Here’s What Can Go Wrong

Here’s What Can Go Wrong

Some joker once said, “An oral contract is as good as the paper it is written on.”

Many storytelling agreements do not rely on written contracts but are based only on good faith.

And they happen well in advance. You are invited. You say you will appear. And your mutual agreement is as good as a handshake. (By the way, diamond traders still seal deals and exchange huge fortunes with a mere handshake.)

But now we are in the era of email, and the unreliability of cyberspace, and things have changed. Here’s what happened to me.

It was three months before my scheduled gig, fully three months after our handshake, when I found out that my name had been left off the schedule.

I wrote, “What happened?? You asked me to tell in August, and you even approved of the name of my session and now it appears that I am not on the program at all! I only found out when I tried to list the date in the Voices in the Glen newsletter. The editor notified me. And I’ve had it on my website all along. Oh, dear!”

She [the person who promised the gig] replied, “There must be some error. You were definitely on the list. I recall putting you on the list. I will double check. I am so, so sorry. My profound apologies. I am not sure how this happened. Please give me a day or two to rectify this. I had sent around a note to have people put their dates into a google doc to make sure I had the correct schedule. Perhaps you did not get that notice and somehow your date was given away.”


Perhaps I did not get that notice? I definitely did not get that notice. But the fault is mine for not following up sooner. I should have had suspicions about the prolonged silence.

I write this article as a caveat. Check and double check. If it seems too long since you have been in contact, be suspicious that, unlikely as it seems, something may have gone awry.

She ultimately offered to add my name to share the gig with the other tellers but, she said, they were unable to reprint the flyers that had gone into print a few days before she received my email. I replied that hers was one of my favorite places to tell and I had been so pleased when she asked me, and that I had planned my entire August around the schedule, and that it was a real calamity (I thought, but did not say, breach of contract) but to travel a distance from Virginia for a chance to tell a ten minute story and my name not even mentioned on the schedule ….It did not seem worth it.

Next year I am the first on the list and I get to choose with whom I want to share the stage. But ultimately the success of that transaction will depend on me. You may be sure

that I have already plugged an early tickle date into my computer along with her telephone number and note to myself that says, “Urgent.”

submitted by Laura J. Bobrow

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

Teaching Storytelling to Children

Storytellers’ Club Transformed by Eve Burton

For the past 9 years Montgomery County Public Libraries has sponsored the Storytellers’ Club for school-aged children at Twinbrook Community Library. Due to budget cuts, the library will no longer be sponsoring this group. But the Dogwood Dogs 4H Community Club has agreed to take on a storytelling project. If you have (or are) a school-aged child, age 8-18, who enjoys storytelling, we invite you to join the Dogwood Dogs. We meet the first Sunday each month, Sept. –May, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. in my home in Gaithersburg, MD. Most meetings are planned to include an arts & crafts project, a snack, and an hour of storytelling. Our club also does a variety of community service activities. Three Sunday evenings are planned to be potluck suppers for the whole family, friends invited, with storytelling: Sept. 5, Jan. 2, and May 1. For more information about the Dogwood Dogs’ Storytellers’ Club, contact Eve Burton 240-543-0444 or

Continue reading

The Brain Story Connection

by Ralph Chatham

Last year, while conducting a workshop on Industrial Strength Storytelling, I got so taken with our newly-gained understanding of how people’s brains work that I ran out of time. Writing, however, has the advantage that when the words run on, I can cut them without your knowing how long-winded I was to begin with. So, here is the story of how our brains are wired to think in stories themselves. I warn you that I am going to get a little technical in what follows. I will try to ease the intellectual pain by lots of metaphor. I believe that the insight into why we should tell stories and why stories work is worth the journey.

Continue reading

Comparing Versions of a Tale

by Penelope Fleming

When preparing a folktale for telling, it is extremely beneficial – and marvelously entertaining, moreover – to compare different versions in order to tailor the tale to your liking. St. Patrick’s Day provides the inspiration for a story to illustrate this notion: the humorous clash between two popular Irish heroes, Fin M’Coul and Cuchulain.

Continue reading

The Early Childhood Storytime

by Barbara Effron

Preschoolers are my favorite audience, even though they may squirm, wiggle, and play with their Velcro shoes during storytime. They have a short attention span, and sometimes interrupt a story with questions or comments. But with appropriate expectations and thoughtful preparation, you can successfully connect with these energetic young listeners.

Selecting and Finding Stories to Tell.  Start by selecting short stories full of action and an easy-to-follow sequence. Avoid stories with subplots and more than three to four main characters. Cumulative stories such as “Henny Penny,” and circle stories like “The Stonecutter” work very well. Stories should be filled with repetitive words and phrases. For example, in “The Little Red Hen,” the story is driven by the repeated dialogue of the animals: “Not I,” said the dog. “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the mouse. “Oh my,” said the hen. “I’ll have to do it myself.”

Continue reading