"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Frozen Stories: 3 Ways to Thaw Life into Them

Confession: I have told frozen stories--stagnant stories--for over 12 years and I am in the thawing stage.

Hope: Three exercises can replace my constant temptation to use words in a tongue-stuck-to-the-cold-flagpole kind of way thanks to the guidance of storytellers Don Doyle and Liz Warren.

I know there are other storytellers like me who prefer to write their stories. Many times I have heard the warning that writing a story word-for-word will make it nearly impossible to have it evolve or grow in the future. This warning was often heard through my ears the same way when mom called out before I went to school during those Wisconsin winters, "Make sure you wear your mittens!"

The mittens stayed at the bottom of the coat closet.

Though I tend to write my stories, I have convinced myself that I do not memorize my stories. What I am discovering more and more is that my storytelling sounds memorized even if it is not completely memorized. I use many of the same phrases, descriptions, and transitions in the written version of the story as in the oral version of the story. The danger is that I have become bored with my performances, as I have used this style for over 12 years, and this boredom could reflect in my connection with the audience through my tones or expressions.

Now the fact that I have had frozen stories has not stopped the compliments I have received from audience members and program directors on my storytelling. So why change or replace my habits if I have been successful?

Because I know I have frostbite.

Frostbite can get to the point when there is no feeling in the joints or exposed areas of the body. This can be the reason it is hard to even know that I have frostbite. The fingers tend to freeze first. The same fingers I use to write my stories.

If frostbite is ignored long enough, the skin color can change from red to white to grayish blue and finally to black. When black, I must call 911. The medics would not warm up or thaw my frostbite unless there is no risk of refreezing. The question can be asked, "Will I return to my frozen stories?"

If I can answer honestly that I will do my best to remain thawed and alive in my storytelling, then the gradual thawing process can begin. I gently dip my writing fingers in lukewarm water. Scalding hot water would be too much at one time.

Being that I had black frostbite in regards to my writing, my 911 led me to a flight to Arizona to meet with Don Doyle.

Here are 3 ways that are most helpful to me:
1. Create French Scenes
2. Draw Pictures of Key Moments
3. Imagine/Record Dialogue

Create French Scenes--
I was new to the concept of French Scenes when Don Doyle first explained them. French Scenes are main events of the story that begin with one or more key characters enter the scene and ends when one or more key characters exit the scene. Between entrances and exits are developments to the story whether in understanding the environment, revealing character, and forwarding the plot.

French Scenes tend to be divided into 5 parts though I could have as many as 32+ parts for a complicated story.

Let us look at the classic story of Cinderella:
Scene 1--Cinderella asleep at fireplace from working so hard for Stepmother and Stepsisters
Enter Stepmother and Stepsisters as Cinderella's Father gets married
Exit Father as he dies and Cinderella must work for Stepmother and Stepsisters

Scene 2--Cinderella gets Stepmother and Stepsisters ready for the ball
Enter the Messenger from the palace with invitation to the ball
Exit the Stepmother and Stepsisters to the ball without Cinderella

Scene 3--Cinderella weeps in the garden
Enter Fairy Godmother to get Cinderella ready for the ball
Exit Cinderella to the ball

Scene 4--Court, Guests and Prince are in awe of Cinderella at the ball
Enter Cinderella into the ball
Exit Cinderella as clock strikes midnight and she leaves a slipper behind

Scene 5--Prince scours kingdom of who will fit the slipper
Enter Prince into home of Cinderella
Exit Prince and Cinderella to be married happily ever after

If I was videotaping this story and pressed pause, then I have a scene that can be drawn. The exercises involving French Scenes, Pictures, and Dialogue help each other. You may do these three exercises in any order.

Draw Pictures of Key Moments--
I consider myself more of a performing artist than a visual artist so to draw pictures can be intimidating. When I realized that I did not have to create masterpieces and that even drawing stick people would suffice, I breathed easier. Plus, no one else had to see these pictures--only me.

Don Doyle and Liz Warren agreed that drawing in color is most beneficial. I had to truly imagine the surroundings of the story. This will help me remember the images more vividly versus the frozen words during my performance.

Don added that perhaps I could make cartoon bubbles that could be written statements that reflected what the characters were feeling toward the other characters, objects, or situations in the story. Dialogue would not be necessary, only thoughts.

Imagine/Record Dialogue--
Once I know the characters in the story, whether minor or major characters, then it's time to understand what these characters might say to one another. These dialogues may develop a back-story that is never used in the actual performance of the story. What is important is that I understand the background more than my audience.

Don Doyle and I pressed the record button on the tape player and performed pieces or scenes of the story. Camcorders work, too. If I cannot find another person to play along with dialogue, then I can always represent all the characters. This is all impromptu so pauses, stumbles, and stutters are perfectly accepted.

Keep in mind that these scenes are all dialogue between characters. No narration is given. Even if I choose to tell the story with little or no dialogue, this is a fun way to brainstorm.

This is my chance to imagine the possibilities and reminds me that the story should never be frozen to one way.

I believe I am no longer in the black frostbite zone. Where are you?

When I want to tell the story again, I will review the French Scenes, Pictures, and Recorded Dialogues. Once I go through these exercises and after I have told the story many times--perhaps 50+ times--then I can finally type the story for my legacy.

Only this time when I write, I will keep my mittens on to keep my fingers from writing frozen stories.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

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