"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

30 April 2015

Day 26 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Z is for Zeugma

Z is for Zeugma

Ever since I first heard this word in my senior high school English class, I've wanted to know more. No, not really. Just kidding.

But with this being the last day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I can't get the word out of my mind. So, I turned to Wikipedia to discover more and wished I hadn't. But it's too late. I'm exhausted and I'm determined not to falter at the finishing line.

Zeugma is not some gross skin disease but a literary term. It originates with the Ancient Greeks (blame them) and means something like "joining or yoking together". It occurs when a word or phrase is used to join other parts of a sentence together and can add, according to one source, "confusion . . . or flavour". But I liked the example, as it comes from an old Star Trek: The Next Generation episode: "You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit." Here, the word "execute" is applied to both "laws" and "citizens" but with rather shocking effect.

But zeugma can also create humour as in "The farmers grew potatoes, carrots, turnips, and bored." Here the verb "grew" joins a list of vegetables with an emotion, not your usual combination. So, zeugma yokes together different parts of a sentence for different effects. Handy literary device, eh?

Yes and no. In the hands of the amateur, a zeugma could go horribly wrong and blow up in your face, creating grammatical mayhem. Just consider this example: "Floating on the raft, Jane waved to her friend." My god, it's not clear who's on the raft, Jane or her friend. Maybe both of them or none of them. And to make matters worse, if you attempted to correct the grammar by writing two sentences as in "Jane was floating on the raft. She waved to her friend," why you'd lose the zeugma altogether (although I'm not sure where it went). So, plant your zeugmas carefully and run quickly away before they detonate.

And to make matters more tricky, there are at least 4 types of 'zeugma'. AND to frighten the pants off you . . . 'Zeugma' has its siblings: big sister 'Diazeugma'; big brother 'Hypozeugma'; and the twins 'Prozeugma' and 'Mesozeugma'. You've been warned. Maybe best not to mess with them.

Part of the "Gypsy Girl" mosaic at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum
(Oh, I forgot to mention that 'Zeugma' is also the name of an ancient Greek city, once know for its interesting 'boat bridge'.)

I admit, I doubt if I've fully or clearly explained what a 'zeugma' is and how it works, but I don't care because this is the end of the challenge and I'm fading into obscurity and sleep. My mind is buzzing and I need zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Wait a minute! Why are all those zzzzzzzzz used to indicate sleep? That'll have to wait till next year's A to Z Blogging Challenge. Goodnight! ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

29 April 2015

Day 25 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Y is for Yellowhammer

Y is for Yellowhammer, Baba Yaga, and the Curious Girl

Ok, so what does a Yellowhammer have to do with story coaching? you ask. Answer: nothing. Then again, maybe I just haven't figured it out and that's why I'm writing this.

The other day, I was researching some new stories to add to my repertoire and preparing for a workshop which I was due to deliver in a few days' time to a business client. It was one of those morning where I couldn't tear myself away from the laptop. It was when I looked up searching for a word on hovering just beyond the tip of tongue when I realised the sun had come out. It was a beautiful day.

That's it, I said to myself, I'm outta here. I put on my shoes and jacket, grabbed my camera and headed off for a walk along the woods and into a nearby field. Walking is an excellent way of rehearsing stories and workshop ideas. After about fifteen minutes of this cogitating, my attention was suddenly attracted by a flash of yellow. It was a bird . . . a yellow bird. It flew ahead of me dipping and diving, racing ahead of me to the next line of trees a hundred yards away. I hurried after it as if I was chasing a floating pot of gold.

When I got to the line of trees I stopped and scanned the branches above me but could not see the elusive yellow bird. Just as I was about to walk on, I heard the most lovely, clear warbling. I turned and looked up and to my left. And there it was.

Perched on an electric wire, a bright yellow bird sang in the bright late morning sun. I stood there transfixed. Then I remembered my camera, slowly raised it, zoomed in as far as I could and waited for the lens to focus. In a second or two, appeared the most beautiful yellow bird. I had no idea what it was . . . it was just yellow and singing a lustful song of what seemed sheer joy to me. (I later discovered that it's called a "Yellowhammer".)

Singing unabashedly like that, I was reminded of the beautiful multi-coloured bird in a story I tell called "The Curious Girl" (a story I learned from Kay Stone). Just at the point when the little bird has exhausted all the stories it has brought back from the four corners of the globe on the crone Baba Yaga, only to learn that Baba Yaga knows every one, the bird opens its beak and lets out a cry of despair that is the beginning of a story . . . the story of the little bird itself, a story which Baba Yaga has never heard. Having turned the Curious Girl into the bird in the first place, Baba Yaga must now reinstate her, having promised she would do so if the bird could return with a story she'd not heard before.

As my yellow bird sang, I imagined how both Baba Yaga and the Curious Girl must have felt--the joy of telling your story and the delight in hearing something new. But on that morning it was I who was transformed, my heart touched by a small yellow bird singing for what seemed sheer pleasure, sharing its story with me. And when it had finished, I began to sing too.

And that's my story and I'm singing it just for you in the hope that one day, you'll sing me yours too.

28 April 2015

Day 24 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: X is for X marks the spot

X is for X marks the spot

Back when I was a boy, I loved stories about pirates and buccaneers and I particularly loved their treasure maps. Any book that had an illustration of one was longingly pored over as I imagined discovering the fabled spot where their hidden jewels and bullion could be found.

When I was older and started performing with bands, stage hands often marked an X on the stage with chalk or gaffer tape indicating where they wanted me to stand, particularly if the event was being filmed. And, occasionally, I’ve come across this technique when delivering a public talk on stage. Just stand on the X and everyone will hear and see you, I was told. Of course, I might have started on the X but I inevitably wandered around.

However, I’ve since adopted the technique in my StoryCoaching in the sense that I encourage storytellers and public speakers to imagine an X on the stage to mark the centre of your performance space. I urge them to claim that space, make it theirs. Find a way to “stand your ground” and make it a place where the story can come into being. You don’t have to stay rooted to it, but I believe it can add to your confidence to begin with a centring spot, a place that grounds you before you begin your story or speech.

No matter where I’ve had to perform—in a classroom, on the street, or in a corporate boardroom—I will imagine that X as part of my pre-storytelling ritual. Creating a space from which to deliver, a space into which I invite my audience, figuratively, of course. In my work, X marks the spot of “storied treasure.”

27 April 2015

Day 23 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: W is for Wow!

W is for Wow!

