I can not stress this point enough! To tell a story you must know all the aspects of it, you must know the story line, characters and conversations 100% by heart. Now, this does not mean that you have to memorise every word of the story and tell it exactly how it is written, because the main point here is that you must know it by heart, not only by mind. In my opinion, if you tell the story 100% according to the script, you could just as well be reading a book. And for me that is something entirely different from being a storyteller.
When I find a good story that I want to use I firstly read it through several times, then I make a short list of all the characters and important points in the story line and this list is what I will learn by heart, the rest is improvised while telling the story. But what I do next is to close my eyes and visualise my self telling the story for an audience. I’ll repeat the visualisation until I know the story by heart. And for every time i visualise this the story gets more detailed.
Using this technique means that a story will never be told the same way twice. There will always be slight changes to it and this is what makes your stories evolve from the script to something that is your own.
This is one of the techniques I have learned through RPGs and LARP. It is a subject that actors have spent years to study: Immersion. It goes without saying that I’ll barely scratch the surface with this tiny article.
Immerse your self in a story and its characters and you will see that your audience will do the same. When a character in your story is doing something or saying something show it with your whole body, become the character. There are many ways and styles to do this, but most important is that you have done some preparations. As a storyteller you will have to keep track of many characters.
Me immersed as a crybaby.. Photo by Elin K. Nilsen.
How to immerse your self? Study your tale and figure out the building blocks of each character. for each of them consider this: Who is she and what role does she play in the story? How does she walk and talk? Bad habits? What separates her from the other characters in the story? What feelings does she have? What feelings does she display? In short: How is her personality and how is her personality perceived? These are all important things to ponder and when you have pondered for a while try to put your self in her shoes. Act like her, speak like her, think like her, feel like her. Convince your self that you are that character!
My best tip to get inspiration on characters and archetypes is to study people out there. Go to a place where people are waiting, like a bus stop, train station or a place people gather, like a pub or café. Look for people that are a bit out of the ordinary, either because of how they look or how they behave, try to notice as much as possible about this person. How does she use her arms? How does she stand/sit/walk? Qualities of voice and language.. This technique has given me some very amazing characters and characteristics to use in my stories.
The tricky part with immersion as a storyteller is that you have to jump in and out of characters, rapidly and many times during a story. And it becomes even more tricky when your characters are having a conversation. There is only one tip I can give to help with that: Practice and experience.
Have you ever had to listen to a storyteller that has no idea of how to use dynamics? Blabbering on with the same intensity from start to finish.. Well, my mind usually starts to drift after just a few minutes and when the story is over I feel relieved, but can’t remember a single thing from the story.
When you tell a story, the dynamics can really seduce your audience. This is closely connected to the first tip about energy, but still a subject of its own. Every story has its own dynamics. Some have many intensity peaks, while others starts low and slowly builds up to a climax. Any way the dynamics must follow the story line. Telling at full intensity while the story line is at a calm stage just gives your audience a false impression and what will you do when the story demands full intensity and you already are there? The key is to keep the flow as close to the story as possible, but you can also change the dynamics when you need it for other reasons. Some times, specially when telling stories for children, you might experience that you are loosing your audience to something else, any kind of distraction really, this is the time to increase the intensity a bit, or even lower it by almost whispering. Because if you change the flow of the story you’ll regain your audience’s attention.
Dynamics is not only linked to the energy and intensity you spend, but to the whole of your body. You can lower your voice, but still keep a high intensity, you can raise your voice but still be in low intensity. It all depends on what your body communicates and the story it self. There are hundreds of techniques and theories on how to tell stories dynamically, but my best tip would be: Experiment and gain experience! For only with real experience will you understand how it works.
I can write page after page on how to tell a story, but I’ll try not to. Therefore I will rather post a few tips every now and then. If you are interested to learn more than covered by this and coming posts.. you’ll have to attend one of my courses or take private lessons.
Me telling a story with full intensity. Photo by Elin K. Nilsen.
Use all the energy you have, use your whole body not just your words. Every single watt you spend on telling the story counts when it comes to your audience interest in you and your story. With the right use of energy even a crappy and short story will be greatly appreciated. This being said it is also important to distribute your energy and intensity through the story and the whole storytelling session. Usually I start out with high intensity to get the audience’s initial attention, then lower the intensity slowly, only to increase it towards the end.
If you spend all the energy you got, you’ll probably feel like you just finished running a marathon at sprint speed afterwards, but it will be worth it because the joy of your listeners will quickly fill you up again.
Nothing is more uninspiring than someone telling a story with the lack of energy and intensity. If you haven’t got the energy, don’t tell the story. Of course some stories demand that they are told in low intensity, but that I’ll cover in another tip: Dynamics.
“Spend all the energy you got, don’t save a single watt!”