“Focus on images, not words.”
That’s good advice – and something I tell my Art of Storytelling students at the beginning of every semester. You need good images in order to tell stories.
But that’s not all you need. Think about those storytellers who create the cleanest and most evocative images for their listeners. Those tellers whose stories become your whole world. The ones who can make you forget that you are in a huge tent, along with a couple of hundred of your closest friends, sitting on a hard chair. As those tellers craft their stories, I am pretty sure that they make some very intentional choices about their use of gestures, voices, and words.
Intentional use of gestures does not mean that storytellers turn themselves into talking mimes, but some of the techniques in mime can certainly inform the gestures of storytellers. Intentional use of voice does not mean that storytellers turn themselves into actors without scripts, but some of the techniques in acting can inform the way storytellers use their voices. Intentional use of words does not mean that storytellers turn into out-loud readers, but some of the techniques of writing can inform the way storytellers use their words.
Which is the title of the workshop I am developing for this fall: “Use Your Words.”
A writer who veers from one point of view to another, a writer who mixes tenses in a random fashion, is a writer who pushes readers out of the story. A teller who makes the same mistakes has the same effect on listeners.
Serious writers can (should, and do) self-edit. They can (should and do) take their work to a writing group. They can (should and do) work with editors.
Admittedly, the process is not precisely the same for storytellers. The point here is not to create perfect sentences and commit the words to memory. (I tried that a couple of times when I was a student in The Art of Storytelling – at it was not a good idea.)
But storytellers can be aware of the pitfalls writers try to avoid by self-editing. They can develop the habit working within intentionally chosen boundaries – of tense, or point of view. They can also work with others storytellers, and many do. Storytellers also go to coaches and there are some very good coaches available.
In my 1-day workshop “Use Your Words” we will intentionally focus on using the literary techniques of writing and editing to craft stories pull your listeners into the world of your words.
Harriet has told stories at the Phoenix Fringe and at the Gila Bend Shrimp Festivals. She’s taken part in the AZStorytellers Project and in StoryRise events. As an instructor at the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, she has performed in many events including the La Lloronathon and a number of Myth Informed concerts.