Plot Confusion?

Plot Confusion?

As a long-time professional storyteller, I had never been able to make sense of “plot.” The various theories always seemed too vague (“beginning, middle, end”) or too specific (the stages of the “hero’s journey) to be useful with a wide variety of stories.

So what’s a better way? What if plot is not a series of “stages” but a set of processes that you can apply in your own way?

Can storytelling influence values?

Can storytelling influence values?

We know that stories can promote any values: war or peace; the vilification of the “other” or the dignity of all.

But does storytelling—the process, apart from particular stories—have an underlying tendency to promote some values over others?

If so, does this reveal a hidden power of the storytelling art?

Storytelling and Values: Below the Radar?

Storytelling and Values: Below the Radar?

Some storytellers have a social message they would like to deliver, but run into problems about telling stories that promote social change:

  • If they tell stories as part of their living, do they dare risk alienating potential customers or even their own supervisors or colleagues?

  • If they tell stories with a strong message (of any kind), do they risk alienating their listeners?

  • If they need to separate their “social change” storytelling from their bread-and-butter storytelling, how can they have the energy to do both?

But what if there’s a way that storytelling can promote important values “below the radar”?

What if the very processes of storytelling can be enlisted to promote values that will be crucial in making a future society even better than today’s society?

What if…

Why Aren’t I Getting More Work as a Storyteller?

Why Aren’t I Getting More Work as a Storyteller?

Marketing is about matching what we enjoy giving, with what others are hungry to receive.

Sure, we love to tell stories—but who lies awake late at night, restlessly worrying about “I need a storyteller; where will I find one?"

Pretty much no one is desperate for “a storyteller.” But many people are desperate for what we storytellers can do.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO OFFER?

Calling yourself “a storyteller” may be like a political candidate calling herself “a politician”…

A Choctaw Response to Violence: Authenticity?

A Choctaw Response to Violence: Authenticity?

We live in a historical moment where hatred and violence are promoted, not only by individuals and splinter groups, but also by governments. Is it possible that we can learn how to hold onto our true selves in such a moment? 

What’s more, can we learn about that kind of authenticity from Native Americans, who have had a few hundred years of practice at the receiving end of hatred and violence?

Tim Tingle is a Choctaw storyteller and novelist, who work models a sense of connection that is rare in our wider society.

In fact, Tim’s novels for teens and young adults—mostly written in the historical past—show us something about what it might mean to be authentic today…

Tim Tingle: A Choctaw Approach to Authenticity

Tim Tingle: A Choctaw Approach to Authenticity

I first got to know Tim Tingle when I moved to Oklahoma in 2004. After my wife Pam and I had spent time with Tim in several contexts, he invited us to attend the Choctaw Nation’s annual Labor Day Festival in the tribal capitol, Tvshka Homma (Tuscahoma), Oklahoma.

Pam and I had the great privilege there of meeting some of the elders who had taught Tim his stories. But most of all, we got a glimpse of some unspoken parts of Choctaw culture.

A case in point: we heard many stories from Tim and from his friends about the jokes they had played on Tim...

The Three Key Ways to Work on a Story (or a Speech)

The Three Key Ways to Work on a Story (or a Speech)

Previously, I have focus mostly on one way to create a story or talk: talking aloud to helping listeners. Of course, I also work alone - writing an outline, telling the story to the air, or trying to remember the order of points in a speech. 

But there is a third way to work, and, though I have seldom thought to talk about it, all three ways work together like Three Musketeers.

A Story Light in the Darkness?​

A Story Light in the Darkness?​

Back in 1984, at the third annual Sharing the Fire conference, I went to a session on “Spiritual Stories.” There, a former rabbi, Harold Rabinowitz, told a 20-minute version of what I already knew as a 90-second story. 

That encounter led to a story that took over my creative life for 13 years - and led me to emotional healing about hope and disappointment.

Can We Give Thanks Through Stories?

Can We Give Thanks Through Stories?

We know that stories can inspire, teach, or warn. They can also help us imagine a new future or remember a splendid piece of the past that we may have forgotten.

Can stories also praise? 

Recently, I had occasion to honor "the queen of Jewish storytelling," Peninnah Schram, with a story. Who would you praise with a story?

I invite you to post your praise stories as comments to this article!

Speech of a Lifetime?

Speech of a Lifetime?

At the recent National Storytelling Conference in Kansas City, I had the amazing honor of being given the Lifetime Achievement Award - the highest honor given in the U.S. storytelling community.

I was allowed just a few minutes to address the gathering. Since this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, I tried to give the essence of what I most want to pass on, after over four decades as a storyteller, author, teacher, and coach. So here’s what I said...

Can Storytelling Help Your Mindset?

Can Storytelling Help Your Mindset?

