Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Being the Storyteller We Love

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

Grandma was a wonderful storyteller. Twenty-seven years after her death, I doubt even one cousin would fail to recognize her tales after just one or two phrases. We loved sitting around her in the living room listening to her yarns and trying to decipher truth from fiction.

My grandmother wasn’t a writer. She could spell and write just enough to scribble a recipe or do her bank business, but she WAS a storyteller and she was a story maker. I suppose my love of writing stemmed from her. The desire to spin a tale that was memorable, be it humorous or touching, was something I wanted.

Becoming a good storyteller begins with life experiences. It’s learning to take your own experiences, and those of others, then adding a friendly twist. I remember my uncles trying to “out tell” one another. They would make up characters, add them to a story and ramp up the fun. The truth is, those stories still live on in our family. Every cousin continues to embellish them more.

We’re writers. We spin tales. Aren’t we already storytellers? Yes and No. It’s easy to put a story on the page and leave out those tidbits that take your story from flat to fabulous. Storytelling is not just in the story. It’s in the carefully crafted moments that ding the emotion of your reader. Sometimes it’s the comic relief needed to give the reader a breath in an intense moment. Other times, it’s in the banter of your characters. It’s important to remember to include the finer details and never assume our reader just “gets it” or automatically fills in the blanks. Tweaking your storytelling skills takes practice. It takes time to lose the attitude that there is only one way to tell your story, then loosen up enough to try something unexpected. 

Follow these steps to help you become a better storyteller.

Add humor to banter: 
Take time to listen to conversations around you. Even serious conversations carry a bit of humor. This doesn’t mean you lessen the topic, it simply means that even in hard talks we need a breath of air. For example, I recently attended a funeral of a good friend. As sad as the family was over the loss of their granddad, they found themselves smiling, even laughing out loud, in the midst of their loss because of the joy of fun memories. Those moments certainly didn’t overtake the loss, but they did provide a moment for family members to find joy in the grief. This is a great lesson for writers. When you write those hard and intense scenes provide a line, a thought, or a moment that allows the reader, a breath. Readers need that moment to recuperate from the intensity. Once they get that, then they can move ahead with excitement wondering what is to come. The key is not to overdo. 

Expound on the finer details:
Writing a scene requires a great deal of thought so as you ponder, look at the finer details. Beef up your descriptions. Again, learning to not overdo is important lest you be accused of RUE. There is a balance so if your character is a bit OCD, take a line or two to show (not tell) how the OCD interferes. Let’s look at a quick example of how to add a finer point.

Joe’s eyes fixed on a picture behind Lilly. He tried not to let the tilt of the frame distract him from her instruction.

“Remember, pick up Sissy at daycare at 3 today, not 2. And Jeb will have to be at ball practice at 6. Dinner is in the fridge.” She cocked her head. “Are you listening?” Joe nodded.

Now let’s add a finer point the reader can relate to.

She cocked her head and eyed her husband. “Are you listening?” Joe nodded but his attention was fixed on a lighthouse that looked like the leaning tower of Pisa.

We don’t overdo it but we do let the reader see the finer point of how OCD distracts.

Relax and allow real life to enter in
So often we are focused on telling the reader a story that we forget the reality of the world around us. Even in fiction, life experiences are still based in reality. We are so determined to write tight, that we leave out things that make our story shine. Just to say Suzy is having a hard life certainly cuts down on the word count but the why is important. Why is Suzy having a hard life? This is why learning to be a good storyteller takes practice. Readers don’t need every detail but they need enough to feel the emotion of the character. If we have Mark and Suzy in a cafĂ© having a serious discussion, it’s not necessarily important to know that the salt shaker turned over and spilled on the red checkered tablecloth that had a wrinkle in it. It would be important if we knew in Suzy’s despair, her fingers walked the material of the tablecloth into a wrinkle. Now we see her stress and that is important.

Work to make your stories sing. Continue to write good solid words, and avoid wordiness. It’s a fine line but as you master the skill your stories will take on a new life. Readers will flip the pages quickly because you have drawn them in and make your work exciting. Be the storyteller you can be.

Being the Storyteller We Love - @CindyDevoted on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. She is the cofounder of ChristianDevotions.us and the executive editor of ChristianDevotions.us and InspireaFire.com. Cindy is the managing editor for Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, both imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is an award-winning and best-selling author and the director of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com. @cindydevoted


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  2. Wonderful counsel Ms. Cindy. I love how you guide us to allow "real life" dictate the story. I take that to mean "what questions would that scene leave you with?" If we can answer those questions, then perhaps we have a better chance to keep our readers engaged in our story. I think that's the goal. God's blessings ma'am.

  3. I love this. You are quite talented and I love learning your tidbits. Thank you Cindy.

    1. Indeed. It's easy to lose sight of the art of storytelling. Thanks. I'm glad these things are useful.

  4. Thank you. I hope these tidbits are useful.

  5. Thank you for practical advice we can apply to our writing TODAY. And I love the vignette about your grandmother. Now we understand a little more about you, too. :) Blessings to you for your heart of storytelling AND teaching. We are blessed.