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3 Principles the Best Storytellers Use

Last night marked the completion of another wonderful Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. Three of the tellers gave big compliments to Utah Valley, such as how refreshing it was to be in a place where one could refer to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and have the audience understand, how great it was to be able to refer to bishops, and to not only have the audience understand, but to know that there was probably a handful of bishops in the audience, and that the reason the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is the biggest and best of its kind in the nation has everything to do with the fact that our community simply supports great things. Amen.

As I predicted to my wife several days before the festival, I ended up being so inspired by it all that I renewed my desire to become a full time storyteller. I’m not sure what I mean by full time, exactly, but I do know that storytelling is at least a significant chunk of my calling in life, and it’s time to stop putting off my dreams.

In thinking about what (in my opinion) the best storytellers at the festival did and didn’t do, I came up with the following three principles that I hope to follow in the future:

  1. Don’t smile. Don’t be cute. Don’t kill the suspense of your story by giving away from your demeanor that everything’s going to work out just fine. The gripping storytellers are absolutely serious about what they’re saying, whether or not it’s funny, whereas those who are in the habit of being smiley and cute almost immediately lose attention. To compensate, whether they realize it or not, they end up having to use exaggerated gestures and voice, though these antics are no substitute for real intrigue and suspense.
  2. Tell first person stories. Third person stories are natural handicaps that also must be compensated for with significant energy in order to retain audience attention. There’s already a huge gap between the storyteller and the audience. The fact that they’re choosing to give their undivided attention to a talking head is remarkable in itself. To have to not only pay attention to that talking head but imagine another person lengthens the gap. First person stories have the advantage of commanding respect as the audience wonders, “Really? This happened to you?” First person stories innately give you authority over what you’re saying, which translates into power over the audience.
  3. Lie. Lie through your teeth. Don’t feel a need to exaggerate with ridiculous tall tales, just lie your story into perfection. Mix it with truth (hopefully a lot of truth), but hold no loyalties to the truth. Reality is too often bizarre and unfulfilling. If there’s anything that will make your story better, no matter how fabricated, add it.
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