Top Ten Secrets to Finding, Learning and Delivering Folktales
By: Mary Grace Ketner
A. FINDING Stories:
10. Remember the stories you loved as a child and retell them. You probably do not need to look up a copy of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” or “The Tortoise and the Hare” to be able to tell them to children. Just search your memory for the parts of the story, then “re-member” and retell them. That’s what traditional storytelling is all about!
9. Remember “398.2,” the Dewey Decimal System (used by school and public libraries) number for Story Collections. Read a collection and choose the story you love best. Fiddle with language and imagery and adapt as needed or desired for your audience. Retelling a story written by a collector is not as daunting as telling a story composed by an author because the language does not seem to be in a final form. PS: Don’t put authored picture books on your “to learn” list! Just read them aloud as they are.
B. LEARNING Stories:
8. Learn a story like you would learn a joke. A joke is a familiar example of oral storytelling. When you retell a joke you heard, you remember the setting and characters, what happened, and the punch line--and maybe certain phrases that must be said a particular way. When you retell it, you may change some thingssuch as parts that didn’t make sense and parts you forgot. Learn a story the same way. It’s harder when you’re reading instead of listening, for the author’s words seem so perfect, but try it! Your words will be just as compelling to your audience.
7. Make the story your own. Add music, movement, interaction, especially for small children. Some stories already have or strongly suggest rhymes or phrases that kids can join in on signal. If not, see if there are places you can add them. Invite them to copy gestures or echoe key phrases. For older children or a more serious story, use less interaction, but add music or poetry to vary the pace or call attention to certain key parts.
6. Practice telling your story outloud. It’s hard with no audience, but do it anyway. Tell it whole or practice one “scene” several times in a row. Tell it to the dog. After a few practices, find an audience: a spouse, friend, or friendly group. Though it may seem logical to tell to a mirror and watch yourself, for most people it is a distraction; you have to talk and “listen” at the same time. In addition, it tends to inhibit your expressiveness.
C. DELIVERING stories:
5. (a) If you are a bit shy or nervous, think of it as “delivery” rather than “performance.” Yes, you’ve worked and practiced and prepared, but it is the story that listeners want to hear, not the person. You are the vessel which holds, then pours out, the story. Your love of the story will be contagious! Trust the story, then just tell it. (b) If you are a bit of a ham, think of it as “performance” rather than “delivery.” This is a time for you to shine and to get appreciative feedback on your work, including the part of your work in which you selected a great story for this particular audience.
4. Minimize details. A story is not a descriptive essay. Imagining what people, places and things look like is the listener’s job, and a very important one at that. Defining people and scenes makes for lazy listeners and stories that seem “outside,” perhaps even distant. Allow the story to take place in the listener’s mind; allow the characters to be aspects of the listener’s own self. Choose adjectives that are evocative, not limiting. (Let the princess have sparkling eyes, not blue eyes, for example.)
3. Use your most expressive voice (or voices!) and good language. Vary your pitch and vocal qualities in support of the story and as speakers change. Have fun with people and animal voices, especially in lighthearted stories! Remember that a soft voice, even a whisper, can be very powerful. Choose appropriate words and interesting phrasing, and use good spoken grammar. Practice pronouncing foreign names and cultural terms until you are at ease with them. Use pauses effectively to build suspense and to allow listeners to soak in what has happened.
2. Look each member of the audience in the eye for long enough that they know they’ve been spoken to personally. In a small and intimate story circle, you can actually succeed at doing this. Linger on one set of eyes for an entire phrase or an entire sentence. Even with a larger audience, select faces to rest on for a phrase before moving on. Do this in contrast to (a) skimming the entire audience without “landing” on anyone, or (b) telling the whole story to one person.
1. Have fun telling your story! Remember that what seems like a terrible failure or a “goof” to you is very minor to your partners in the storytelling session, your listeners. They just want to know what happened. The mind is a wonderful instrument, and it adjusts without a hitch! (a) If you forget what comes next, ask your listeners “And THEN what do you think happened?” If that little alarm was enough, just go on; if not, let them suggest ideas until you get a cue. (b) If you left out part of the story, say, “Oh, I forgot to tell you something very important,” or “Now there is something Jack knew that you do not know yet, so let me tell you.” (c) If you say the wrong thing entirely, get as creative as you can to make the story succeed for your listeners. (I have had to do this a thousand times!)