I've lived in Scotland for nearly 30 years and in that time I've learned a lot about the contribution that the Scots have made to the world in the fields of engineering, chemistry, geology, medicine, education, philosophy, music, and poetry to name a few. (They've also contributed Irn-Bru, Jimmy hats, and the bagpipes.)

But I had no idea until today, that they were responsible for adding one of the most common exclamations in the English language -- the simple expression "Wow!" (with or without exclamation mark). Like wow, can you believe it?!

According to Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman of "Grammarphobia", the word "Wow" first shows up in 1513 (pre-Shakespeare) in Gavin Douglas's translation of Virgil's Aeneid in the sentence “Out on thir wanderand spiritis, wow! thow cryis.” Douglas, by the way, was a Scottish bishop and bard (a storyteller and poet) and you can learn more about him here. He was born in about 1474 at Tantallon Castle, perched on the East Lothian cliffs near North Berwick, overlooking the North Sea (I've been there many times when my boys were young--highly recommended).

O'Conner and Kellerman explain that "wow" was likely a shortened form of the interjection "I vow" and that by the 1800s it was pretty much in common use throughout Britain. It's popularity has waxed and waned but it rose again to popularity in the Victoria era as a word to express wonder or admiration. In the 1920s it exploded into a noun (as in a great success), an adjective (exciting, delightful), a verb (she wowed the audience) and even into the hyphenated, excited "wow-ee". However, by the 1960s and 70s it was being used rather ironically--even sarcastically-- as in "like wow, that was exciting" or the understated "wow, man, that's far out".

Nevertheless, "Wow" has survived into the 21st century and is one of those timeless words that I expect it to survive a few more centuries yet. In fact, I suspect that when those first men and women land on Mars, more than one of them will exlaim, "Wow!"

So the next time you catch yourself saying "Wow!" (say, at the premiere of the upcoming "Star Wars" film), blame or praise the Scots (thank you Bishop Douglas) as you deem appropriate.

25 April 2015

Day 22 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: V is for Very Nearly There

V is for Very Nearly There

Are we there yet?

Close . . . so close.

Next year, I'll prepare these blogs ahead of time .  .  . yeah, sure.

What matters is that you show up. Just that. Show up.

Here I am.


24 April 2015

Day 21 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: U is for Uncle Len

U is for Uncle Len

Every family has its Uncles. And in every family of Uncles there's usually at least one funny one.

In my family it was Uncle Len, brother to my Grandfather (I know, it makes him a Great-Uncle), Uncle Wally and Aunt Ivy. The following is a short tale in which I remember Uncle Len and the tales he told.

"Goodnight, Uncle Len"

In the dark of the night . . . I lie awake and remember the time of uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters of parents and grandparents, whom I'd see again at Christmas and summer family picnics. These strange beings would come into my world twice a year, bringing their stories, their laughter, blowing smoke rings, pulling nickels out of my ears, cackling and hacking, cooing and wooing.

Uncle Len, youngest of three brothers - my Grandpa, Uncle Wally and him - ruled over by an older sister, Aunt Ivy. All of them from England, still wearing an aura of music halls and foggy streets.

Uncle Len, standing over us, slightly stooped, ruffling our hair, taking the stage . . . . "Kids," he'd smile, "did I ever tell you about the time we came over on the Titanic? or was it the Lusitania?"

"Now Len," Aunt Ivy warn, "Don't be telling those children your stories."

"How about the time I sold shoes? Have I told you kids this one before?"

He had--lots of times--but we'd pretend we hadn't.

"Don't encourage him," Aunt Betty said, raising her eyebrows and peering over her cat's eyes sunglasses.

Uncle Len has sold shoes in a small town store. He enjoyed it and had developed good relationships with his customers. Many had been coming to him for years. . . like Mrs Smith.

Mrs Smith was one of Uncle Len's regular customers. She was elderly so her visits were rare, but she always received a courteous welcome from Uncle Len. On this particular morning, she had come in looking for a pair of new shoes. In fact, she had a cutting from a magazine illustrating the very pair she was looking for - a pair of high heels in black shiny leather.

Uncle Len's shop didn't have this particular pair in stock. He could, he explained, order them and have them in in about a week or so; or--and here he'd pause for dramatic effect and lean in close to us just as he would have with Mrs Smith and whispered that he could tell her where she could find that the very pair of shoes. They were, he said, in the window of a rival store on the opposite side of the street.

"What do you think I did?" Uncle Len asks us. Even though we know, none of us is sure because we've heard the story told in different ways over several summers. Besides, before we can answer, Uncle Len tells us of his fateful decision.

"I could see how badly she wanted those shoes," he says, "If I told her, she'd appreciate my honesty and good will. I may have lost a sale, but I knew she'd return to me again in the future knowing I was an honest salesman." And so, Mrs Smith thanks Uncle Len and shuffles off to buy her special pair of shoes.

Uncle Len always pauses at this juncture in the story, letting the suspense build until he can stand it no longer. Within minutes, he smiles, there's a screech of brakes and a sickening scream and an awful thud. Uncle Len runs out to see what has happened and lo and behold, the woman he's just been speaking to has been hit by a car crossing the street to buy the shoes in the rival shop, the very shop where Uncle Len had sent her.

"I felt terrible," he moans, wincing and hamming it up for us kids with occasional winks and nods to the sniggering adults who've all stopped talking to listen.

Although we've all heard this story before, it never fails to leave me anxious, wondering about the moral implications of the story. My quandary is augmented by Uncle Len's hangdog expression as if guilty of some heinous crime, as if he'd been the one to push the old woman into the path of the oncoming vehicle (this year it's a car, but last year it was a bus). And although the story is never resolved and maybe for that reason, we will continue to encourage him to tell us it again and again every summer thereafter, always denying that we've heard it before.

The years pass. We children have become uncles ourselves and parents. Aunt Ivy, Grandpa and Uncle Wally have all passed away. Family picnics fad into memory, as does Uncle Len.

One night the phone rings. Long distance. It's my younger brother Mark. "Remember Uncle Len?" he says, "Did you know he's not well? in the hospital . . . he's dying."

"I didn't even know he was still alive," I reply. "How old is he?"

Mark explains that Uncle Len is 93 and that Aunt Betty is with him. He's spoken to her and asked it it would be ok to visit. "Sure," she says, "But don't expect much, we're not sure how much he's aware anyone's around." Mark tells me he's going up to the hospital the following evening.

Uncle Len and Aunt Betty (far left) with family
"Give him my love," I offer, "I hope he remembers us."

