Storyteller: What is Your Singular Subtlety?

purple hued picture of a hand holding a lens

What is the singular, intentional and subtle thread that runs through the story you are telling?

With a skilled storyteller, many things are happening in each storytelling that the audience may not be consciously aware of. It can be as simple as a gesture you make, a tone shift, or a pacing decision. I consider this singular subtlety to be felt by the live audience as a “something.” They’ll feel this when you, as the teller, get out of the way of the story; don’t preach, don’t moralize, don’t teach. Speak it and let the subtlety do the work.

Example One: When I tell my distinct version of “Beauty and the Beast,” I’ve decided that Beauty is a take-charge, inner-strength person.

Her presence and actions are intentional, measured, and concise. She is strong in the chaos of her family, learning what her fate is. She is strong in the face of the storm, which is the Beast’s anger. She’s not a victim. Note that in my telling, I don’t overtly name this strength. I don’t tell my audience about Beauty’s personality. I show it. I use it. I model it. I embody it.

Example Two: More business storytelling: my story of the angry manager in the bathroom has a subtle thread of “bemusement.” If you don’t know the story, it’s essentially how one person at a corporate event thought the speaker was terrible and angry-man was being very vocal about it…in the men’s bathroom. I was the speaker. . The bemusement shows in my telling, in how other people reacted to the manager, in how I responded to him, and ultimately how he responded to me.

Example Three: When I tell “The Tiger’s Whisker,” my subtle thread is “quiet.” Everything in this story, about a woman training a tiger to make a magic potion, is quiet. Never once do I say “quiet” in my words, but I know the singular subtlety is quiet. It’s not the subtle “strong” of Beauty; it’s the “quiet” presence of each character. And no one is “bemused.”

What is the singular subtlety thread that ties any of your great stories together?

Sean Buvala is a storyteller and communication coach in Avondale, Arizona. He is the founder and director of Photo by Stephen Kraakmo on Unsplash

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Inside the Characters in Storytelling

moon was not happy book coverLearn to find a story and then live in the minds of the characters.

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 His latest book for kids is “The Moon Was Not Happy: Compartiendo el Cielo.” (aff), published by The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group LLC.    


Sean Buvala

sean buvala stands at a microphone with his hand on his headStorytelling Saves the Day.

Since the mid-1980s or so, Sean Buvala has been connected to the art of storytelling. He started working with the art form when a group of 13-year-old students were just a bit homicidal (comically, but you never know) during some of Sean’s classes. Working with a story out of pure desperation, he converted those kids from budding criminals (not really, but maybe) to practitioners of the fine art of storytelling. Well, that is how he remembers it.

Storytelling. Publishing. Communication.

Sean tells stories that range from simple fable to complex personal tales. He’s most at home telling stories the audience doesn’t expect but probably needs. You’ll find him most immersed in “inappropriate folktales appropriately told.” He works with adult audiences in a variety of settings. Most of his work these days is as the publisher at “The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group LLC” in Arizona, where he’s helping new authors speak their stories in person and print.

Diverse Audiences.

Sean has been presenting and storytelling “on the road” for decades. He’s traveled to perform and present workshops in most of the United States and to hundreds of organizations in those states. His audiences have ranged from just a few people gathered in a living room to several thousand teens and adults. Both national organizations and local groups have experienced Sean as a teller and workshop leader.

Sean’s experience also involves training and design for the telecommunication and hospitality industry. He is especially good for the entrepreneurial and start-up communities. He’s done customer service instruction/team development for companies ranging from government to faith-based organizations to major corporations.

Visit his website at