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National Storytelling Week – Basic Storytelling Tips

Ron Fairweather of Macastory leading a family tour of Old Edinburgh

National Storytelling Week (Sat 31 Jan to Sun 8 Feb) was set up by the Society for Storytelling 15 years ago and aims to promote the oral tradition of storytelling; celebrating our most ancient art form.

From recounting something that's happened in your day, reading a bedtime story to a child or watching a plot unfold on TV – storytelling is a part of our everyday lives, so this is the week to embrace your inner storyteller and share with family, friends, colleagues – or get along to a storytelling event in your area.

Below we have sourced some sound advice from two of our directory storytellers who give simple tips for getting to grips with learning a story and top tips for telling a tale.

Ewan McVicar’s Top 10 handy hints for Storytelling

Bob Pegg

1. Choose a story you enjoy, and want or need to share. Avoid dry ‘myths’; go for surprise or excitement.

2. Identify and learn the ‘bones’ of the story, not the exact text (see Judy’s tips below for further clarification.)

3. Remember: A story in the mouth works differently from a story on the page. Simplify the language and description, and keep to the action of the main narrative.

4. Tell the story to yourself – a few times. Then check the book text and put the book away again.

5. Make the tale into your version of the story, not the voice of the author where you found it. They found it and changed it before you did!

6. Do not start telling until the audience are settled and ready. Start off with something they can join in with such as a song, rhyme or anecdote will help gather them in and focus their attention.

7. Decide in advance how and where you will begin. Use a formula – “Once upon a time...” or “Did you hear about the...?” – if you want.

8. Remember to recap the main points of the narrative a few times, especially after interruptions should they occur!

9. Do not use puppets, illustrations or other physical aids the first time you tell a story, just get through it – bare bones if need be – and never apologise for the quality of what you did or identify omissions.

10. HAVE FUN! If you don t enjoy it, how can they? Learn how to tell a new tale

Judy Paterson's step-by-step guide to learning a story.
It's never been so easy!

Judy PatersonThis is not as difficult as you might think. Once you have used this technique with simple and short stories you will find it easy to learn longer and more involved stories.

Choose a story you heard when you were a child – or a story you have/would read to children. Starting with ‘nursery’ tales such as Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs etc. is great because they have a simple structure and were rooted in oral traditions.

At all stages you must speak aloud. You need to hear the words.

Try to see the pictures in the story – be there in the story and this will help you to remember it. As Stanley Robertson said, you need to “go to the land where stories grow”.

Scan the story quickly

Tell yourself (or a partner) about the story – just the main points in a couple of sentences. E.g. This is a story about three pigs who had to build themselves houses so that the wolf could not get them…

Read the story

Only check the main points. Do not worry about the way the author describes characters or places. You only need the characters and the sequence of events. You want the skeleton of the story.

Tell the bare bones

Once upon a time there were three pigs and their mother said they had to leave home and look after themselves. She warned them about the big bad wolf. They set off and along the way they met…

             Re-read ONLY if you have lost the plot!

Make the story your own

Relax and tell the story again and this time just let it happen. You will find your own natural way of telling this story. You might be telling in Scots, or choosing ‘voices’ for characters, adding some description, etc.

Shape the story

Once you are at ease with the story, you might think about the main character, or the villain, and develop them to give a special angle to the story – to make it yours. Tell the story again and again until you find it feels like your story.

Tell the story

You are now ready to tell the story. Remember, this is your story and it will be different from any story in a book. Every time you tell the story you will shape it further and it will change. It will also change according to the audience listening to you.

For more hints and tips – visit the resources section of the website.