A few days later, Mark calls again. Uncle Len was in a coma. Despite her advanced age, Aunt Betty had been keeping vigil nearly every night. "I don't know if he'll know you, Mark," she told him when he arrived, "but if you'd like to sit with him, you're welcome."

Mark sits down beside Uncle Len's bed and gently holds his hand. Uncle Len rests quietly, eyes closed, breathing shallowly, seemingly unaware of Mark's or anyone's presence. Nevertheless, my brother explains who he is and offers greetings from his nieces and nephews. After a prolonged silence, Mark then asks Uncle Len if he remembers a story he used to tell us at the family picnics. Mark retells the story as far as it goes, leaving Uncle Len's dilemma hanging in the air. Then, suddenly, in the silence, Mark feels a distinct squeeze of the hand and sees on Uncle Len's cheek a single tear. Aunt Betty smiles and wipes her eye.

A few days later, Uncle Len died. But before his spirit left this world, a story had fluttered up from the dark and distant past to alight on two hands joined in love. An almost unperceptible pulse of the heart across an ocean of time and space. A story remembered and returned with love.

23 April 2015

Day 20 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: T is for Truth

T is for Truth

"Is that a true story, mister?"

The most oft-asked question which comes my way after I've shared a story is, "Is it true?" Of course, it's children who nearly always ask the question. I suppose adults have grown up too long believing that "telling stories" is akin to "telling lies". Or they know me well-enough to know to suspend their disbelief when I tell a story.

But the question of veracity is an important one, deserving of our attention. "Is the story true?"

Like most storytellers I know, I often reply to the question by asking another: "Do you think it's true?" or "What part do you think was true for you?" That philosophical-teaching technique has been used for centuries, placing the onus of truth on the listener or reader. And if my listeners are interested in exploring the nature of truth in the story further, I often employ the well-used metaphor of an orange, explaining the the story may be colourful on the outside, but when you peel it you discover the real sweetness inside. "And the seeds too," someone usually shouts, to which I explain that perhaps that's where the "truth" of the orange lies. Such discussions with children are always fascinating and it's just one more reason why I love sharing stories with them.

Of course, I believe, as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber once noted, that "all stories are true." If we live with stories long enough they will reveal their truth to us. What is true for you about the story?

This is a question I ask my storytellers when working with a story. What is your relationship to the story, to the characters, the setting, the language, the themes? This deeper work is essential, I believe, to being true to the story and that's part of the process of what I call my storycoaching. What is the truth of a story? Ah, that's up to you. . . you tell me.

So next time someone asks you if the story's true, peel the story back and let them taste it for themselves.

22 April 2015

Day 19 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: S is for Storytelling

S is for Storytelling

Ok, yesterday I used "R is for Reading" to talk about storytelling and today I'm using "S is for Storytelling" to talk about reading . . . but I confess, I'm talking about both or at least how reading influences storytelling. Confused?

Let me explain.

Many storytellers (myself included) often reveal our reading in our storytelling. It's inevitable, I suppose, since many of us find our stories in texts. When we learn them off the page, we tend to bring with the story a lot of the conventions of written text, particularly the "he said" and "she said" variety. I'm not saying this is wrong, but I do encourage my storytellers to ask themselves, "Are they always necessary?" Cannot characters speak to one another without a narrator telling us "He said" or "She said"?

The other "reading" influence usually happens with less experienced storytellers but we're all guilty of it at times, especially when we've learned a new story from a text -- we tell with the imprint of the page in our imaginations. The eyes usually give it away. You see this most obviously when a storyteller is telling a new story and momentarily loses the plot. They often close their eyes and try to picture the page of the text where the words lie.

As I said yesterday, I love reading books and I love researching texts for stories. But it takes time to absorb a story and let go of the textual image and reading conventions. But when you do, oh my, then the story soars away from the page and takes you with it.

Reading and storytelling -- two completely but interconnected art forms requiring different but similar techniques. Confused? I hope not.

21 April 2015

Day 18 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: R is for Reading

R is for Reading

I'm going to state the obvious: reading a story and telling a story are two different things. I love both of them. As a storyteller, I love to tell stories, as my 7-yr old grandson says, "out of my mouth".But I also love to read stories to my partner and friends. And, I love being read to. I think most people do.

In fact, to many, storytelling is reading. Asked by a headteacher to come and introduce the art of storytelling to her primary teachers, many of them said they already told stories to their children; but when I investigated further, what they meant was that they read stories to their children. They set their book up on a stand so the kids could see the pictures and the teacher reads the text.

Now don't get me wrong. I love reading and I'm a strong advocate of introducing books to children and encouraging them to read.

But for this teacher--and I suspect for many--reading was an excuse for not telling. When I suggested to this particular teacher that she could do both, she admitted that she was nervous about "performing" for the children. She confessed that she felt more comfortable relying on the book and besides, she added, it gives something for the children to look at.

However, after working with her for a hour and giving her some tips on telling, she sat down in front of the class and told them a story. When she finished, the class showed their appreciation with wild applause. Still nervous, the teacher said, "But wouldn't you rather I read you a story?"

"NO!" they shouted unanimously.

"Why?" the teacher asked.

One little girl raised her hand and said, "Because you look at us when you tell us a story." Another boy added, "You looked right at me when you told how Jack climbed the beanstalk and it made me feel important."

I didn't need to tell her why oral storytelling is important. Her children did that job for me. Storytelling connects teller and audience. That eye to eye contact is so important in developing a child's self-esteem and confidence. Needless to say, that teacher now uses both reading and storytelling to teach and entertain her children.

I admit I've perhaps strayed from my topic of "Reading" and used it as an excuse to promote story-telling, but tomorrow I'll use "Story-telling" to say something more about reading.

In the meantime, if you have any comments or reflections on reading and oral storytelling in your life and work, I'd love to read them. Feel free to use the comment box below. Until tomorrow, may all your once upon a times end happily ever after.

Note: Waldorf Schools are great advocates of the art of storytelling in the classroom. As a courtesy for using the above photo, I'm providing the link to the Maple Village school so you can learn more about the education they offer -- https://maplevillage.wordpress.com/about/

20 April 2015

Day 17 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Q is for Qisetna

Q is for Qisetna

Qisetna: Talking Syria is, according to its founders, "a non-political social and cultural project aiming to engage Syrians and people with a connection to the country to share their stories. It provides a reminder of the humanity of ordinary Syrians through their relationship with arts, culture, sport and places. " In short, it's a blog for stories from, about, and by Syrians and related others.

