Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ask the storyteller: But how do I get better? Practice!

Welcome to #askthestoryteller, the mostly-weekly column where I answer your questions about storytelling art, craft and philosophy. I'm sorry I missed last week's column; personal stuff intervened.

This week I'd like to share some thoughts about how to get better as a storyteller. It's very easy, in that first flush of excitement, to forget that storytelling is like any other art and craft. Novice storytellers often ask me what comes next after their first classes end or they discover that sometimes not everyone loves everything they do. Native talent will take you only so far. You need to work on it. You need to practice.

What follows is a revised repost from my storytelling ABC. Here is A-E, F-J, K-P, and Q-Z.

And I'm looking for more questions to answer so please contact me!

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You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, right? Practice.

It's easy, in the first flush of falling in love with storytelling and the audience, to forget that we need to apply as much time and practice to our art as any other artist does. Because so much of we do is about connecting with the audience, many novice tellers think we don't need to work, craft and practice before we get up on stage. But we do. Experienced tellers know this already; what follows are some tips you might find useful and I'd love to know what works for you.

The best storytellers I know are diligent about practice. They work on their craft like they're building houses, starting from the foundation up, paying attention to each and every corner and window. It's work. It takes practice.

There are many ways you can practice your craft. I do all of these.
  • Write an outline. Remove all the excess and tell only from the sparse notes.
  • Find a trusted friend and tell your story to them. Ask them to tell you the things they love the most about the story.
  • Tell your story to a tree or the ocean. You might hear things you didn't notice before.
  • Hold a small house concert. Invite people who will be happy to hear a practice run. Wine might help.
  • Video yourself telling. Then watch, so you can see what body language worked and what didn't. Again, wine might help.
  • Hire a story coach or director. They have experience and an eye that might be quite useful.
  • Go to an open mic and tell part of the piece there. Nothing like having a live audience to help you along.
  • If you make a mistake or a story falls flat, that's okay. In fact, it's cause for celebration. You have tried something new and will learn from the experience.
You story may very well change as you practice. It should change as your understanding of it changes. Let it. These changes might be great new facets you never before explored. And don't be afraid to let parts fall by the wayside. It doesn't mean they're bad, just that they might belong somewhere else.

Remember that each telling experience is a chance to practice. Because storytelling is such a flexible art, your story will change with each telling, but practice means you know the rhythms of the story. You know the hard places. You know how audiences tend to react and you're prepared when they react in new ways.

And besides, practice is really just a chance to tell your story again. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy your storytelling practice. And isn't it grand that we can always learn more about our art and craft!

I'd love to know what practice techniques work for you.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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