Carol Dweck discovered children who loved to fail - because, in their mindset, failure was a chance to get smarter. But our society seems to favor the fixed mindset, in which your smartness is innate and unchanging. Why is that? What role does it play, to keep people imprisoned in a fixed mindset? Is there something storytelling can do, to help others experience the exciting potential of a "growth mindset"?

No Hopeless Storytellers?

No Hopeless Storytellers?

In 1979, I was a terrified folk musician trying to learn ear-training. The other students were classically trained. Surely I would be the class dunce.

Then our Hungarian music teacher became frustrated while helping another student - and taught me a lesson about learning, creativity, teaching and storytelling coaching.

Our teacher, Lenci Horvath, turned my ideas about education upside down. But I didn't welcome her perspective at first...

Do You Have a Storytelling Vision?

Do You Have a Storytelling Vision?

Two kinds of listeners every storyteller needs, and how I helped storyteller Karen O'Donnell of Homewood, IL, conceive and realize her vision for

  1. The effect she wanted to have on her community, and
  2. The support she needed to advance her own storytelling.

Do you have such a vision? Is it time for you to create one?

"Storytelling Struggles Solved Simply"

"Storytelling Struggles Solved Simply"

What are the most common problems of beginning storytellers? Nearly every struggling beginner has urgent concerns like these:

  1. Practicing is hard. I put it off, then get more and more desperate as my performance date approaches.
  2. How do I remember the story? What if I forget in the middle? How can I memorize?
  3. What if they don’t listen to me? Aren’t there some tricks I can learn, to guarantee their attention?
  4. For me, the only word that follows “performance” is “anxiety.” My mouth is dry, my palms are sweaty, my voice is unsteady. Instead of telling this story, couldn’t I just die?

I believe that all these common storytelling preoccupations stem, at least in part, from the same causes! In fact, they can all be cured (and, even more easily, prevented) quite simply. 

I Object! The Voice of a Storytelling Dissenter

I Object! The Voice of a Storytelling Dissenter

I searched in Google recently for “elements of a story.” The many results were dominated by topics like:

  • The 3 parts of a story;
  • The 4 elements of a story;
  • The 5 steps of a plot;
  • The 7 (or the 8 or the 12 or the 17) stages of the Hero’s Journey.

I read quite a few of these articles (and even a few books on Amazon) about the parts of finished stories. Interestingly, they all seemed to assume that knowledge of these parts is essential to making a story.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that these lists of story elements are useless. But I object to the idea that simply knowing them helps us create stories. In fact, they can easily get in the way.

Days of Darkness

Days of Darkness

Many of us feel darkness surrounding us socially, as well as physically. We feel the lengthening shadows of intolerance, scapegoating, and bigotry. These dark forces seem ascendant. How can we possibly remain hopeful?

South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, no stranger to such situations, said this:

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."

So where is this reputed “light”?

Precious Brightness

Novelist Kate DiCamillo, in her acclaimed novel (later made into an animated film) The Tale of Desperaux, points to a form of light familiar to every reader of this article...

Interchangeable Storytelling Parts?

Interchangeable Storytelling Parts?

It’s seldom remembered, but an event in Paris in 1790 introduced a concept that made possible nearly every manufactured object sold in the world today. And, oddly, it led indirectly to unhelpful practices in teaching storytelling.

An Astonishing Feat

In Paris's historic Hotel des Invalides in 1790, Honore Blanc, an inventor and gunsmith, staged a daring demonstration in front of a crowd of prestigious politicians, academics, and military men. Until that time, firearms were built individually. Each part of each gun was separately shaped by hand; no two were identical, so replacement parts had to be laboriously crafted to match each unique broken one. This made repairing a gun almost as difficult as making one in the first place.

But Blanc had a bold, new plan: he had manufactured 1000 gunlocks (the critical part of the gun, which causes the gunpowder to explode, firing the bullet) that were made of identical parts. In front of the startled crowd, he chose one of each gunlock-part randomly from bins, then assembled them into a working gunlock. Then he repeated his feat again and again for the astonished crowd. Blanc had just demonstrated the potential of interchangeable parts...

How Storytelling Has Infected Society—And Vice Versa

How Storytelling Has Infected Society—And Vice Versa

Storytelling Enters Society’s Bloodstream

When I began calling myself a professional storyteller in 1976, I found myself riding a wave that others had created, a wave that was later called the “storytelling revival.” That very year, eminent child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim had just published The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Three years before, the first National Storytelling Festival had been held in Jonesborough, TN.

...as I began this endeavor, I saw storytelling as a possible antibody to the commercialism, competition, and materialism that had infected the bloodstream of our society. We were few, but we believed our effect on society would be good.

Fast forward to 2016...