See • Be • Me

How to Tell a Story: An Introduction

SEE  •  BE  •  ME

By David Sidwell, PhD

SEE When storytellers say that “seeing” is important (i.e. “visualization” or even “imagination”), what that really means is that a storyteller needs to use ALL SEVEN SENSES.  “See” is kind of a metaphor for all of them:

  1. Seeing
  2. Touching
  3. Tasting
  4. Hearing
  5. Smelling
  6. Seeing Dead People
  7. Emotions

As a storyteller “sees” the events and images in a story, this means that she needs to access and then communicate these images and events. In other words, she simply sees what’s going on and then shows her audience what she sees. The more clear the images in the mind of the storyteller, the more clearly she can tell the story—the better the story will be. Scientifically speaking, once a storyteller sees the images and events in a story and has a desire to share them, her mind will prompt her voice and body to show the images she sees through gestures, voice inflections, and other elements. All art is image-based. Images have the power to move people emotionally, inspire them and motivate them. Images have an arch nemesis: Information. Information does not inspire or motivate. If a storyteller shares mere information, she will be boring and lifeless, so storytellers should be encouraged to share IMAGES and to turn information into IMAGES by what she “sees.” Images are GREAT! Information is boring. Storytellers deal mostly with images, making these images come to live with their voices and bodies.BE BE-ing in a story means to become the characters in some way. To do this, a storyteller must get inside the minds of the characters. He must try to see what the character sees and see HOW the character sees. He must try to get inside the mind of the characters in his story. Then he must SHOW us (as opposed to telling us) what that character sees and feels. Showing is more important than telling. It’s that “image” thing again. Showing is done with our voices and our bodies. We all know what voices do: a storyteller can use inflections, volume, pitch, rate, etc.—but there is no real need to think about these things very much. The storyteller should just see things clearly and be flexible so his mind can prompt his voice to do the right thing. Storytellers: Trust your mind! It’s right most of the time. Out bodies have three different tools for communication: 1.     Stance: this is the posture of the storyteller. A stance of a 95 year old man is much different than the stance of a toddler just learning how to walk, for instance. Most characters differ from each other in stance. Think of how a confident king would stand compared to a lowly, wimpy peasant. They stand differently. Their stances are different. 2.     Gesture: These are the way a storyteller’s hands move. We all naturally “talk with our hands” when we speak with our friends and family at parties and in meetings or when we teach a lesson. Storytelling is no different. A storyteller should just talk with his hands as he normally would. He may want to make his gestures bigger, however, for more dramatic effect or to be seen better. 3.     Face: Our faces are communicative! As we see scary things, our faces will show that we are scared. Storytellers must be careful not to go the other direction and simply show a scary face. Storytellers work from their minds to your face and not from their faces to your mind. Storytellers see an image first, then communicate it.

ME Storytelling is very much about sharing ourselves, not just a story. As we select just the right words, phrases, and images that we’ll use to show the images and events our story, we are also showing people our personality and sharing our backgrounds. Storytellers: use the fun words you normally use and be yourself. As an audience we all want to hear a great story, but we want to make a friend even more. * * * * * * * * * *

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The Power of Images

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Imagine two boxers, one is named “Image” the other, “Information”. Tonight, they clash amongst an outpouring of crazed fans! The bell rings. Information swings mightily and jabs crazily. He is out and about and all over the ring doing his thing. But Image bides his time. He looks at the audience, and they are behind him. A few titanic gestures, punches and swings and Information is down. The audience goes crazy! Some thought that Information would definitely win, for does data prove things and make cases? Perhaps, but Image has the power to motivate and inspire–something Information is lowsy at. The Information vs. Image battle continues, but it is worth our while to see what’s what about them.Images are made up of sensory things that we experience. We often like to say that we “see” images. But “see” is a metaphor for using ALL seven of our senses:

  1. seeing
  2. hearing
  3. touching
  4. tasting
  5. smelling
  6. seeing dead people (the “Sixth Sense”)
  7. emotions

Images have the ability to conjure senses in our minds. These senses have far more power over us that mere data–the only thing that information can provide.Stories are made up of images. Good stories, that is. This is why stories are so useful in motivating staff, students, friends, lovers, and others. Teachers, business leaders and others find stories to be powerful tools because storytelling, like all art, is image-based and not information-based. Good stories, that is. So if you want to inspire, motivate and uplift, tell a story! Otherwise, a memo will do.