Ask unusual questions about your story’s characters and live inside the answers you discover. (~Sean Buvala)
While oral storytellers walk a fine line between telling and acting, I think you can borrow some preparation skills from our more barnstorming peers. When you create a character, live in it for a while. You’ll do better knowing how each character reacts and using that knowledge to show us the interactions between characters.
For Traditional storytelling?
How does Papa Bear feel in Goldilocks? What is he thinking upon discovering that an intruder has made their way into his home? How does his posture change as the violation of his home becomes clearer? What does he do after Goldilocks runs away? Is he amused or frightened? Does he think the words of the baby bear are wise or foolish?
For Business storytelling?
Why is that customer angry at your whole company? What emotional logic are they displaying as they speak to you or your company rep? Breathe in the client’s shoes you describe in the story; enter their reality and live in it as you construct your tales.
You’ll be storytelling about how you wear your grandmother’s heirloom necklace? Be in grandma’s head as she’s a young bride at 19 receiving this gift from her mother as a wedding present. Feel the moment and live in it. What did she feel? What did the air smell like in the church as they waited to walk up to the aisle? What did her father say to her? How did she feel that one time she misplaced the necklace? In her internal dialogue, was she happy or melancholy to pass that necklace on to you?
Each of your characters has a place.
Be they bit player or central figure, taking the time to live in each character will prepare you to create the story better and improvise upon it in each telling.
“But, Sean, I never improvise when telling a story.” I’ve learned that if you don’t improvise ever, then you are acting and not storytelling. All storytelling is improvised in some way every time. Both are great art forms that use story. Either way, the advice is solid.
Sean Buvala has been storytelling in the U.S. and Canada since 1986. He’s the founder and editor of storyteller.net. His latest book for kids is “The Moon Was Not Happy: Compartiendo el Cielo.” (aff), published by The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group LLC.