I was introduced to the project by one of its editors and founders, Julia Rampen, the London-based journalist and writer who contacted me for advice on a storytelling project working with refugee children in Syria. As you can imagine, many of these children are traumatized by the violence and poverty, not to say anything of the terrible angst of losing parents, siblings, pets, and other members of their families. Imagine how that horror is compounded by the thought that no one cares or wants to hear your story.

Julia Rampen, Editor of Qisetna
Julia and her colleagues created the (bilingual) blog to provide a safe space for Syrians to share their stories and for the international community to read and respond. The blog is simple to navigate. Stories are arranged by subject, each reflecting what Syrians love about their country -- its music, food, places, the arts, sport, among others. This is not the place for political discussion or debate but a home to stories about home, about place, about family, about loss, about dreams for peace.

In one of the recent stories entitled "My Bicycle", a young student from Damascus describes how she learned to ride a bicycle and how that opened up the city to her, offering her freedom, and saving her expensive bus fare to the university. She also meets new people who encourage her freedom, seeing her choice as environmentally-friendly and healthy. One passer-by remarks, "You’ll build and develop this country with your great ideas…”

The stories on Qisetna are timely reminders that people everywhere share much in common -- love of their community, their children, their parents, their friends. Like all of us, they desire freedom, education, opportunities to work and play, to live their passions, to fall in love, to speak freely.  I encourage you to visit the blog at www.talkingsyria.com and sign up to their monthly newsletter. Stories need ears, eyes, and hearts. As the late poet Maya Angelou once noted, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within." Read and share these stories with others. Support Qisetna's work and let Syria's people know they are not alone.

Thank you.

Images: Hussein Alazaat, Patrick M, via Creative Commons

Check out the Qisetna: Talking Syria Facebook site.

18 April 2015

Day 16 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: P is for Planning the Performance

P is for Planning the Performance

There will come a time in your career when you have an opportunity to plan a storytelling performance -- not just your own, but a program consisting of storytellers and perhaps other artists.

I enjoyed this privilege a couple of years ago when I produced a show consisting of eight different storytellers -- men and women with different storytelling styles -- for one of Edinburgh's major festivals.

It helps if your show has a theme or topic around which to weave the stories. If so, it gives your performers something to guide them in their choice of story. But you still have decisions to make, like who goes first and who closes the show. Storytellers, like other performers, are not devoid of egos and you have to be prepared to deal with requests, pleadings, and demands. Fortunately, that was not the case in this instance, but I've experienced it elsewhere.

One useful concept which I was taught some years ago by one of my mentors is one I still use today. I think of the programme as a kind of banquet or feast. Like a chef, you want to consider the full palette of tastes and appetites. You want to offer an appetizer, a main course, and, of course, a dessert. So, here's my menu, imagining the response of the audience to the storytelling delights on offer --

"Ah" -- we begin with an appetizer, something to whet the appetite. I suggest short, light tales that are humorous -- something featuring a trickster figure work well. Include some audience participation or interaction. Short and tangy, and interesting . . . leaves them wanting more.

"Ha ha" -- we move into the first of our main courses so an amusing story that evokes laughter, something light and silly but not too heavy.

"Ah haa" -- our next course offers a more rich, thought-provoking tale, something deeper and more substantial -- a wisdom tale perhaps or something which causes the audience to have to consider a moral or ethical choice.

This is a good place for a break, to allow your audience to digest the richness of the previous course. Gives them time to reflect and talk over the tale with their neighbors over a drink.

"Argh" -- after the break, you want to ensure your audience doesn't fall asleep on the richness of the previous story. That calls for a new beginning, a challenging, provoking, even shocking tale presenting the unexpected -- a rare taste of something unusual though not disgusting.

"Amen" -- something sweeter and more wholesome, a blessing, a story of healing and profound thought, something to celebrate.

"Ah Yes" -- time for an appertif, an ending that is sweet and pleasant tasting like an after-dinner mint, a story that is harmonious, communal and celebratory -- finishing with a song usually works well too, something which everyone can join in on.

Planning a program can be as enjoyable as planning a menu for a feast . . . a storytelling feast. By considering the tastes and appetites of your audience, your menu of stories and songs will be sure to please. And when you impress upon your artists the importance of contributing to the overall menu, you're less likely to have storytellers who are only thinking of their particular story but rather they'll consider the overall experience of everyone involved -- performers and audience. Storytelling as a communal feast guarantees a cornucopia of stories with something to please every taste and appetite.

17 April 2015

Day 15 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: O is for Online Opportunities

O is for Online Opportunities

The best storytelling, I believe, still happens offline, person-to-person, "eye to eye, mind to mind, and heart to heart."

But, there are numerous opportunities online for the adventurous storyteller. I say "adventurous" because if you haven't noticed the virtual world out there is awash with stories. One could virtually drown in countless tales posted on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and others. The rise of blogs too has opened the floodgates for stories -- comical, confessional, boastful, sexy, satirical . . . you name it, someone's posted a story about it or is writing something as we speak. So if you have an adventurous spirit, I'd encourage you to dive in and start sharing.

The Internet might have started as a place for information, but it's clearly become a spawning ground for stories and storytelling. But with so many stories out there how can you be heard or read above all that noise? There's no easy answer to that but you got to start somewhere so . . .

Set up a blog. Wordpress and Blogger are free and fairly easy to set up without any previous web design experience. This website is set up on Blogger and despite my best efforts to work my Luddite magic, it works for me. It's become a place for me to not only provide information about my storycoaching and storytelling services but it also allows me to weave a story about who I am and why I'm passionate about what I do.

Success won't come overnight, but if you persevere and just keep writing, things happen. I've been telling my stories on this blog now for nearly two years and I'm now getting about 150 visits a day and some regular visitors who actually interact with me. And you never know when a story you share is going to strike a chord with someone.

A few months ago, a story I wrote attracted the attention of a particular American marketing and story guru I admire. He got in touch and shared his thoughts, which were gratefully received, and then, to my surprise, tweeted my story to his thousands of followers on Twitter. Suddenly my site became a destination for scores of people interested in what I had to say. I didn't become famous, but it was gratifying to know that my stories were reaching an audience. "Tweet to tweet" doesn't quite have the magic of "eye to eye" but in the digital world the transmission and sharing of stories create relationships. And some of those relationships, as I have experienced, become more real than virtual.

In the last few years of sharing stories online, opportunities have arisen to connect with some authentic storytellers and storytelling organisations out there in a variety of countries. I have some regular contacts in storytelling communities in America, Canada, Australia, India and the Far East, not to mention across Europe, Scandanavia and, of course, right here in the UK. Some of those have sought my advice and I have sought theirs. And we've both shared stories.

