"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Narrative Intelligence: 3 Ways to Stroll Memory Lane

Inspired by East Tennessee State University

Storytelling Masters Program

Much credit to Roger C. Schank

—Author of "Tell Me A Story: Narrative Intelligence"

as well as David Novak

—National Storyteller/ETSU Professor

Question: To what extent do you already know stories?

Answer: You know more stories than you think you do.


  • List any stories that you could tell right now
  • List any stories that you could tell after one or two run-throughs
  • List any other stories that you know that would need two+ run-throughs

Wise Storyteller = right story at the right time and with many stories in the repertoire

Index Stories

We create indices/labels for stories so to tell stories effortlessly and unconsciously. You may also apply indexing to when interviewing others.

Index Construction & Understanding:

1. Match indices for story retrieval

Example: Creating themed storytelling performances

2. Add aspects of a new story to empty slots in an old one

Example: Love a story except for the ending

3. Seek further evidence for stories that were only tentatively held as having been correctly understood

Example: Feminist tales


  • Take story from your repertoire and complete the right side of the table below--

Types of Indices




Plan to Reach Goal



Group Exercise:

  • Form circle or semi-circle as a group and pretend that there is a fire in the center.
  • One person says any word or phrase toward the imaginary fire. In no particular order, everyone can say what words come to mind. Some people may talk at the same time, which is fine because you are creating a bonfire of words. Whatever word was last heard is what a person connects to when tossing out a word. Try this activity with the eyes open and then with the eyes closed.

Shape Memories

The ability to remember an event/story increases with:

1. Immediacy of telling after event experienced/story learned

2. Frequency of telling

3. Uniqueness

4. Significance to you

The act of sharing a story with someone else creates its own memory. The more the story is shared, then the more memories connected to the story.

With every version of a story learned, your memory is changed. Every version blurs the details so it is easier to put your own spin to the story. You will have details that you cling to and you will have details that you drop. Finally, ask yourself “How is this story the story of my life?”

Example: Disney version of “The Little Mermaid” vs. H.C. Andersen version


  • Tell a familiar tale backwards.
  • How has your viewpoint of the story changed

Understand and Share Stories

We may have stories that reflect different cultures but it does not mean we understand the stories completely. According to Schank’s book, if someone learned French and traveled to Paris, that person would struggle with the language. That person did not learn the life and speech genres such as the slang and proverbs so as to avoid embarrassing situations.

Insider Story Examples: personal tales, stories of your culture

Outsider Story Examples: multicultural tales, stories of another place or time


  • Using your repertoire list, place an “I” next to your insider stories and an “O” next to your outsider stories.

Combinatorial--Questions to ask when feel like there is no story to tell:

1. What story do I know that relates to the incoming story?

2. Are there any events in my memory where I had a similar goal for a similar reason?

3. Do I have a story in memory where the main goal is the same as that being pursued in the story I am hearing?

Schank, R. (1995). Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
ISBN: 0810113139

Yashinsky, D. (2006). Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
ISBN-10: 1578069270

Suggested Reading:
Bavles, D. & Orland, T. (2001). Art & Fear. Santa Cruz, CA: Image Continuum Press.
ISBN: 0961454733

Coles, R. (1990). The Call Of Stories: Teaching and The Moral Imagination. Boston: Mariner Books.
ISBN: 039552815
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
ISBN: 0226468011

Rodenburg, P. (1993). The Need For Words: Voice and Text. New York City: Routledge.
ISBN: 0878300511

Rodenburg, P. (1993). The Right To Speak: Working With The Voice. New York City: Routledge.
ISBN: 0878300554

Sawyer, R. (1977). The Way of The Storyteller. London: Penguin.
ISBN: 0140044361

Simmons, A. (2002). The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence and Persuasion Through The Art of Storytelling. New York City: Perseus Books Group.
ISBN: 0738206717

Smith, A. D. (2006). Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts-For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind. New York City: Anchor.
ISBN-10: 1400032385

Zipes, J. (1995). Creative Storytelling; Building Community, Changing Lives. New York City: Routledge.
ISBN: 0415912725

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