Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Tradition of Storytelling

Storytellers come from other storytellers.  How can one learn the nuances and joys of oral storytelling unless they, too, have listened to the sounds of someone telling a story? 

My father and brother Robert were great storytellers.  My father preferred the longer, elaborated stories, during which he would gesture and embellish.   Robert was a storyteller who used simple language, significant pauses, and excellent timing.  Both had the listeners right where they wanted them, which is listening and responding.  My brother Don is an excellent storyteller, who laughs along with the audience, and has me almost wetting my pants.  My son John can tell a story with such language that the listener is transported to the site of story and seeing what he has seen.  My husband John is a great storyteller.  Right now he is reading about George Washington, and in the evening, he re-tells what he has read to me.  It is almost as if I were reading the book.

I am a storyteller, although my preferred medium is writing.  I have told many engaging stories to my children and my students.  So it is understandable when my granddaughters tell me stories.  Child #1is 6 years old, and Child #2is 4.8 years old, and that fact is quite important in the learning of storytelling.
Child #1 goes in for big productions, with blatantly stolen plots (Thank you, Brothers Grimm ala’ Disney).  She got an influx of character Barbie ™ dolls for Christmas: Sleeping Beauty, Beast/Prince, Belle, and Tinker Bell.  Beast/Prince is the only male doll is the mix, so he is one very busy guy, playing many parts.  Her stories have all the plot elements that make for a successful story, including the Big Kiss and the Happy Ever After.  Oh, also, at least one of girl dolls is naked throughout the story, because the girls can’t find the dress that goes with her character.

Child #2is more free-form in her storytelling.  Her last epic was while the two girls were sitting across the kitchen table, eating doughnut holes and drinking milk.  Her stories all start with ‘Once upon a time…” and go on from there.  However, Child #2 doesn’t have the language base and images to call upon for her story (like her sister).  Sooo, her stories are often like a plate of spaghetti, with the noodles meandering all over the plate.  Her characters’ names are often from items within her field of vision.  The princess was named Ribbon, and the prince was named Plate.

Child #1could tell from my eyes that this was getting to be a painful experience, so she interrupted her sister and asked, “Sweetie, how long is your story?”  With her hands on the table, #1 held them apart about 12 inches.  The right hand was the ending of the story, and the left hand was the beginning.  Child #1 showed her how to move the left hand toward the right hand as the story progressed.

Well, that made all the difference.  I watched her left hand move, vaguely hearing the plot twists and new characters (Milk, Napkin, and Cereal).  Slowly, the left hand came to within ¼ inch of the right hand, and stayed there.  When Child #2 reached a point that seemed to her sister and me to be a good conclusion, we started clapping.  Child #2 beamed with her successful storytelling.
Sometimes, storytelling has a painful learning curve.


  1. My grandfather was the other storyteller in my family (otherwise I think I would have thought I was adopted lol)

  2. I love a good storyteller ;) I enjoyed picturing the two girls interacting. I bet they're going to be best friends when they grow up.

  3. I have never really appreciated the long, drawn out approach to story telling. It has something to do with my attention span and patience, but I have gotten really good at smiling and nodding as I design costumes in my head.
    Ribbon sounds like a great name for a princess! :)

  4. This is really cute--it reminds me of when my daughter comes down for breakfast and says 'I had to weirdest dream last night...' we all roll our eyes and say 'summary, please! Not the whole thing!'


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