Posts Tagged Professional Storytellers

Storytelling for Writers

I’ve just attended a Storytelling for Writers workshop organised by Writing West Midlands and run by the excellent Maria Whatton.

Maria is a professional storyteller and excellent at drawing the audience into her imaginary world. She does this through the use of her voice, body language and, of course, her choice of words. Maria knows her imaginary world and the characters who inhabit it so well that the listener is soon a believer in that world too. And this was the point that Maria wanted to get across to us during the workshop:

It is essential to spend time thoroughly imagining the setting/world of your story AND the background/motivation of the characters who live in this world.

Map of the Green World

Maria got us practising this technique in a variety of ways. She began by telling us a captivating story from the Middle Ages about two green children from a green world who accidentally find themselves on Earth and the subsequent problems they have as outsiders who look different. We then:

  • Did some role play. One pretending to be the green girl and the others asking her questions about how she felt.
  • Did a piece of writing from the point of view of the green girl reflecting on becoming a mother on alien Earth.
  • Worked together to create a huge map of the green world and then wrote about the landscape.
  • Attempted to write a piece from the point of view of the cave which was the portal between Earth and the green world.

By the end of the day I felt fully immersed in the green world and the character of the green girl. The benefit of doing this for the novel I’m working on would be huge – so that’s my next challenge!

An unexpected bonus from the day was coming face to face with fellow writer and blogger Julia Thorley for the very first time. Julia and I have followed each other’s blogs for several years but never met before. So it was a strange sensation when we looked at each other across the workshop table, each thought the other looked familiar and as soon as we said our names, realisation dawned! It was lovely to get the chance to work together during the workshop – and have our photo taken to mark the occasion! Julia has also written about the day.

Sally Jenkins & Julia Thorley

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Last week I went to an adult (no, not that sort of adult!) storytelling event at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham. The place was bursting at the seams with people of all ages keen to enjoy an evening of live entertainment. It was all very informal with the tellers (if that’s the right word) taking it in turns to stand up and spin their yarns. Every story was unique and every teller extremely polished, whilst still retaining a freshness and friendliness within their performance. We heard stories of stealing from corpses, mind-reading and chopping the feet off a dead body. Without microphones, props or costumes we were transported to other worlds by the power of the teller’s language and a few dramatic gestures.

Storytelling is a traditional art that is making comeback. I first heard about it through a friend of mine, Sophie Snell, who is a professional storyteller. She tells her tales at a whole range of events and venues as well as going into schools to work with children.  Sophie gave up her career as a management consultant when her children came along and, after attending a storytelling event, decided that storytelling was what she wanted to do. She started attending training sessions and workshops and the rest, as they say, is history.

If you fancy going along to an event in the Midlands have a look at the Traditional Arts Team website.

What struck me about the storytellers was their precise use of language which enabled the listeners to immediately conjure up a wonderful accurate image. Words like nice, quite and sort of were conspicuous by their absence. Storytellers have to grab the attention of an audience and hold it for 10 or 15 minutes. If a listener’s mind drifts for just a few seconds he loses his place in the story and can’t re-read the page as he might in a book.

As a writer I already read aloud my finished pieces and this enables me to spot any clumsy language or word repetition. I wonder if standing in front of the mirror and telling my story to a pretend audience might help me conjure up more colourful imagery as well as pick up on any dull bits in the narrative where the reader is likely to get bored and switch off.

I think I might try it – when the house is empty!