"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Monday, December 01, 2008

Asking for Directions: 3 Maps for the Storyteller

We, as storytellers, may not always ask for directions in the stories we create. The images of the stories' settings and perhaps the characters allude us though we have the map of the story as an outline.

The stories I share seem bare-bone until I immerse into the world itself in which the action takes place.

One of the reasons storytellers build repertoire is so they can be more flexible and choose stories that connect best with their audience at a moment's notice. By expanding your view of the story's setting, this, in many ways, expands the possibilities and the spontaneity within one story.

Three maps help storytellers:
1. Map of the Landscape
2. Map of the Mind
3. Map of the Place of Story Development

Map of the Landscape
The Greek storytellers remembered their epic tales by walking throughout the countryside. This promotes a type of body memory in which your feet and legs provide as much memory as your brain. Even your nose, hands, and eyes take part in the memory as the senses pick up details that may be lost otherwise.

Sometimes a journey to a zoo or a botanical garden is enough to open the mind to animals and plants that may be common to the story you are sharing. You might scan a map and find out the lay of the land in regards to mountains, rivers, plains, and other remarkable features.

The story could be historical or even a folktale from another country. If the opportunity arises to visit the actual or similar place of your story, then take it. Sometimes places are imaginary or are difficult to go to even if they exist.

"The Once Upon A Time Map Book" by B.G. Hennessy and illustrated by Peter Joyce introduce you to six lands: Neverland with Peter Pan, the Land of Oz with Dorothy, Wonderland with Alice, the Giant's Kingdom with Jack, Aladdin's Kingdom with the Genie, and the Enchanted Forest with Snow White. Aerial views are shown complete with a compass and a key of special paths. For example, the Enchanted Forest has the hunter's path, the dirt path, the miner's trail, and the winding stream.

Some of the landscapes are labeled even if in the original stories they are not named. Storytellers have as much right to name places as authors. Mentioning these names may not be important to the story, though it does make the places more real and thus more tellable.

At times the location may be your own home as the main character could be you, childhood friends, or relatives. I enjoy drawing my home as if a giant walked by and ripped off the roof and then he placed me on his shoulder so I could look into the rooms from above. Adding color dramtically increases recall ability. Then, when completed, it is time to give a "tour" by pointing out what moments and memories happened in the rooms.

It is not enough to say "Here is the kitchen" and "Here is the hallway". Rather, one could say, "Here is the drawer in the kitchen where Dad kept the flashlight and he didn't know I knew it was there" and "Here is the hallway I had to sneak down and every so often the ground would squeak and I would freeze until I thought Mom and Dad didn't hear me." Storytellers Kevin Cordi and Karl Behling as well as many others use this technique to teach others to find the stories within.

Any maps you draw or create are wonderful to keep in a binder for future reference.

Map of the Mind
Every character has their own back story that often is never known to the audience. Maybe it was not even known to whoever wrote the story in the first place. This has the idea of playing with perspectives that may develop the attitudes, facial expressions, or postures that you decide to use for the actual telling.

The storyteller can ponder on the personalities anyone they may encounter. I say "encounter" because you know you have developed a strong character if he or she reminds you of someone you know--someone you may "encounter" in the grocery store, on the football field, at work, or in the home.

A starting point may be as simple as wondering what the character's favorite color and why that is the case. I recommend having a partner come up with questions so you do not have the pressure of thinking of questions and answers.

I like considering what a character may do in their spare time. As stories tend to focus on action and not necessarily on the "down time", the answers can be whatever you want them to be. I like to be a little accurate in my guesses by delving into the culture from whence the story came from.

Map of the Place of Story Development
Lately for my "Family Famine: Hunger for Love" narrative production, I have gained specific story buddies. I meet every Friday afternoon with Holly Robison to focus purely on "The Gardener's Wife" story from Colombia while I meet every Tuesday morning with Julie Barnson to dedicate time to an Ojibwa tale of "Forsaken Brother". By stepping into their homes, I am reminded of whatever story I practice there.

Upon the stage, if there are moments I fade or forget, then I may take a mental journey through their homes and remember where I was when certain ideas came concerning the story. My mind would have made an imprinted map.

With some maps now in tow, you can find your way through any story. The trick is to transfer your map to your audience. That is something entirely different.

At least you were willing to ask for directions for yourself as a teller.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

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