"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Finding "Golden" Stories in Book Heaven

I know I’m on the hunt for a good story when my eyes dart from bookshelf to bookshelf and the musty smell of used books fill the air. Sometimes a mysterious light shines through a window and rests upon a leather-bound book. Libraries and bookstores can be heaven to those who know the secrets of storytellers.

Warning: Going through libraries and bookstores can cause your arms to be tired from carrying so many amazing books. If you are like me, then bring a HUGE bag to carry the 30-60 books that you will bring home. Better yet, bring someone to carry the books for you.

If you followed me into a library/bookstore, my destination would be the 398.2 sections, also known as the places for folktales and fairy tales. I say “places” because you can find 398.2 in the children’s area as well as the adult’s area.

Finding the Perfect Story:

  1. Decide on Genre and/or Subject Matter
  2. Skim Titles
  3. Focus on Books with Story Collections
  4. Read Story Over a Dozen Times

Decide on Genre and/or Subject Matter
Simply heading toward the folktales and fairy tales does not narrow down your search. Within this area, you will still come upon story genres such as ghost stories, tall tales, trickster tales, healing stories, creation/natural stories, quest stories, fantasy, wisdom tales, fables, myths and legends. If you are unsure as to what interests you, then create a list of what does not interest you. Reading a story that fits within each of the genres could give you an idea of what you like and dislike, too.

I have more fun focusing on a subject matter. Maybe one of your favorite animals is the rabbit. A whole one-hour storytelling program could be easily dedicated to rabbit stories from around the world. Perhaps you would rather aim for tales that reflect mother/daughter relationships. You may discover that what you value today is as precious in any culture or time period.

Skim Titles
For a first time perusal, I go to the 398.2 in the children’s area. Due to the picture books, I am able to glance at titles and see what captures my interest. With a genre or subject in mind, then I train my eyes to search for word(s) connected to those topics. When a word or two catches my attention, then I stop, pull out the book, and flip through some of the pages.

Focus on Books with Story Collections
I prefer the books that have more than one story. Some of the best story collections are published by August House or gathered by Margaret Read MacDonald. I recommend being familiar with fairy tales/folktales collected by Andrew Lang like the Red Fairy Book, Orange Fairy Book, Green Fairy Book, and so on. I love finding stories that the average person would not know. The used bookstore is one of the best places to find unfamiliar tales.

Read Story Over a Dozen Times
I would not expect you to read a story twelve times while at the library/bookstore. The place is only open for some many hours of the day. Take the books home and find a reading-friendly room. The story is “golden” if you love the story after reading it at least 12 times.

Once you have the perfect story, then you are ready to tell the story in your own voice.

Until we tell again,

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

Monday, April 02, 2007

Body Language: Storytelling without Saying Words

Ten seconds could set the atmosphere for a storyteller and an audience through body language. When audience members see the storyteller’s face and stance, then the stories can have more depth and meaning. Kent and Nancy Potter from The Bennion Group presented a workshop “Reading Body Language” as part of the Brigham Young University Storytelling Club meeting on March 22, 2007. With their permission, I have adapted my experiences with their remarks.

Disclaimer: Though certain facial expressions or gestures tend to mean certain things, everyone has what is called a “baseline” or normal behavior. The better you know someone, then the easier to tell if there are shifting styles. Interpretations are usually more accurate when focusing on these shifting/changing behaviors.

The Potters prefer to conduct the “Vertical Scan” that consists of looking from top of the head to the feet. This quick examination can provide hints to moods and manners through body position, clothes and colors chosen, eyes, head/face, voice tone, arms/hands, and legs/feet.

The Potters mentioned that when you say “feels like” or “seems to be like”, then you are most likely describing your impressions from someone else’s body language.

One of the most revealing areas for body language is found in the eyes. Kent claimed that the eyes are the only living tissues seen from the outside. Skin, fingernails, and hair are considered “dead”. A workshop participant smiled and said that she knew another living organ sometimes seen while telling stories: the tongue. Kent laughed and replied that usually seeing the tongue is a form of rudeness—or silliness.

Some people feel uncomfortable when someone wears sunglasses. Perhaps hiding “living tissue” is part of this discomfort. Rarely, does a storyteller wear sunglasses unless it is an outdoors venue and the direct sunlight is blinding the storyteller’s eyes. An audience should feel welcomed by the teller.

Often, a storyteller introduces one or more characters when telling the story. To help the audience distinguish one character from another, the storyteller could use certain glances. The Potters shared the following eye movements:

    • Frequent Glancing Away = discomfort/deception
    • Darting Directly to the Side = something is going on
    • Closing Eyes After Another Speaks = difficult response will follow for possible defensiveness, embarrassment, or dishonesty
    • Sharp Blink Increase = guilt, remorse (as eyes dry out)

A storyteller could also get an idea of what audience members are thinking by watching eye movements. Body language is always a two-way road.

Dilated pupils can reveal excitement while contracted pupils can show anger. A storyteller could portray dilating or contracting pupils for characters in the story for the same results.

Whether the storyteller or the audience, our eyes tend to shift directions depending on what words we hear. The right side of the storyteller/speaker is the creating side. Kent revealed that creating stories and lying use the same function and side of the brain. The left side of the storyteller/speaker is the remembering side as can be revealed when someone says, “I can remember when…”. If someone makes up what is “remembered”, then notice how that changes where the eyes go.

You can test these eye movements by conducting a normal conversation with someone or while watching a storyteller.

Perhaps this is a way to determine if a storyteller is making up parts of a story or whether a storyteller is remembering parts of a story. Please note that a storyteller may know these eye tricks, especially when telling a tall tale.

Many emotions can be communicated beyond use of the eyes. Enjoy some of these common gestures that the Potters shared at the workshop:

    • Fake Smile = mouth stretches in smile but the cheeks and crinkles around the eyes stay stationary
    • Tongue Stuck Out = unconscious disagreement, distaste
    • Clenched or Pursed Lips = extensive disagreement, malevolence
    • Raising One Side of Mouth/Lips = disdain, mockery
    • Curled Bottom Lip = extreme anger
    • Covering Mouth = attempt to hide what is on the mind, possible deception, embarrassment
    • Finger/Pen/Glasses/Object in Front of Mouth = evaluative, pensive, not ready to talk yet
    • Chin Jut = defiance
    • Chin Tucked In = defensive
    • Stroking Chin = evaluative or neutral
    • Nose Rub = dislike, discomfort, or disagreement caused by what you’re hearing

Storytelling often is more alive without planned gestures and looks. However, it may be a good idea for a storyteller to videotape the performance and watch to see what gestures and expressions come naturally for characters.

When the audience uses eye or facial expressions, then the storyteller may be able to understand general moods of the audience. Dilated pupils of the audience members could mean that they are excited to hear the next part of the story. A thought-provoking story may encourage more stroking chins or fingers in front of the mouth.

If you are curious as to more possible meanings behind body positions, clothes and colors chosen, voice tone, arms/hands, and legs/feet, then contact Kent and Nancy Potter. You may email at kent@benniongroup.com or at nancy@benniongroup.com to schedule a workshop with them today.

Until we tell again,

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