By Mark Binder
This is a new column that will dodge around the joy and pleasure of listening, telling, and writing stories. Mostly it will be targeted for parents and young folk. From time to time, I may diverge into something more “adult” or “teen.”
What’s Great About Stories?
Let’s get right into it. Stories are for everybody. In my introduction, I already divided the “audience” for this blog into four segments (parents, kids, adults, and teens). Stories and storytelling can create bridges between all these different ages.
This isn’t to say that every story is “appropriate” for every age group. When I go into a school, I don’t tell the preschoolers stories about blowing up fish with dynamite. I don’t tell the high schoolers the Three Little Pigs. That said, there are many, many stories that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Some of my personal multigenerational favorites are: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Brave Little Tailor, Abu Hassan’s Mighty Wind, and so on.
How to tell the same story to multiple niches simultaneously:
Here are 10 quick tips. This is only the beginning…
1. Let the older kids know that you are going to include them. One of the downsides to storytelling can be the prejudice that “storytelling is for little kids.” When I have a group of K through eighth graders, I let the older ones know that once I’ve taken care of the little ones, I’ll be focusing on them.
2. Don’t play down to your audience. One of my pet peeves is the “I’m talking to little kids, so I have to smile” attitude. It might work if your only age group is made up of preschoolers. Barney, for example has a permanent smile stuck on his big purple face. But everyone else thinks you’re being a bit condescending. Little kids like to be treated like bigger kids.
3. Trust your material. If you are worried about a story flopping, make a joke about it beforehand, but tell the story with complete commitment. If you can’t tell a story with complete commitment, you probably ought to look for a different story.
4. Don’t race. Sitcoms have commercial breaks. You don’t have to. The idea that young people’s attention spans are short is a fallacy. That said, if your story is more than ten minutes long, it had better rock out.
5. Allow your story to breathe. Some parts are slow, and some are fast. Silence, like in music, is important.
6. Don’t ignore what’s going on in the room. If something disruptive is happening, press “pause.” Kids today are used to pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding. Sometimes when I’m telling a story and a group of people wander in late, I’ll stop, wait till they’re settled, rewind a bit, and start up. Everybody has a better time that way.
7. When you’re telling stories to your family, listen to their needs. Let them pick the material. Don’t try telling (or reading) too much too late.
8. Pick stories you want to tell. If your child hands you a book you hate, smile, and say, “Maybe some other time — how about this one?”
9. Write a list of the ten stories you love best. If you don’t have the books they appear in, get them. Then try telling those.
10. If one of your listeners has his or her eyes closed, they’re not ignoring you. They’re either asleep — which is okay for a bedtime story — or listening deeply. Even in school, I question the idea of waking a child up if they fall asleep while I’m telling a story. My presentations have so much energy that if the youngster is that wiped, she (or he) probably needs the rest.
Oh, one more thing.
Telling a good story is like getting onto a water slide. You start at the top and zip down, navigating all sorts of twists and turns. It can be slippery and scary. It can be a lot of fun. But you can’t get off in the middle. You always have to tell your story to those last words.
Mark Binder is an author and a storyteller. His new collection, The Bed Time Story Book, is available at Books on the Square, Creatoyvity, ModMama, and at Amazon.com.
Mark welcomes input, comments, questions, ideas, tips, tricks, and of course, stories. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.