Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tell the stories that scare you

Every storyteller, writer and artist has a comfort zone, the place where they know they can excel or at least do well enough, easily enough. It's comforting to think of yourself as a teller of funny stories, fairy tales, personal stories, bawdy stories, whatever. It's a really good thing to know what you specialize in and to have the confidence to tell those stories well. It helps with marketing and artistic self-esteem. You should know what you're good at and not be afraid to tell people.

Once you know what you're good at, don't think that means you stop growing. You may be able to tell a fairy tale with more pizzaz than anyone else around, but what would happen if you stretched a little and told a personal story? Would it kill you? Or would you maybe learn something about yourself as a performer, artist and human being?

When we step out of our comfort zone and tell a kind of story we don't typically tell, we have a chance to hone the creative process. For example, I am not comfortable singing in front of audiences. My singing voice isn't strong nor particularly tuneful. But I wanted to tell a story that had a sung refrain. I first worked on the story by myself, then with trusted friends. I eventually had a story I was willing to share with an open mic (as of now I don't know if this story will remain in my repertoire for reasons unrelated to singing). I still don't sing well, but I was able to craft the story and make accommodations for my singing. I was able to spend time thinking about why I wanted to tell this piece and put in a level of work I might not offer a more familiar kind of story where I am more comfortable. I was able to see my weaknesses as a performer, because they were so exposed in this story, and work on them. All of this work enhances all of the stories I tell.

Other examples might be telling a personal story or one with loaded emotional content. Those stories can be frightening to the teller. Remember, you're not alone. You don't know what's happening in the minds of your audience, you don't know who needs to hear this story so they know they're not alone. If you put in the time and the effort to craft a personal story you can tell effectively, you're giving your audience a huge gift. You're building bridges from person to person and making the world more connected. You're also going to learn about storycraft and maybe even yourself along the way. The secret is to put in the work.

It can be very hard to step out of your comfort zone, especially if you don't have a community with whom you can practice. If you're isolated, don't venture out to good practice spaces like open mics, or don't ask people to listen to you and help you craft better stories, you may feel afraid to work on a different kind of story than the one you're accustomed to. Ask a friend to listen to you. Jay O'Callahan has said we should ask our neighbors to listen to us practice, it builds community and builds a greater appreciation for storytelling.

Find someone and tell the stories that scare you. Even if you never turn them into performance pieces you will learn immeasurably from the experience. Besides, it's not like you'll forget how to tell the stories you're comfortable with.  You might just end up with the next great story for your repertoire and a whole new kind of tale to explore.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. I love this advice. I did it recently with a story that I told at our state storytelling festival last year. The theme was ghost stories, but I wanted to do a different kind of ghost story, a different kind of scary. Later I posted it on the web at the link below. I like your blog.


  2. The unsettling stories have lessons for us, as does anything that pushes us out of a comfortable nest. This is excellent advice, Laura. Thanks!


True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.laurapacker.com.
Related Posts with Thumbnails