The art of storytelling

Last week I visited St Aidan’s Primary school for their World Book Day celebrations.  The theme for the day was ‘ the art of storytelling’.

It was a really lovely chance to demonstrate to children what skills are needed for oral storytelling.  Even more importantly, it was so much fun to get them using their storytelling skills during my workshops.

Wendy Shearer storytelling
Wendy Shearer storytelling

So what is the art of storytelling?

The oral storytelling tradition is as old as language itself.  Epic stories were re-told verbally and passed down generation after generation throughout history.  Culture and language were preserved in stories long before being committed to print.

For me, the art is in finding creative ways to keep that story alive.  Telling it in a way which will leave a memory indelibly printed upon the listener.  I start by choosing a story which has a message – a subtle meaning or proverb which is laced throughout the story or pops up at the end.  Folk tales from around the world are perfect for this.

I think about what emotion I’d like to convey when storytelling.  I might research different versions of that folk tale and choose a tale that I’d love to share with others.

Using your body

Your physical presence is very important as part of the art of storytelling.  Storytellers can use not only their voice but their bodies.  At times I’m the observer in the story, re-telling what I have seen and heard.  Other times I inhabit the character and draw my audience into the space.

Audience participation is key for me as I like people to be part of the story.  I want them to shape the story with me.  There is an art to keeping your audience engaged, drawing them in and holding the suspense.

Using your voice

I have to read the mood in the room and time it correctly when I want to involve the audience so that I don’t break the spell from the atmosphere.  I don’t always get this right and sometimes it can be tricky asking a question and then jumping right back into the story.  I’m still perfecting my art of storytelling!

How do you remember your stories?

One of the children at St Aidan’s Primary school asked me how I remember my stories.  It was such a good question and I wasn’t sure of how to give a short answer!

Naturally there are the obvious things you have to do to commit a story to memory (like making notes and practicing) but this question was more about the tricks you need to have at your disposal when re-telling your story.

I put this question to a few storyteller’s on Twitter and here are a couple of the fun replies:

Through MAGIC…. – Vanessa Woolf, Professional Storyteller

I choose stories I LOVE… – Jan Blake, Storyteller & Performer

Part of the art of storytelling for me is having an amazing amount of energy and knowing how and when to release that energy as you tell your story.