Learn to Tell your First Story

I was recently asked if I had any tips on how to learn to tell a story. Having worked with beginning, albeit child-, storytellers, here’s my advice for how to get started:
*  Come to swaps and storytelling events as often as you can. Listen to as many different storytellers as you can. In person is best, but recordings are good, too.
*  Start by learning short, narrative poems with a strong rhythm and rhyme. (A.A. Milne and Shel Silverstein are two good choices) Almost anyone can learn a short poem. Almost anyone can get up the nerve to tell a 1-minute poem to others.
*  Once you’ve learned to tell something, anything, tell it to anyone who will listen. We’ll always listen at a VITG swap. Check the Calendar of Events for the next one.
*  For your first story, try a short, short, short folktale such as an Aesop’s Fable.
*  Then try a longer folktale in which the use of language isn’t the most important feature. Learn the first paragraph and the last paragraph by heart. Get to know the basic plot elements well enough that you can tell them, but don’t worry about telling them exactly. Use your own words, words with which you are comfortable. If you are an auditory learner, try taping yourself telling the story, and listen to the tape. Then tell along with the tape. If you are more visual, try making a list of the key events in the story, and learn them, event by event. Some people like to make pictures of the events. I like to make a note card with a list of the events and keep it in my pocket as a “security blanket” in case I forget what comes next in a story. I’ve never needed to use it, but knowing it’s there helps.
*  Practice telling your story as often as you can, to anyone who will listen. The kids in my 4H Club tell stories to their stuffed animals. Some people tell to their mirrors.
*  By this point, you’ll know how to learn a simple story.
*  If I’m working on a literary story in which the words are important, I learn the end of the story first; then the beginning; then the middle. Then I put it all together.
*  The more you listen to other people tell stories and the more you tell them yourself, the better you’ll get.

eve burton