The beginning. The gateway.

The beginning of a story sets the scene. How we hold ourselves as tellers and the atmosphere of the assembled listeners, all has bearing on how the story will be received. It is as though we, the tellers and the listeners, become an organism. A strong and secure beginning means the organism has shape, definition and can then become animate in the realm of imagination as the words flow. Another metaphor is of a boat. The vessel is the story, the crew is the teller, the passengers are the listeners. The three elements combine to give an infinite variety of journeys and destinations.

The words at the beginning of a story are like a gateway, a threshold to a sacred space, and the listeners simply need to know the story is beginning for their listening selves to become more attentive and their imaginations more alive. Brain research with MRI scans has revealed that listening to a story and forming mental images from the word sounds, as opposed to watching film or looking at a picture book, shows more robust activity in a brain region involved in so-called semantic processing -- the area associated with ability to extract meaning from words. All words are spells and stories magic.

Choose words to help you begin the story with confidence.

Many cultures have traditional ways to begin a story... think of "Once upon a time...", or maybe you know a West African version "A story, a story, let it come, let it go. I rather like "Long ago, when stones were soft..." and "In the time before Time..." 

 In the case of this story I choose to set the story firmly in a timeless place with the opening words "High in the mountains of China..." In my mind I am picturing the scene as clearly as possible, because it helps me tell the story even if I choose not to speak every detail I imagine... and I have found that if I am doing my best to tell the story, to sail the ship as it were... the listeners are enjoying themselves on board!

How will you begin the story? For your interest and inspiration here is a link to a list of story openers of story openers: I hope you find it useful.

Use your moving hands to shift the focus from your face (to help with the jitters!)

In my early days of storytelling I found a trick that would not only settle me and bring confidence, it also allowed some of my fearful, nervous and excited energy to move. The trick was doing something that took the focus of the listeners away from my face. In those days I felt all the eyes on me...I felt uncomfortable in the gaze and I couldn't look at everyone in the eye. People were expecting something to begin and I found that if I did something meaningful with my hands to usher in the story I relaxed, and the audience relaxed. I have since heard that as humans we like to see if the other human we are speaking to is trustworthy as soon as possible, and so if we can see their hands don't have some kind of weapon in them we feel safe and can listen in a more relaxed and open way!

As animals we are wired to be attentive to movement. If it is just our lips moving - that is what people will be looking at. With this telling of the Stonecutter I am simply miming the tap tap tapping of mallet on chisel and this movement is enough to shift the intense focus of the audience. For me, combining the chosen opening words with a meaningful action is like the action of blowing the ships horn and casting off as the boat leaves the shore in it's journey. I wish you all the best with your telling of this story.

The Storyteller's Playbook

For teachers, outdoor educators, parents & tellers of all ages.

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