Sometimes one version is all a storyteller can find after hours in the library. Certain stories are easier to find than others. When researching the classic King Midas story, I read 72 versions before exploring how to develop my voice to the tale.
Most stories do not offer so much material.
So what does a storyteller do when nothing can be found?
3 Ways To Grow More Than One Version Of A Story:
- Current Events
- Classifying through Aarne-Thompson System
Delving into the culture of a tale is most obvious for folktales, though any story has a culture connected to it. Keep in mind that culture could include a region, time period, religion, social group, gender, or generation.
A story tends to state its area of origin. A folktale could be told in general terms and lack any reference to the cultural elements despite being labeled as a “Cuban” or “Ojibwa” or “Vakishamba tribe in Africa”. The story might have a word or phrase of the language that provides flavor. Otherwise, the teller could add foreign words.
A storyteller may find benefit in learning the social traditions connected to birth, marriage, death, or other events and merge it with the original story.
Books from the juvenile literature section provide excellent pictures so that the storyteller could create a pretend map of the scenery for the folktale.
The Internet, especially Facebook and Twitter, have expanded exponentially how people access the news.
Through Twitter, people could receive mini press releases with no more than 30 words. A website usually accompanies the post for more details. This tiny version of news makes it possible to scan headlines of 100+ stories in a few minutes. A storyteller could click on the tweet that relates closest to the story that the storyteller may be working on at the moment.
For example, in the Aboriginal Australian story “Gooloo the Magpie and the Wahroogah” a magpie-woman named Gooloo offers to watch over the tribe’s children while the fathers hunt and the mothers gather fruit amongst the trees. When the mothers return, the children are gone.
A storyteller might find a newspaper article or TV broadcast that focuses on a kidnapping. Though the cultures may be different, the news would share the heart wrenching feelings felt by the parents. A storyteller may gain inspiration on how to approach the Australian tale by merging with universal emotions and themes.
Classifying through Aarne-Thompson System
Librarians have the Dewy Decimal System to find books. Storytellers have the Aarne-Thompson System to find stories from the folk and fairy tale realm.
The Aarne-Thompson uses letters and numbers to divide categories and themes.
For the motif of “Conception and Birth”, a storyteller would find those stories from T500-T599. Within these numbers are related subcategories.
Consider some of the types found under T500-T599:
- T511.1—Conception from eating a fruit
- T511.1.1—Conception from eating apple
- T518.104.22.168—Conception from eating root
- T522.214.171.124.1.—Girl called Gatherer because she is best in tribe at knowing and getting plants
- T5126.96.36.199—Conception from eating leaves
Underneath the numbers, often one or more story is listed. Sometimes there are complete bibliographies. A storyteller searches for the recommended books and continues the research adventure.
“The Storyteller’s Sourcebook” is a fantastic book compiled by Margaret Read MacDonald with the Aarne-Thompson System as well as the ability to search by subject and title. Although out-of-print, many libraries have this book in their reference section.
Even when a storyteller develops a personal or historical piece, discovering folktales that have similar themes could be considered explorative research. Inspiration comes from everywhere.
Suddenly the one version a teller started with could branch into endless possibilities. . .as endless as that beanstalk that Jack climbed.
Do you have your story seed?
Let it grow!
Until we tell again,
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