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How To Tell Stories

(A Quick Storytelling How-To by Toni Watson)

Webster defines a story as, “A narrative, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse or instruct the listener.”

How many times as a child did you beg a parent or grandparent to “tell me a story.”  And yet, the art of storytelling seems to be a dying one.

These days our grandchildren are more apt to say, “read me a story.”  And believe me, I am a great advocate of reading to children.  However, watch a child’s face if you offer to tell a story instead.  An excitement sparks their eyes and a kind of magic spell settles over the scene.

“But,” you may say, “I don’t know any stories. Where can I get them?”  For the sake of simplicity, let us try to confine the origins of stories to three categories:

  1. Handed-down tales which would include folklore, ethnic lore, parables, and fables (such as Aesop’s) told to generation after generation.
  2. Personal experience. These kind of stories usually start with, “When I was a little boy/girl, a funny thing happened,” etc.  They can include war or adventure stories that happened to you personally, showing how things were in “olden” days.
  3. Make believe. Children eat up good, old-time fantasizing.  Try your hand at it.  Let your  creativity have free rein.  The results can be amazing.  The sillier and more nonsensical, the better.

To help you compose your story, let’s start with a Halloween story as an example.  Which of the above categories works best for recreating a hobgoblin or haunted house tale for you?

  1. What scary stories did your parents or grandparents tell you?  What ghost stories did you read as a child that you can now recall well enough to tell your grandchildren? Some that come to mind are “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Blackbeard’s Ghost,” and one of my personal favorites, the old campfire ghost story, “Things That Go Bump in the Night.”
  2. Did you ever explore a haunted house as a child? Do you have any spooky or funny memories from your own trick-or-treat past?  Do you have any superstitions involving broken mirrors or walking under ladders that you could relate?
  3. Get the old creative juices flowing. But remember to temper the tale according to the age of the child.  No need to go into blood, violence and terror here.  A delicious shiver up the spine will work just fine.

Neither are we advocating black magic, witchcraft or voodoo incantations.  But a witch who can’t get her broom started or whose bubbling brews always seem to backfire on her can bring giggles and goose bumps at the same time.

Another time-proven technique is to make your grandchild or grandchildren the focus of the story.  Kids love to hear stories about themselves.  Even if the story is not directly about the child, the child will recognize this.  And if all else fails, you can always simply recount stories of when the child was a tiny baby.  Most kids love that stuff.

So put on your thinking cap, brush out the cobwebs from your belfry and become a real, live storyteller.

And remember, if your grandchildren don’t live close enough to sit on your knee, the tape recorder is a wonderful tool for sharing stories long distance.

This article is reprinted  with permission from “Grandparents’ Little Dividends News,” the newsletter of the Grandparents’ Little Dividends Club.


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  1. Tobi Ledbetter April 28th, 2013

    I thought this was a great article. I loved telling stories to my daughter and her friends. Some from books but most from my experiences or stories and programs that I remembered from my childhood. She is 20 and every now and then she will ask me about a story that I told her. I look forward to telling stories to my grand children and their friends in the future. I was really surprised to learn that most of her friends parents didn’t tell stories.

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