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.