I'm not saying going online is for every storyteller, but it has expanded my opportunities to share my love of storytelling and coaching. My online presence has brought me work which might not have otherwise come. Clients in distant and remote places have connected with me and working together online, I have had the pleasure of helping them share their stories.

If I was a more adventurous traveller and thirty years younger, I'd be off to meet many of these people in person on their home turf where we could sit facing one another and share our stories. But in the meantime, I'm open to the opportunities the online world offers.

What's your experience sharing stories online been like? Share below in the Comments section.

Now for a shameless plug: If you're in Edinburgh Scotland on Friday May 22nd, I'll be facilitating a workshop on creating your "About Me" or Bio page for the web. To book a place, contact the Scottish Storytelling Centre on +44 (0)131 556-9579. More at http://www.tracscotland.org/scottish-storytelling-centre/centre-events/2567/your-story-on-the-web

16 April 2015

Day 14 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: N is for No

N is for No

When I was starting out on my storytelling career, I would say "Yes" to just about every request for my services. The only time I refused was when I was too ill or I'd already made other plans. I was so eager to please and get my business off the ground. I wanted to be a well-liked storyteller.

Now don't get me wrong. Saying "Yes" to a lot of things can be wonderfully liberating and I owe a lot of my story-filled life to responding in the affirmative. "Yes!" to life, I say.

But . . . there are times when you have to say "No".

Like the time I was asked to do a children's birthday party. It was a friend and she'd heard from another friend how wonderful I was at her daughter's party that she just had to have me. What I didn't tell her was that party was a nightmare. The mother didn't obey my instructions to hold off the cake and sugary drinks till after I'd told my stories. When I arrived, there was an all out Cowgirl/Cowboy war going on. The parents--delighted to see me--assumed that I was like a magic child-minder who would round up the kids, corral them into the living room, and weave my story spell over them. Fat chance.

Imagine trying to tell stories to sugar-induced attention deficit children who ended up fighting over the teddy bear I'd brought to help me tell stories. (No wonder he ran off). I swore I'd never do it again. It was not my forte. I love children but not in this context. So did I say, "No, sorry I don't do children's parties"? No, I said "Yes". And once again--despite my conditions--I encountered yet another "wild child" fiesta.

Eventually (and it didn't take too long) I learned to say "No". And, eventually, I could say "No" without feeling guilty. There are plenty of storytellers and entertainers who love doing kids' parties. But I'm not one of them.

It was an important lesson. The ability to say "No" to what you don't want to or can't do is crucial to your sanity and your longevity in the business. Don't do work you know you don't want to do. Let someone else do it.

If you have trouble saying "No", start imagining your ideal clients and start attracting them. If people get the idea that you'll work for anyone and everyone, you'll have no control over what comes your way. Don't let your insecurity sabotage you. People will respect your ability to say "No" and you'll save yourself and them a lot of heartache and disappointment in the long run.

I was recently invited to a very prestigious storytelling post but when I talked it over with the organizer and really thought about it, I realized I was not the right person for it nor was it the right post for me. I politely said "No" and recommended someone else, who I felt was perfect for the job (and they said "Yes").

So, next time someone calls you and excitedly requests your service, ask yourself, "Is this really the work I want? is this the client I want to work with?" If it is, say "Yes"; but if you know in your heart of hearts that it isn't, just say "No" (in a polite way of course).

15 April 2015

Day 13 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: M is for Michael

M is for Michael

Today, I want to tell you the story of my name because it's worth remembering that there's a story behind every name. I've often energized workshop groups simply by asking them to share the story of their name, what it means, how they got it, do they have a nickname and so on.

Before the age of five I don't particularly remember my name as being problematic in any way. Like a dog or cat, I assimilated it, knew the sound of it was different than my brothers' names (and our dog Sandy), and learned how the tone with which it was spoken was more important than the name itself.

However, when I got to school, my name suddenly became an issue -- at least with the teachers. You see, "Michael" is not my first name. My parents graced me with two other forenames -- "Robert" and "John" -- before "Michael". The former was in honour of my father and the latter recognised my great-grandfather. That didn't mean much then, but it does now and gives me a sense of connection with my ancestors. However, that was far from my schoolboy mind.

Every year, when the teacher read out the class list to ensure that we were all present, she would call out for a "Robert Williams". I sat there in silence, thinking perhaps that there might be another boy with that name. She called out again as if this other boy might be hard of hearing. Silent still.

Then she barked out the name, obviously irritated. Reluctantly, I put up my hand. At the same time she was chastising me for not answering, I was timidly explaining that my name was not "Robert" but "Michael". The class erupted into laughter. Their guffaws and my explanation only added to the confusion and her annoyance.

"It says here that your name is Robert," she said holding up the class roll, before adding, "If your name is not Robert, why did you put up your hand?"

"Because," I said, "it is me."

Of course, in those days, only first and last names were entered on the roll. There wasn't room for a multi-named individual, as there might be today. Once the class was settled down, I explained that my full name was "Robert John Michael" at which the class erupted once again and the teacher usually muttered something about my crazy parents.

The befuddlement lasted well into high school and beyond. Administrations everywhere just didn't seem to be able to cope with a boy with three first names. Of course, I tried to help them by lightening my name to just "Michael" to avoid unnecessary confusion, yet somehow I've always felt a little guilty about that.

In any event, I'm proud of my name, which is why I don't encourage shortening it to "Mike". You might raise your eyebrows and say, "Why, it's just a name afterall, a rose by any other name etc etc."

But to me my name is special. My name is Michael. What's yours? What's the story behind your name?

14 April 2015

Day 12 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

L is for Listening

I realise I've covered listening under E is for Ears, but it's too important a subject to not come back to it again and again.

However, rather than repeat myself, I want to share a short story which I feel illustrates the barriers to deep listening. It's my version of an older story. I've been telling it for so long, that I can't remember where it originally came from . . . so if you have a source for it, please let me know.

Story of 4 monks

Once there were four monks--novices who were setting out on their journey towards enlightenment. Their master instructed them on the art of meditation and set them the task of meditating in silence for a week.

That evening the four monks settled themselves in the meditation hall, with only a candle to illuminate the darkness. They closed their eyes and began to meditate.

A few minutes later a sudden gust of wind extinguished the candle flame. "Oh no!" cried the first monk, "the candle's gone out!" before realising that he'd broken the silence.

"Hush!" the second monk whispered loudly, "you know we're not supposed to break our silence." It was only after he'd spoken that he too realised what he'd done.

