You Too Can Learn the Art of Storytelling

Learning the art of storytelling requires practice, but the payoff is worth the effort.

| September/October 1981

  • 071 the art of storytelling 1 audience watching david holt
    An enthralled audience gives their attention as David Holt practices the art of storytelling.
  • 071 the art of storytelling 2 holt spins a tale
    Holt spins his tale.
  • 071 the art of storytelling 3 pivotal moment
    The tale arrives at a pivotal moment.

  • 071 the art of storytelling 1 audience watching david holt
  • 071 the art of storytelling 2 holt spins a tale
  • 071 the art of storytelling 3 pivotal moment

The art of storytelling is an exciting act of creation, both for the teller who spins out a chronicle and for the listener who re-creates the tale in his or her mind. It involves a special kind of sharing and enjoyment, one that people have loved ever since our ancestors first huddled around a fire.

What's more, a national resurgence of interest in storytelling is underway today in homes, schools, colleges, community centers, and libraries. Spearheading this renaissance are an increasing number of accomplished tale-spinners who—by expanding, refining, and experimenting with different styles and techniques—are making more and more people aware of storytelling as an art form (and often earning a good living, as well). There's even a full-blown society—the National Storytelling Network—that sponsors the National Storytelling Festival every October.

And just why is there an upswing of enthusiasm for the age-old form of entertainment? Well, perhaps one reason is that storytelling is both fun and meaningful. Narratives can cover the full range of human experience including adventure, terror, romance, sorrow, joy, and humor. In addition, storytelling is no longer considered "just" a diversion for children, but is enjoyed by people of all ages. Relating a good narrative is also seen as real-person-to-person and mind-to-mind-entertainment. But the single most important factor in the current storytelling renaissance (and one of the most wonderful things about the art itself) may well be the fact that anyone can be a storyteller.

After all, you need only to be able to talk ...and in fact I can't even place that limitation upon you, because some of the best storytelling I've ever witnessed was done by a young deaf man who didn't speak at all! Actually, all you really need to become a storyteller is the desire to do it.

This article will—I hope—help you focus that interest by giving you some tips on choosing, learning, and relating stories.

Selecting a Tale

The first rule of choosing a story to share is to find one you really like. Only if a narrative is meaningful and entertaining to you will you be able to transmit its magic to others. And indeed, not everyone can tell the same kind of story successfully. I think most people have built-in affinities for the types of tales they tell best. I have a friend, for instance, who has to work to make a humorous story funny ...but can—seemingly without effort—spin a ghost tale that'll make your hair stand on end!

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