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Introduction to Storytelling

Updated on March 7, 2014

The Magic of Storytelling

This is the first of my articles on the magic of storytelling.

It is aimed at anyone who wants to tell stories to others. You may be a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher - or maybe interested in becoming a professional storyteller.

'Introduction to Storytelling' contains advice from professional story-tellers, a clip of a storyteller in action, a link to our storytelling festival, and a chance for you to tell me what stories you like. So please do join in. To succeed this site needs the two of us, me and you, to make it fly.

Whoever you are, and whatever your reasons for reading this, you are very welcome here.

Wonder ... Danger ... Safety

One of my earliest memories is listening to my grandmother telling me a story.

She took me on a magical journey into a forest full of wonder - and danger, too. There was a heroine, and a threat to her in the shape of a fierce, fiery dragon. There was a tipping point in the story when the battle between our heroine and the dragon could have gone either way. But with the help of the brave, benign creatures of the forest, she won the day and the dragon slunk back into its cave.

Why was this such a magical experience? Because there was fantasy, danger, imagination - and safety too. My grandmother's reassuring voice and presence supplied the safety net.

I could venture in my mind into the unknown, but knew that I would be safe; that my grandmother would not let harm come to me. The message behind the story - that people will rally behind goodness and decency, rather than oppression and menace - was indirectly supplied too by my grandmother; her own decency and love of people reinforced the message for me.

Perhaps that is the wonder of stories for children. Each new story stretches the child's imagination a little further. It takes them beyond the known into the risk of the unknown, but with the safety and security of home nearby to reassure them.

Each new story, each new step, takes the child further into the adult world of risk and uncertainty. In time the child may begin to write his or her own stories, bringing their own experiences of life into the frame in a direct or indirect way.

In adult life, story telling reminds us of these childhood experiences. A good story teller will reawaken the magic for us; revive the spirit of imagination in our pragmatic lives, remind us of universal values that we all share, regardless of culture and social backgrounds.

We have it in us to be good story tellers. Let's find out how.

Chris Bostock.  Photo: Settle Stories
Chris Bostock. Photo: Settle Stories

Once There Was ...

To be a good storyteller?

First you need a good story. I asked CHRIS BOSTOCK, a professional storyteller, what makes a good story, and why?

"The stories that delight me most are the ones where you can see the whole story in your mind as soon as it's told. They are the time stoppers, the stories that make you forget the time and space around you, that hold you in their arms and make you feel better about the world".

"That doesn't mean I don't want to be challenged or surprised, and to laugh, or to even nurse a tear - good stories take you on a journey of delightful discovery - and I'm ready to go!"

"Whether the stories are about animals or humans, all the emotions are there. Stories from different cultures literally take us to another place and there we can learn to feel empathy with other people's lives and priorities".

" Wherever we travel we take stories with us and carry others back - and it's always interesting to meet a story you know in a completely different setting. I tell stories from other places as a reminder that we all share the same world and same feelings - it's these thoughts and images that bind us together as humans."


Practice, Practice, Practice

How had CHRIS developed his skills as a professional storyteller?

"I listen, practice, listen, practice, listen, sing, dream, smile, reflect. And then listen more, read, listen, reflect, listen, practice, listen, talk, listen, and tell. Yes, you have to do more listening than telling!"

" Get selected listeners to tell you truthfully everything they thought about the stories and the way you told them. Oh! And keep on listening!"

" Remember too, that the story is more important than the teller, the story has to be remembered, not the teller. And the third is to enjoy - no, really enjoy - and make sure that you can be heard!"

Photo: Settle Stories
Photo: Settle Stories

My Tips

Hello I'm Sita Brand, author of this article. I have been a professional storyteller for ... years!

Here are my own tips for good storytelling:


Choose a story that you like and that you enjoy telling. If you don't enjoy it your audience won't either.

Whatever story you choose, don't read it from a book. That isn't storytelling, it's story reading and unless you are the author you could be infringing copyright.

You could tell a folktale, a story handed down from one generation to another. You could use a real life story, from history or personal experience. Or you could make up a story.


Memorise the outline, not the whole story. Then tell the story in your own words. Practice makes perfect. Practice in front of a mirror or with friends and family. Visualise your story. Imagine sounds, tastes, smells and colours. Picture your characters, how they behave, walk and talk.


Beginnings are especially important. Launch straight into the story and avoid a long preamble. Common beginnings are things like, "Once upon a time," ; or " My grandmother told me... "; or "In the long ago and far away..."

Endings should be clear to your listeners. They want to know that you have come to the end. You may need to slow down. Common ending are things like, "They lived happily ever after," or "Ever since then that's how it's been."

Use repetition. Traditional tales often use the rule of three, to build the tension in a story. Think of the Three Little Pigs or Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Vary the tone,pitch and pace of your story. Don't be afraid to use a little silence. Be confident. Even if you don't feel confident, just pretend. It's surprising how quickly your confidence will grow.

Most of all have fun - and enjoy your storytelling.

Photo: Settle Stories
Photo: Settle Stories

Now, Sit Back and Enjoy a Good Story

Finally, sit back an enjoy a good story by professional storyteller, Mara Menzies.

Click on the link below to hear the story: 'How it came to be that women eat meat'.

Mara Menzies

Do you like telling or listening to stories? I'd love to hear from you.

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