Irritated by the interruption, the third monk shouted at the other two, "Quiet! you're distracting me, how can you expect me to meditate with all that noise you're making?" Then he too realised the error of his ways.

The fourth monk, who up until now had been quietly observing the others, could contain himself no longer, punching the air gleefully, "Yes! Yes! I've won, I've won."

Needless to say, the monks did not discover enlightenment that evening, but in time they learned to listen.

I'd love to hear your comments on the story or your experiences of listening and being listened to. Leave your comments below or email me at iamthestoryteller@gmail.com

13 April 2015

Day 11 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

K is for Karma Kitchen

Imagine walking into a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu. Oh oh, is this one of those posh French restaurants? Then imagine your surprise when presented with the bill – and there’s nothing to pay. A note on the bill explains: "Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you." No, you’re not dreaming . . . you’re in a Karma Kitchen.

Karma Kitchen is described as “a volunteer-driven experiment in generosity.” It took hold in just 2 weeks back in March of 2007 in Berkeley California when a handful of volunteers decided to “be the change” they wanted to see in the world. They hired a restaurant on a Sunday, prepared and cooked the meals, served their customers with a smile, and put the “gift economy” into practice. No one was required to pay. You were simply invited to “pay forward” towards someone else’s meal in the future.

In the past eight years, the Karma Kitchen has served nearly 50,000 meals with volunteers contributing nearly as many hours of their time. And, the Karma Kitchen has gone global with openings in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan. Each follows that basic recipe of “service with a smile”, “pay forward”, and the spirit of volunteerism. And each has been creating a buffet of stories.

Volunteers gather in a sharing circle before and at the end of their shift to check in with each other and share stories. Laughter and tears are shared, a sense of community is formed. Many of these stories find their way onto the Karma Kitchen website (www.karmakitchen.org) where you can also find instructions and encouragement for starting your own Karma Kitchen.

I worked in the kitchen of a music coffee house back in the 70s and I can vouch for the camaraderie and stories that we shared so I can easily imagine the spirit generated by the Karma Kitchen concept and crew. And from the many grateful stories and smiling faces in the videos, I would recommend you check out the Karma Kitchen as soon as possible. You just might be moved to start your own or apply their “experiment in generosity” to your own area of work.

If you do, please share your story with me and I’ll help spread the word.

Learn more at www.karmakitchen.org. For other great videos check out www.globalonenessproject.org

11 April 2015

Day 10 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

J is for Jack

I love Jack tales and I encourage my storytellers to have at least one Jack (or Jill) tale in their repertoire.

If you don't readily recognise who I mean, think "Jack and the Beanstalk", "The House that Jack Built", "Silly Jack" (one of my favourites), and "Jack and the Villains". Jack is the "hero" of numerous folktales and nursery rhymes ("Jack and Jill", "Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick" etc). I qualify "hero" because Jack is certainly not a hero in the traditional sense of clever, strong, and handsome. In fact, he usually the opposite -- foolish, weak, and plain-looking. But, it's usually those qualities and his silliness that wins the day.

Research suggests that the character of Jack originated in England--in Cornwall perhaps--and emigrated with early settlers to the Americas where the character quickly wove himself into the fabric of Appalachian folklore. However, Jack was certainly a staple of much European storytelling ("Hans" in the Grimm's tales) and characters like him appear in the stories of many cultures. In fact, when I was storytelling in the Middle East a few years ago, I had occasion to tell "Silly Jack" to a large audience of Arab women and their children. Although I worked with a translator, the audience responded to my comic gestures immediately. The children, in particular, who did not understand English, were so in tune with the story, laughing at all the appropriate places and anticipating Jack's silly antics. Later, one of the mothers informed me that the children were thrilled that I was telling one of their stories. I was surprised, explaining that I had learned the tale in Scotland from the Traveller storyteller Stanley Robertson. But she explained to me that it was also a well-known Middle Eastern tale. Jack certainly gets around!

Jack tales are particularly well-known and loved in America and if you don't know them, check out the work of Appalachian storyteller Ray Hicks, the late storyteller Chuck Larkin,  and the very much alive Ed Stivender. And to begin your own research into the Jack Tales, begin with Richard Chase's classic Jack Tales (1943) who traces the Appalachian sources back through Council Harmon, the 19th-century "Father of Jack Tales," and beyond. And until you get your hands on the book, try this link http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu/Projects/storytelling/jsthomps/tales.htm#bibliography and begin your own journey into the Jack Tales.

And when you get back, share one with me.

 “But that was always the way with Jacks, wasn’t it? They were clever and fools all at once.”

10 April 2015

Day 9 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: I is for Interruptions

I is for Interruptions

So you've got the kids settled; all eyes are on you the special guest storyteller; you've got a great story primed and ready to go. You smile and begin the tale . . . then it happens. Kids start screaming. A swarm of bees (or maybe it was just a few bees) shows up unexpectedly. Potential chaos. It's the dreaded interruption.

This is what faced President Barack Obama the other day during an Easter storytelling event on the White House Lawn where he was about to tell a group of children Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." As you can see in the video below, no sooner had he started then screaming children interrupt his telling. Real wild things showed up. Now, to his credit, Obama doesn't panic. He smiles, laughs and reassures the children they'll be ok. "Bees are good," he says, "They won't land on you. They won't sting you. They'll be OK."

At some point in your storytelling career you're going to be interrupted. . . count on it and be prepared. It might be a phone call, a crying child, a plane roaring overhead, traffic noise, a fire alarm, a heckler, or even a swarm of bees. So what do you do?

Keep smiling. If you're agitated or irritated, you're simply going to convey that feeling to the audience adding to the mix. Be reassuring yet stay in command if possible. Assess the situation. Is it something you can ignore knowing it will pass, or is it something that demands attention and needs rectifying?

As part of your preparation, you should do a sort of "risk assessment"--check with the organisers of your event if any fire alarms, for example, are planned on the day. Ask teachers about potential intrusions or interruptions and plan on how they can be avoided and dealt with. Be aware of the relevant response in case of an emergency. Know the procedure. Ensure that a responsible person (other than yourself) is on hand to deal with potential interruptions.

Of course, most interruptions are not planned. They're unexpected. When they happen (and they will) quickly assess the situation. Can you continue or do you need to pause. Keep smiling, pause if necessary until it's OK to resume, use your sense of humour to keep your audience focused and convey reassurance. Most interruption--like bees--eventually go away and will leave you to continue your story happily ever after.

Video courtesy of The Telegraph, 10 April 2015 www.telegraph.co.uk

09 April 2015

Day 8 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

H is for Heart

This is going to be a short one as it's been a busy day. But it's one of the most important things I've learned as a storyteller and storycoach.

