One of the first and most frequent lessons I learned as I began to write seriously was that I should show more often than I tell. In time, I learned that storytelling is a useful way of showing.
When I write devotions, a story shows what I mean. When I’m writing an inspirational piece, there’s no better way of sharing than by telling a story, mine or that of someone else. When I’m teaching my class and need to give an example, I use a story or anecdote where appropriate.
Even a poem can be a mini story to share some small slice of life. I could tell my readers that when I was a child I played in a sandbox beside a birch tree and that we had trucks and cars and water, but the poem does it better: “Once Upon a Sandbox” from my book of the same title (pub 2011):
Once upon a sandbox
its painted boards once leaned against
the silver birch
that shaded hatless children
sand turned to muck with hose and bucket
we built roads and riverbeds, fields and lanes
tractors planted and trucks got stuck
we drove those roads at five and seven
with tiny wheels and hoots of laughter
played out life with sand and water
Storytelling doesn’t stop with writers; it’s for speakers too.
Early in my membership in The Word Guild, one voice rang out strong. N. J. Lindquist, co-founder, reminded us that someday we may be called on to speak about our writing, give a workshop on writing, or promote a book. As much as standing in front of an audience was uncomfortable to me, I decided that I had better get ready.
Upon joining Toastmasters, and in giving speeches and practising impromptu speaking, I again learned the value of story. I can get up and speak on values, but in that process, I’d better have a story to illustrate it.
After achieving my Competent Toastmaster designation (now called Competent Communicator), I started on advanced manuals, including the Storyteller manual. As I worked through those projects, other Toastmasters said that I had a good storytelling voice. With a desire to learn more about storytelling, I attended an Open Story night at The Story Barn in Baden, Ontario, and then joined the storytelling guild too. It meant that I could listen to other’s stories while I learned about the art of oral storytelling. In truth, I was hooked on stories, not just for teaching, but as entertainment too.
Recently, I participated in a public event as a storyteller, at Steckle Heritage Farm, for their Winter Fun Day. I used folk tales, Aesop fables, song, and personal stories. Parents and children listened and participated, and at one point, a young girl who knew the story supplied the next line for me. She was so involved that she wanted to participate. Isn’t that what storytelling is about? Bringing the story to life through spoken or written word?
Stories— that my mother told at bedtime, that our teachers told or read in school, and that our pastor shared in confirmation class—passed along a love of story that I’ve never lost. I come home from a storytelling night or a concert so filled with story that I continue to think about it. Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
As storytellers, we are the vessel through whom the story comes to life for the audience. The audience receives the story and is immersed in it. As writers we, too, need to take our readers on a journey. Just be sure, as writer or storyteller, that you bring the audience back when the story is over.
Book signing for Once Upon a Sandbox on March 10th, at Chapters Waterloo, King Street N. Waterloo, from 1-3 pm