Friday, May 13, 2011

Storytelling with Dianne de Las Casas

Why Storytelling Is a Vital Art Form

Storytelling engages the listener in whole brain activity. Both the logical and creative sides of the mind are utilized when listening to a story. In addition, storytelling does the following:

• Encourages appreciation of language and literature
• Demonstrates values
• Promotes literacy
• Teaches communication and social skills
• Celebrates cultural diversity
• Preserves history
• Inspires creativity
• Engages the imagination

Through the oral tradition, we preserve the past and help shape the future.

How to Shape Stories

Shaping stories for telling and retelling follow three basic principles:
  1. Build the story around a good plot.
  2. Create characters that audiences will care about.
  3. Good dialogue moves the story along.
Crafting the tellable story is an art. Written stories often need to be recrafted because the language is not suited to the oral tradition. What looks good on paper does not necessarily sound good to the listening audience. When telling a story orally, many dialogue introductions, such as “He said” and “She said” may be dropped because the teller is conveying that through body language and vocal characterization. 

Storytelling is often less formal than written language, even conversational in style. There are, of course, times when a more formal presentation of a story is appropriate, such as with literary stories or period pieces. Individual stories will differ. A “Brer Rabbit” tale will engage audiences with the loose, conversational style of the South, while the tale of “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe will need to retain its archaic language and structure.

Learning Stories

To learn a story, you must first live with the story. If you are learning a story from a printed version, read and reread the story several times. If you are crafting an original tale or a story from an oral source, it helps to write down the outline of the story line.

The story should become a part of you so that when you open your mouth to tell the story, the words magically fall from your lips. Kendall Haven, a renowned storyteller and author, says, “There are two parts to the word storytelling: ‘story’ and ‘telling.’ Beginning tellers often focus just on the telling part and forget to spend enough time understanding and learning the story so well that they could tell it naturally as if it had
really happened to them.”

Many beginning tellers make the mistake of trying to memorize a story word for word. This creates a problem when you are in the middle of telling the story and you struggle to remember the exact words. When this happens, you end up losing your place entirely, forgetting the story. There are several ways to learn a story without memorizing it. Storytellers of national reputation build repertoires of hundreds of stories by
practicing one or more of the following techniques.

Memorize Your Opening Line
Without memorizing the entire story, make the opening line significant and remember it.
Outline the Story
Write down the bare bones of the story from beginning to end.
Create a Storyboard
If you are a visual learner, draw your stories out, scene by scene, like a cartoon. A great example of a storyboard can be found at the website.
Visualize the Story
Like a director directing a play, you are the director of the theater of your mind. Visualize how the story takes place in your imagination. Use words that describe what you are seeing.
Type the Story
If you are a visual/tactile learner, you may enjoy learning stories by absorbing them and then retyping them.
Listen to the Story
If you are an aural learner, record the story onto a voice recorder and listen to it. Many of today’s cell phones are even equipped with voice recorders that can then be synced to your computer! Take advantage of technology.
Fill in the Details
After you have learned the bones of your story, fill in the details using the visual pictures that you have created in your mind.
Memorize Repeating Refrains
With audience participation, there is often a repeating refrain. These lines should be memorized so that you can deliver them consistently, fulfilling the audience’s expectations.
Memorize Your Last Line
To give dramatic punch to your story, create a significant ending line that ties the pieces of your story together.
Keep Good Source Notes
It is always a good idea to keep track of the sources from where your stories originated. Sometimes, a storyteller needs to access their research to fill in story details or add participation elements to the tale.

If you are telling a traditional folktale, you may want to incorporate a traditional folktale beginning and ending. A great list of folktale openings and closings can be found in Tim and Leanne Jennings’s “Folktale Openings and Closings” at


Excerpted from "Chapter 1: How to Tell A Story" from 
By award-winning storyteller Dianne de Las Casas

This book makes the perfect addition to teachers' and librarians' story time selections, containing 25 educational and entertaining tales from around the world as well as proven storytelling techniques.

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