Nitty-Gritty Story Prep

Nitty-Gritty Story Prep

A few basic rules of thumb (and there are always good reasons to break rules, so feel free). Especially if this is your first story, think about how these might help give shape and stakes to your story, take what's helpful, and ignore the rest.

Tips/things to consider as you prepare:

  • Use an online calendar to figure out about how many words-per-minute you need to hit the story length you’re aiming for. Then time yourself, and be honest.

  • Think in terms of scenes: distinct locations where something happens. Scenes distinguish a story from an essay, or op-ed, or sermon. Let your audience do the meaning-making. Guide them to it, with your edits and presentation, but don't unpack it for them too much.

  • Write/craft your story to be delivered, not just read.

  • Start in the action and set up the stakes:

    • Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, begins not with her buying a map, or all the events that led up to the hike, but instead, 38 days into the hike, just after one of her hiking boots has fallen irretrievably down a ridge.

  • Use dialogue as much as possible, especially to tell the audience things that would otherwise be exposition.

  • Count on your voice and delivery to do the adjectival heavy-lifting. No need to say, "he stammered..." if you can deliver it, "H-he-hello!" And you don’t need adverbs! Really! Basically none!

  • Make you the main character. This is about you: a true story as you experienced it. And you can leave out anything you don't want to share or that doesn’t serve your story. No one is going to fact-check you.

  • Think about what your story is about (themes), beyond what happens (plot, facts). This helps keep you stream lined and edit out the stuff that may be good, but isn't necessary.

Cross-posted from Gilead Chicago.

Other great guidelines from The Moth, the Hearth, and Chicago’s 2nd Story.

Building a Story

Building a Story

A question that comes up often in workshops is “how do I help storytellers prepare?” Whether getting ready for a public storytelling event, or as part of a church service, working on your own story or helping others, here are a few starting points questions to ask along the way:

First: what kind of story are you looking for? Do you already know the theme for the event or the worship service? If so, start there, and invite people to consider if they might have an experience touching on the theme (Forgiveness, Making Home, Journeys, New Beginnings, etc., etc.). You can also reach out to people whose stories you know, from hearing them perform, or being in relationship with them, and ask if they’d consider crafting a public version of their story.

If you simply need stories and don’t need them to touch on a particular theme, ask people to consider a moment or event that draws their attention, something that they’d be interested in exploring and telling (sounds super basic but that’s as good a litmus test as any).

Then: begin to flesh out the scene or moment that’s at the heart of the story, or the moment that first grabbed your attention. Where were you? Who else was there? What happened?

Next: ask “what else would people need to know to get it?” Flesh out a few scenes that show people what you need them to know to understand how the moment impacted you.

As the story takes shape, remember to ask what was at stake for the teller at the time the story happened — and to let the listeners know that. A very small story (“I went out for coffee”) can carry a lot of weight when listeners know what’s at stake (“…it was the first time I’d been out of my house all week, after a terrible break-up, in the middle of a miserable winter.”)

These steps and questions can be useful for tellers whether they prepare by writing out a draft or prefer to shape a story without putting it to the page. Especially for those working without any kind of manuscript, it’s a good idea to have in mind a first line, the ending, the moments or scenes needed to shape the story, and any tricky transitions.

Once you’ve got these in place or in mind, you’ve got a story and you get to edit for clarity, impact, and length.

More tips for preparing a story from Gilead Chicago.

How can I convince Church Council it's a good idea?

How can I convince Church Council it's a good idea?

You’ve been bitten by the bug and you think your community ought to do some storytelling: a workshop, a weekend intensive, as part of your annual fundraiser. But how to talk about it with folks who haven’t experienced it?

Earshot has a couple of resources for you to share: we think of this as our “rationale” for storytelling in congregations, a jumping off point for conversation about “why storytelling?” And here’s a slicker, less wordy, more picture-y flier to share.

As usual, though, feel free to reach out with questions and dream about what’s possible in your context! it any good? it any good?

In spring of 2019, Earshot headed to the Pacific Northwest. Pastor Gail Rautman, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (Lynnwood, WA) had this to say:

Rebecca Anderson was the keynote speaker at a three day Bishop's Convocation for the Northwest Washington Synod of the ELCA. Not only did she present several dynamic, engaging, and oftentimes very funny sessions on the art of storytelling, she coached three pastors prior to the event to share their stories with the group as well. Rebecca is personable, energetic, and passionate about her work, inspiring the participants to incorporate more storytelling into their preaching, pastoral care, and other professional work. One participant stated that this was the best Bishop's Convocation he had attended, thanks to Rebecca's contributions to our time together. If you have the opportunity to hear Rebecca's storytelling, don't miss out! If you have the opportunity for her to engage with your particular group, she comes highly recommended by the pastors and deacons of the Pacific Northwest!

Some feedback from Rev Michael Karunas, Central Christian Church (Decatur, IL), November, 2017:

Rebecca Anderson led a fantastic 3-day storytelling workshop for our congregation which culminated in a storytelling event with 7 first-time storytellers and over 60 in attendance.  I cannot recommend her highly enough for congregations and para-church organizations interested in storytelling. 

Rebecca’s easy-going demeanor and talent for communicating things clearly not only put the 15 workshop participants at ease but enabled them to get in touch with some of the many stories that lie within them.  Her clear passion for the value of storytelling is itself inspiring, as is her ability to encourage apprehensive storytellers while simultaneously offering critical feedback gently.  A master storyteller herself, her passion for drawing out the transforming stories within us is evident in all she does.  

Workshop handout

Workshop handout

You're probably here because you recently attended an Earshot workshop where we promised you could get additional copies of the handout. We said, "Go to the website! Go to the blog!" And maybe you've already been here, looking for it, with nothing to show for your efforts. Well, we're finally getting our act together. Here is our one-pager, the Cliffs Notes version of our workshop. Feel free to make copies, but please do let folks know where you got it.