All stories are really about love.

 I'm not going to give you examples, not because I can't think of any, but because I'd rather you discover that truth for yourself. Take any of the stories you tell and sit with it quietly. Allow yourself to be drawn into it, deeply.

When all is said and done, there is only love. Whether it's our life story or a traditional folktale, it's all about love. Someone wanting to love and wanting to be loved.

So all I will say is that when you tell a story, tell it with love in your heart. Breathe life into a story and let it breathe its life into you. Feel the energy between you and your listener. It's all love and love is all you need.

Happy Storytelling!

08 April 2015

Day 7 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

G is for Gratitude

I can imagine there will be a lot of "G for Gratitude" being blogged today, so a part of me hesitated to add yet another post on gratitude. Then I thought, wait a minute, wouldn't it be wonderful if more people shared their thanks for the people and events that have touched, served, and shaped them? So here's my offering -- my gratitude to certain folk who helped me navigate the choppy waters of uncertainty during my life.

My Grandparents -- My Grappa for his love of music and offering me a place in his Big Band Orchestra when I was 16, if I learned to play the guitar. Sadly, he died and the Orchestra disbanded in 1970 thus depriving me of my place, but he'd already inspired me to follow my love for music and become a performer myself. And I'm grateful to my Nana for reminding me that applause does not equal love.

Mr Ed Foster -- Mr Foster was an acquaintance of my grandparents, whom they'd met when they moved to live in a small cottage on Three Mile Lake near Burk's Falls, Ontario. In his 80s, Mr Foster was one of those rare breed of men who lived by his wits and backwoods skills. But what I remember most about him was his "secret" to a happy life -- work at as many things as possible, he told me. He boasted that he'd had at least 80 jobs during his lifetime, each introducing him to all kinds of folk. My parents weren't too thrilled about that advice, hoping I'd go to university and get a good job for life. My life, however, didn't work out that way and many's the time when I've recalled Ed Foster's wisdom and been grateful.

Miss Jones -- my high school English teacher. Miss Jones was an old-fashioned teacher who was not particularly hip for the late 60s. But she championed creative writing at a time when it was on the wane in secondary education in favour of analysis and business writing. She encouraged me to imagine, to write, and re-write. I'm grateful for that habit which still serves me today. She was also a wonderful storyteller who shared her travels in Europe during the 1930s. I wish she'd lived long enough for me to thank her.

John Howe -- my first therapist. I was pretty messed up in the mid 70s but thanks to John I began some serious navigation of my inner landscape. I enjoyed it so much that I continued my sessions long after the initial battle that brought me to him had ended. In fact, I went on a 10-year journey with John, a journey which eventually saw me take care of him in his illness and dying. You gave my life back, John and ignited a curiosity to "know thyself (and others)" which still burns to this day.

Kathy Lloyd and TGH -- Kathy was the Director of Teen Girls Home, a residential treatment centre for adolescent women in London, Canada. She had the confidence, trust, and foresight to hire me as the first male counsellor on her team. I will be forever grateful for the experience, skills, and lessons learned working with my female colleagues and with the many young women who passed through that wonderful transformational home. Counselling, teaching life skills, group and family therapy work deepened my understanding of myself and others and shaped so much of who I am today. I'm grateful for that and for the nourishment those women--young and older--gave my feminine side.

David Bentley -- one of my University English professors and mentors. David is a consummate scholar and transformational teacher. His standards have always been high and he doesn't suffer fools. More than 20 years have passed since I was one of his students, but hardly a day goes by when I don't in some way acknowledge his influence on my own teaching and writing. David nurtured my love of literature and research, and supported me in going to the University of Edinburgh to earn a Ph.D. That decision changed my life and although I didn't go on to become the scholar he might have hoped for, I'm grateful for the confidence he gave me to pursue my own path through the world of story.

And by no means last nor least -- stories. I'm grateful for a life full of stories, stories which have emerged out of my own experience and stories told me by others. Stories have saved my life and today I consider the art of storytelling and storycoaching as my spiritual practice. I'm grateful to those individuals named above in addition to so many others who have been part of my story and allowed me to share in theirs.

What are you grateful for today?

Thanks for visiting my blog and spending time reading my reflections. May I offer you this wonderful poem by Rumi:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

07 April 2015

Day 6 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

F is for Failure

"10,000 failures are worth more than one success." Thomas Edison

I want to share a story with you. But only read it if you know what it’s like to feel a failure. If you know that feeling, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Back in 2007, my world collapsed. My 25-year marriage had come to a devastating end. Suddenly, I was alone. My wife was gone; my kids; my in-laws; and many of our friends. I had to move away from the community I had come to love and call home.

Don’t feel sorry for me. It was my call. I was desperate and I made what I thought was the right decision and I didn’t make it lightly.

I moved into an empty flat, which a friend had recently sold. I had a month to get my life together before the new tenants moved in.

To make matters worse, I had given up my full-time teaching job two years earlier to develop my dream of being a storyteller and coach. In addition to no longer having a family, I had no clients and few prospects. My confidence, my self-esteem, and my bank account were at an all-time low.

 If you want to read the rest of the story click here.

If you don't have time let me summarise -- I had fallen into the furnace of failure and was getting badly burned. But I won't bore you with the details. We've all been there right?

But in the eight years since then, I've learned a lot of lessons -- most importantly, how an "old story" can oppress you, keep you locked in guilt and shame. My "new story" had to begin with forgiveness. It wasn't easy -- old stories are never easy to re-write. It was a terribly painful and lonely journey.

Yet these journeys are necessary. There are no shortcuts. You have to breakdown before you can breakthrough. In the end, it's what you do with failure that counts.

The American baseball legend Babe Ruth enjoyed huge success in his career as a home run king, batting balls out of the park and out of reach earning him and his team victory after victory. Yet what few know is that Ruth also held the record for the most strike outs -- swinging and missing the ball! Ruth also experienced failure after failure--and believe me, he heard his share of boos and catcalls--but he never succumbed to the story of failure. He simply shifted his perception of what it was. As he used to say, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from coming up to bat."

If you want to succeed in this world, you have to be prepared to re-write your story. Failure can be a transformational experience. It's all a matter of how you choose to see the world around you and within you. Faced with yet another failure in trying to invent the light bulb, inventor Thomas Edison remarked, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Don't let failure write your story; embrace your failures and start telling the story you want to live.

“What difference would it make to your business and your life, if you were living and telling the story that really mattered to you?”

