Friday, October 28, 2016

Fantastic Tips & Takeaways from "Tell your Story, Then Write it" Panel

-By Pat Mcnees

We had a great turnout for our panel discussion, Tell Your Story, Then Write It, on October 1. Organizers Ellouise Schoettler and Solveig Eggerz were joined by panelists Dario DiBattista, Jessica Robinson, Len Kruger, and Pat McNees. We’re posting this blog to have the good information from the program available online. Thanks to Pat McNees for compiling these notes, and to all the participants for their contribution.
Panel organizer Ellouise Schoettler, a nationally known storyteller, currently performs two one-woman shows she created about women in the military who served in France during WWI. She has a sign hanging in her office: "Tell your story before someone else does it and gets it wrong."
Panel organizer Solveig Eggerz's process for developing true stories is to tell the story first, then write it--or tell, then develop it, then write it.  Important factors in good storytelling are voice, gesture, and facial expression, which she demonstrated. Solveig uses storytelling as a pre-writing activity in her memoir and personal stories workshops
Len Kruger noted that good storytellers avoid self-aggrandisement and pompous language; likeability is important.  He also observed that nobody wants to hear about a happy wedding.  They want to hear a good story about how a wedding went wrong. 
Many workshop participants value "writing prompts" as a vehicle for summoning memories to create a particular story.
Professional oral storytellers don't memorize their stories, says Ellouise. You want to remember "beats" and actions. She quoted Donald Davis as telling people to think of stories as crossing a creek -- you need to get six stones across the creek. You need to know what's supposed to happen -- what series of actions occur. You don't need to remember all the words. Davis offers workshops and has published two books. For more info go
Panelist Jessica Robinson is founder of Better Said Than Done,  a venue for true-story-telling evenings and good storytelling workshops in Fairfax Virginia. Robinson is also author of a novel, Caged, which was recently published. : She said she finds stories through themes and soul-searching, and being on the lookout for stories. For example, if an important occasion goes wrong, think about how you can turn that into a story.

Dario DiBattista noted that It is okay to use bad language, and storytellers can start a sentence with "and." He also noted the  ways storytellers can use their voices to alter meanings in storytelling, using  “Mary had a little lamb,” to illustrate: MARY had a little lamb, or Mary HAD a little lamb.

Pat McNees uses writing prompts but also encourages her memoir writing students to try to find the names of the people and the stories behind old family photos. These can be particularly helpful if you are trying to collect stories from people who may be shy or inarticulate – whom she interviews at length to get the material to turn into the stories within the story of a memoir. When she is collecting stories from experts, she does NOT (as journalists do) deeply research the subject before an interview; she asks dumb questions (What is an X?) because she wants experts to explain their field in their own language, not assuming that their audience understands the jargon of their field.  

The panelists mentioned several other resources:
 Telling Your Own Stories by Donald Davis (memory prompts and more)
 Writing as a Second Language by Donald Davis. From experience to story to prose. When we talk about language arts in our school, we focus on reading and writing instead of nourishing the whole oral and kinesthetic package that is our spoken language. Davis argues that we must step back into our familiar “first” language―the spoken word―as our creative medium and learn to “translate” into that new foreign language called writing. He argues that talking and writing need not be mutually exclusive in language de
Kevin Allison's Risk is a podcast of true stories told aloud.
Before people try out for that storytelling venue it is helpful to hear the storytelling training seminar available through his website:

Panelists recommended Neil Hilburn, who tells stories about mental illness, lightening heavy themes with his self-deprecating sense of humor and willingness to not take himself too seriously. He emphasizes the importance of having a range of emotions. One of his stories, OCD, went viral. You can hear it on YouTube:
Panelists recommended the following books:
 From Plot to Narrative by Elizabeth Ellis (step-by-step process for creating and enhancing stories)
 Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis. A difficult story can powerfully alter not only he who tells it but also they who hear it.

The Narrative Nonfiction section of Pat MeNees’ website, Writers and Editors, has a partial list of venues for stories told aloud to a live audience:
and another on digital and radio storytelling:

Dario DiBattista leads writing workshops with The Veterans Writing Project. He is editor of a just published anthology Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan.

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