Monday, August 9, 2010

Telling topics – hero stories

Cross-posted from massmouth.

When I tell people I’m a storyteller I typically get one of three reactions:
  1. So you read books to kids?
  2. Cool! I heard this great storyteller somewhere and…
  3. Wow. I could never do that. I don’t have anything to say.
Each one of these reactions gets a different response:
  1. I explain that a storyteller tells and try to encourage a conversation about the living art of oral storytelling.
  2. I listen with delight and we compare notes on who we’ve heard.
  3. I tell them that actually everyone is a storyteller, they may just not know it yet.

Over the next few weeks we’ll explore some of the kinds of stories you could tell. These tales could be told at home, on stage, at a slam or at an open mic. Massmouth is hosting a series of storytelling workshops, so you can even try out some of your great new ideas with supportive teachers. You probably already have some of these stories ready to go, you just might need a little encouragement. Consider yourself encouraged.

For now, let’s start with hero stories.

Joseph Campbell dominated late 20th century thinking about the hero story. His model of the hero’s journey is a powerful structure for stories about grand adventure and personal growth. You know – the hero leaves home, encounters quests, helpers and trials, then eventually returns home a changed person. Gilgamesh. Luke Skywalker. You know. But we all have our own hero’s journey too. You grow up, leave home, encounter people who help and hinder you, fight your own demons. Our personal heroic journey stories can be quite stirring.

What about
  • Fighting a disease
  • Going to another country
  • Going away to college/leaving home
  • Learning to live with a room mate
  • Struggling to have or raise a child
  • Coming home from war
Each one of these kinds of stories has heroic components and can be crafted into a heroic journey story. I’m sure you can think of examples from your own life. Feel free to share some in the comments.

We can also tell stories about the unsung heroes in our lives. The taxi drivers (maybe a wanna-be Helios?) our parents, our kids, the check-out clerk at the grocery store or a really good waitress. I’m always looking for unnoticed acts of heroism. These could be great little stories that move from funny to meaningful.

Of course, you can always tell some of the classic hero tales. Heracles. Boudicca. Whoever has a story that moves you powerfully as they overcome odds and learn something of themselves in the process. And what if you reset some of these characters into modern times? Imagine Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox taking on Madison Avenue. The possibilities are endless.

Next week we’ll take a look at personal stories and how you can easily mine your own life for telling topics. I hope someday to never again hear, “But I don’t have a story to tell.” I know you do. You just have to look.

(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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