The Storyteller’s Art

Have you ever listened to someone tell a story, sometimes about a serious or even dramatic subject, and found yourself bored and anxious for the person to stop talking? Their narrative just doesn’t hold you. On the other hand, do you know people who keep everyone on the edge of their seats with accounts of the most everyday events? What makes the two experiences so different? The first person has no idea of how to relate events in a way that holds our attention. The second one knows the storyteller’s art.

Is the storyteller’s art something you are either born with or not? Some people do seem to have a head start. Don’t despair if you feel you’re not a natural, though. Storytelling is an art, but also a craft and, as such, can be learned and developed like any other skill. What’s the first step? Ray Bradbury, one of the most instinctive storytellers ever, had a deceptively simple piece of advice.  You have to read.

“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves – you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”

In that comment you can hear his passion for the world of stories and ideas.  That passion drove him to read, literally, everything he could get his hands on. And he wrote…and wrote…and wrote. So how do we become skillful at the art and craft of weaving stories that hold people’s attention and move them? Ray Bradbury had a thought on that.

“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice.”

So set some time aside. Carve out a little space in your day, even if it’s not as long as you would like it to be, to write. We’re not talking about thinking about writing. We mean writing.  People who want to write usually have more than one story running around in their head waiting to be told.

It’s like coffee percolating on the stove in one those old metal coffee pots. It started to boil then you could watch the coffee being forced up into the glass knob on top of the pot. And you thought about now good the coffee would taste. And you watched the pot as it percolated. And you thought about how good the coffee would taste. And you kept watching the pot. It would have been all for nothing if you hadn’t taken the pot off the stove and enjoyed a great cup of coffee!

“We are all cups, constantly and quietly being filled,” Bradbury said. “The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”  
The challenge is to find the time to tip ourselves over and let some of the good things out that have been percolating. Start with fifteen minutes. Make yourself sit down and write about what’s on your mind. Do it everyday and it will turn into half an hour before you know it. Guess what will happen to the half hour. That’s right. It will become an hour. Writing will be a habit. And once you tip the cup over, who knows what beautiful things will come out?

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