When I first heard about storytelling, I assumed it was all just glorified children’s stories. But the art of storytelling is so much deeper than that. Tellers weave tales of both fact and fiction, serious and humorous. These stories delve into the depths of the tellers themselves, all the while resonating with the listeners. There’s a certain magic to storytelling, something you need to experience to understand more completely.
I’m fortunate enough to live not 30 minutes away from the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Tellers from all over the country—as well as from across the pond—come to Utah Valley for a weekend of telling stories, bringing their magic to capture the imagination and hearts of all in attendance. The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival held at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah is now something of a tradition for me. I’ve been going for four or five years now (can’t remember when I actually started attending…), and it seems like every year gets better and better.
Storytellers such as Donald Davis, Bil Lepp, and Carmon Deedy come and weave stories that leave my abs hurting from laughing so hard, and may even promote a welling of other emotions. These tellers are masters at the craft, and while swapping stories around Christmas dinner is one thing, these good folks elevate it to a whole new level.
During previous visits to the festival, I had gone with the intent to listen, laugh, feel, and enjoy. In 2017, however, I decided I needed to up my game. As a writer, I’m constantly looking for examples of exemplary storytelling. What makes a story funny? What makes it engaging? How do I hook my readers? I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned about storytelling from the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival 2017. This can apply to writing, or any form of storytelling.
There is No “Right” Way
Each storyteller spun his or her stories in such a different way that it’s nearly impossible to compare them to the others. Bil Lepp has me rolling on the floor laughing every time, whereas Donald Davis, while funny, leaves things open for heartwarming tales that leave tears running down the cheeks of many.
When it comes to telling your own stories, whether that’s in novel form, oral form, or whatever medium you choose to use, don’t feel like you have to imitate a particular author, teller, or artist. You have your own voice, your own experiences, and your own personality, and those things right there are what make your stories yours. Of course, if you’re just starting off, you may still need to discover what your voice is, and that’s OK. Write, tell, and create stories as often as you can, and don’t be afraid to let you slip out into your works. I love Bil Lepp, and I love Donald Davis. Both tell funny stories as well as more serious ones, but there’s a reason I like both separately. Each of those tellers has something new and unique to offer me that the other one doesn’t. The same goes with you; what you have to offer is new and unique and can’t be found anywhere else. And we want to hear all about it.
When telling stories, you don’t have to give all the facts, but you do need to tell the truth. That important ditty of information came from one of the tellers herself (Shonaleigh, I believe) in regards to telling personal stories. I think the same thing applies to our fiction. Not all of the facts are necessary to make a good story, but weaving falsehoods into your story can make it seem less legitimate and authentic.
So what is truth if the facts aren’t all there? Consider personal stories. You may not (and probably never will) remember what your friend said verbatim when you were twelve years old (unless you’re twelve years old now and your friend just said it this afternoon…). But when you repeat a story or a phrase that person said, you’ll tell it as if your friend had said exactly that. So why do we believe it if it’s most likely not 100% accurate? It’s because the way you said it was something they could have said.
My best friend in high school would never have said, “That movie spoke to my soul like the wind blowing through the leaves on a crisp autumn day.” Instead, he would say something along the lines of, “Dude, that movie was awesome!”
See the difference? The same thing applies to your fictional characters. They have a voice, and having them do or say something that would be completely out of character for them will hurt the accuracy and believability you’re trying to instill in your readers. Know who your characters are, and most importantly, don’t betray who they are.
Do Your Homework
The perpetuation of inaccurate information is common among stories told by word of mouth, and any other storytelling platform for that matter. This could include people continually mispronouncing your last name, or even more dangerous, spreading falsehoods about people of other beliefs, cultures, and the like.
You can tell stories about people and cultures you don’t identify with. That’s fine. The problem arises when we as storytellers fail to do our research and perpetuate some primitive believe that holds no truth whatsoever. When in doubt, tap someone from the culture or country in question. They will appreciate it a lot more if you talk to them for help before your novel goes to print, rather than having your book printed with those falsehoods.
Keep your stories rich, but don’t keep it in the shadows of what it could be simply because you’re afraid of getting something wrong. Find someone who is from the Philippines if your character is from there or visiting. Use online discussion boards from the people you wish to research. Reach out to others for help, and it will bolster your story in tremendous ways.
We are All Storytellers
Storytelling is the heart of what we do as writers. We spend countless hours finding the best words for a sentence or a perfect setting for a scene. While all these are important aspects of writing and storytelling, don’t forget the other—seemingly smaller—parts of storytelling that can make or break your work.
I can’t recommend enough these professional storytellers who I’ve been fortunate enough to hear for years now. They are master storytellers, and there is so much we can learn from them; things about life, humanity, and yes, even writing fiction.