06 April 2015

Day 5 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Tips, Techniques and Reflections from a StoryCoach

E is for Ears and Eyes

The Ears – Listening for love

‘The first duty of love is to listen.’ Paul Tillich

The ears are crucial to storytelling. Storytellers need attentive listeners; and listeners need storytellers attentive to sound. Many storytellers begin their sessions with call and response. ‘Cric’ shouts the storyteller, ‘Crac’ replies the audience, as just one example of connecting through sound, focusing the attention and attuning ears to the story that’s about to begin.

When our ears are attuned to the space in which we are telling, we can become sensitive to nuances of mood and atmosphere in the room. We can modify our telling accordingly, ensuring that we remain connected to the audience. And while unexpected sounds can be sources of distraction, an alert, attuned storyteller can often incorporate such sounds into the story. A sudden sneeze, cough, or clap of thunder might be a gift, if received graciously. . . .

. . . . When learning a new story, I also encourage tellers to pay attention to the sounds within a story. What sounds characterise the environment? What sounds do the characters make? Will you imitate the sound of a creaking door, the sigh of a breeze, the screech of an owl or witch? Let your ears guide you.

The Eyes – windows to the soul 

‘The eyes are the window to your soul.’ William Shakespeare

. . . . Before beginning a story, take time to make this soulful connection through the eyes, not with a superficial sweep of the audience or by mechanically eye-balling every member, but by gently and sincerely opening your gaze to the audience, smiling and meeting the eyes. Spread your eye contact about the room as you tell your story. Be aware of people off to the sides, at the back of the room and even behind you if necessary.

Your gaze is not only your lifeline to the audience, but to higher realms. An old mentor of mine once told me that by looking up, we are looking to the ‘angels’. Up is the place of inspiration. Similarly, a Native-American friend and fellow storyteller told me that up is ‘where the spirits and ancestors are . . . just above your head.’ He went on to explain how the spirits and ancestors love stories, so if you’re stuck, look up to them for help.

Of course, there will be times when you choose to look down—to convey despair, for example—as long as you do so with intention. And there will be moments when closing your eyes can convey a dramatic moment of introspection and heighten a silent moment.

The ears and eyes are a storyteller’s essential organs of perception and connection with the audience, with the space, with the language of the story, and the story characters. Be attentive to sound and sight, and your ears and eyes will help you bring heart and soul to your storytelling.

Extract from forthcoming ebook, The ABCs of Storytelling: Tips, Techniques and Reflections of a StoryCoach by Michael Williams, Ph.D.

04 April 2015

Day 4 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Tips, Techniques and Reflections of a StoryCoach

D is for Dialogue

My approach to story is dialogic; that is, I encourage dialogue or conversations with stories. We talk to stories and listen to what they have to say. We get to know the characters within stories, not just the protagonist and antagonist but the marginal characters too. In fact, I like to have storytellers re-tell stories from different perspectives. Try “Little Red Riding Hood” from the Wolf’s point of view or Grandma’s or even the basket of goodies “Little Red” is carrying. Who’s stories are not being told within a story? Explore those, listen and learn.

"The Dialogue" by Julia Margaret Cameron
And finally, while we’re on the topic of dialogue, may I offer one particular technique? It’s the simple “turning of the head” from left to right to simulate a conversation between characters. Decide if one character is taller or smaller than the other and indicate this with the angle of your head when speaking. Jack would look up when talking to the Giant and the Giant, of course, would look downward. It sounds obvious but many storytellers tell the dialogue rather than show it. Also, try eliminating the “he said” and “she said” indicators found in texts. Use your voice, head position, and relevant body gestures to indicate who is speaking. Such dialogue techniques will help you tell the story in a way common to oral rather than written storytelling and liberate you from the printed page. Your storytelling will come alive, I can guarantee that.

Extract from the forthcoming ebook The ABCs of Storytelling: Tips, Techniques and Reflections from a StoryCoach by Michael Williams, Ph.D.  © Michael Williams 2015

03 April 2015

Day 3 of the A to Z Challenge: Tips, Techniques and Reflections of a StoryCoach

C is for Characterization

When we tell a story, most of us adopt the role of Storyteller and hold on tight. When it comes time to reveal a character, we don't commit fully to that character. We try to tell and act at the same time. I believe this can weaken the story. In my coaching sessions, I've watched characters only partially emerge as the Storyteller tries to keep the story going, thus cheating the audience of an opportunity to experience the story fully through that character's perception and experience.

Now I need to say there's no one way to tell a story and every storyteller has to choose their own techniques and approach, but I like to encourage my storytellers to recognise, explore, and commit fully to all three roles. When it's time to be a character, then BE the character. Step out of being the Storyteller for a moment and enjoy being the character whoever he or she or it might be. Experience that character's personality, walk around in his or her shoes. If it's a giant, then BE the giant – explore and enjoy the giant's character. If you're a mouse, BE the mouse in all its “mouseness”.

Obviously, it's not always practical to devote time equally to every character but be aware of which characters attract or repel you. I've worked with storytellers who when questioned why they didn't allow a particular character to emerge, admitted they didn't like the character, didn't understand the character, or didn't think the character was important. I believe that every character gives us the opportunity not only to deepen our appreciation and understanding of a story but also deepen our understanding of ourselves. Honor every character and your story will shine for it.

Extract from forthcoming ebook The ABCs of Storytelling: Tips, Techniques, and Reflections from a StoryCoach by Michael Williams, Ph.D.


"We have received only very positive reports of your workshop, and must thank you for being so flexible and responsive both before and in the course of implementing the workshop. It has been lovely to work with you. . . . We are hopeful this project will give rise to future storytelling endeavours, and would be very happy to work with you again if the opportunity arises!" Muireann Crowley, At Home in Scotland, University of Edinburgh, May 2014 ("Storytelling, Research and Public Engagement" workshop)

Michael Williams is a a storyteller of compelling skill. He is also a fine human being who engages in all situations and draws people into the warmth of communication and shared experience." Donald Smith, Director, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Scotland

"Michael's understanding of storytelling within a leadership and business context has helped us provide a great service in helping leaders determine their personal and organisational destiny and legacy. Working with Michael is inspiring and fun; and pulls you to be fully engaged from start to finish." Norton Bertram-Smith, Managing Director and Leadership Consultant for On Purpose.

Kamink: the little boy who grew into a giant of a man

Blues and Roots Radio

Blues and Roots Radio
Check out my weekly storytelling radio show, The Teller and the Tale on bluesandrootsradio.com.

Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland
I'm grateful to Creative Scotland for its support.