s a sigh, a laugh, tears, applauding, an answer back to me, singing with me—all of these responses back to me connect me to the listeners and the listeners to one another.  For that short hour or two we are a community, sharing the same stories and reactions.  I love to plant an intermission in the middle of a story event so that my audience can talk to one another.  I know they enjoy this, because it’s a little bit of work to get them seated once again. This gift...

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Gift Two: Creativity and Imagination

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Your Story Matters is a blog dedicated to encouraging you as a storyteller and as a writer, no matter where you are in these giftings. You may be young or old, naïve or wise in these gifts.  Stay open to learning and building these gifts. And as my blog builds, we’ll find ways to communicate our thoughts concerning our storytelling and writing within the context of our faith in God.  Right now, it feels like a one-sided conversation we’re having.  The blog is new and maybe you’re new to the idea of a blog. I would encourage you to register and share a thought or two with other readers.  I know you’ll encourage them… and me!  You can also copy our navigation into an email and send it on to a friend. Now, let’s get back to The 7 Gifts of Story.  We’ve already looked at one of the gifts—Rest and the Shhh-ing (Quieting) of our Soul. Gift Two: Creativity and Imagination [audio:http://rightsideupstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Blog3.mp3|titles=Gift Two] In quieting and resting in a story, imagination is engaged.  Now, for an adult this is a fairly wonderful thing.  Yes, the resting is very good, too, but engaging our imagination is good for those adult dendrites of ours and the building of brain reserves. I’d like to talk a little bit about story and the gift of imagination and creativity. Storytelling is theater of the mind. I prompt you with the invitation of “I want to tell you a story…” and you begin to engage as children do very naturally.  You become quiet and still on the rug of your soul.  As I (or another teller) tell the story, you begin to use your beautiful imagination—painting vivid pictures in your mind’s eye. Stories reignite the imagination that has become dusty and rusty from living in the adult day-to-day reality.  It brings forward sensory images and memories that are there, but latent.  After spending time using our imagination, we feel re-charged and ready to conquer a task, or even create something fresh and new. In fact, today you can practice activating our creativity with a story!  I’ll leave a story on this blog entry called, “The Sack,” and you can try this exercise and it will awaken your imagination related to story.  Search for the colored pencils or crayons now, grab some copier paper and when that story is finished draw the first image that comes to your mind. Just draw, don’t correct or critique what comes forward.  The story is rich in description and will evoke some feelings and experiences.  From that drawn image, write a sentence or question that comes to mind.  Place this aside.  Revisit it later in the day.  Your mind will have activated on the visual and written prompt. Writers, spend great amounts of time using their imagination to create stories.  The writer of fiction has to imagine the characters, the setting, the time, the problem to be solved, the action leading up to the resolution of that problem… and much, much...

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Gift One—Rest and the Shh-ing of Your Soul

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Welcome back… I am so grateful that you have returned to read my blog. If you are new to Your Story Matters, it is my desire to encourage you as a storyteller, as a writer, and, together, find ways to communicate our thoughts concerning stories within the context of our faith in God. Over the next several blogs, I’d like to share The Seven Gifts of Story. Ponder them with me and let’s see where they take us. Gift One—Rest and the Shh-ing of Your Soul  [audio:http://rightsideupstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Blog2-1.mp3|titles=Gift One] When was the last time someone said, “I’d like you to go rest for a little while and just refocus.” I can hear your response already: “Hah! It’s never happened! … I‘m so busy.” Over the many years of telling stories, I have had the joy of watching an audience enter a moment of storytelling, … unaware of what will transpire in the next moments, hour.  Distracted children become focused and content, teenagers and young adults turn off their cells, anxious and weary adults begin to relax and enjoy this “once upon a time” moment, once again. It’s story time on the rug and everyone’s invited and important! What a beautiful thing. #Snapshot!# I like to take a mental snapshot of these moments because in our very wound-tight, too-busy, electronic hand-held tool driven culture, these moments are few. At the top of one of the chapters in my book, “Step Inside,” there is a quote from a parent: “I haven’t relaxed like that in a long time,” remarked a grown man carrying a slumbering child after one of my Storynight concerts.  “I guess I needed this even more than she did.” So, when was the last time someone told you a story? When was the last time you sat someone down and told them a story? Here’s some of the wondrous benefits of a quiet moment of resting… listening to a story— A singular focus is created in that moment: I listen, you tell, or I tell and you listen. Relationships are strengthened. Imagination is engaged. There are wonderful physical benefits, such as one’s breathing slows down and becomes even, a sense of well-being and relaxation, distractions dissipate as one becomes singular in focus as a listener. And, we get a take away!  You know, kind of like the treat bags at a birthday party… the story has not only provided entertainment, but the possibility of learning something. Like a mirror reflects our face, so can a story reflect some part of one’s life as we quiet our soul to reflect. Every so often, there is wonderful, sacred and unmistakable moment that happens in a large setting, and often in smaller storytelling settings.  There is a quiet—an uninterrupted moment after the last and final words of a story.  My listeners are resting in the story.  And I try my best not to break this moment. Another #Snapshot!# I would encourage you, as a teller and as a listener, to rest in those moments after a...

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