“Please tell me a made-up story, Tutu,” my wee granddaughter begs as I close her picture book and tuck her into bed. I mentally scramble for an image and suddenly a little old lady pops into my imagination.
“Here’s one,” I say, much to her delight. Then I begin the spontaneous tale of a sad older lady who needs an adventure. I toss in the ability to fly and to find magical meadows full of talking birds. It always helps to include at least one princess, a nasty troll, and a few immature bodily noises. For a successful story that pleases the most discerning child, I rely upon past experience: A flying princess, yes. Dead puppies, no.
I have a small collection of ceramic storytellers crafted in Peru and New Mexico. They represent the South American and Native American Indian tradition of using oral stories as a teaching tool for younger generations. The figurines depict a centered, nurturing, and powerful woman who inspires children with lessons and stories about their culture. Back before the intrusion of electronics, women told stories to their children, and it was a privilege to do the same for my children and now my grandkids. Sometimes I need to think fast to create the story, but it works best if I make it enchanting.
For the novice entertainer, here are eight tips for how to tell an enchanting story.
- Begin with a provocative set-up. One day a (pick one) little girl, puppy, mother, King woke up and discovered that no one was home.
- Explain how something happens, either to the main character or the environment. She searched in all the rooms but no one was there. On the kitchen table, she saw a bright red arrow pointing to the back yard.
- In one or two sentences, tell how the plot thickens. The stakes are raised when tension appears: She peeked out the window and saw a (pick one) fairy, pony, rainbow, salesman, monster.
- Mentally analyze the reaction of the audience and adjust accordingly. If the listeners aren’t engaged by this time, strengthen the narrative. She was (pick one) afraid, surprised, happy, shy, vomiting.
- Build a vision of a scene that involves the senses: sight, sound, taste, vision, and touch. The door creaked as she opened it and tiptoed barefoot in her calico gown into the cool grass. She felt a gentle breeze toss her red hair, and the air smelled of mint and oranges.
- Weave a climax that produces an “aha” moment for the audience. Suddenly her family appeared with gifts for her surprise party. Or, if you’re feeling more creative, she followed a cluster of chaotic clowns as they scampered over a rainbow into a secret castle full of toys and sugar cookies.
- End when the story is resolved. It was the perfect surprise party. Or, she loved her imaginary friends and promised to join them again another day. Or, she scurried home to read adventure books and plan her next excursion.
- Record your story. To improve your storytelling abilities, record yourself reciting an original fable. You may notice you speak too quickly or say “um” too many times. Also, a recording creates a fun gift to present to your children or grandchildren.
Some people are born to be storytellers, and their yarns and tall tales aren’t limited to children. They often regale adults with their creative narrations, and a friendly bar or boisterous camping trip only intensifies the renditions. Well-told accounts can enrich the imagination of children and entertain adults. As an added benefit, the regular practice keeps the brain energized so you’re ready any time a small voice begs, “Please, tell me a story.”