Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Weekly Geeks 5# Other forms of story telling

My form of story telling is to tell adults… legends, myths, fairy tales, riddles, urban tales, and moral fables from around the world. Sometimes, I tell listening stories, sometimes sharing stories and sometimes stories they grow. Cinderella is a listening story, the Turtle of Koka is a sharing story (I chant some lines, they respond to what is chanted) and a growing story asks questions of the audience so they shape what is told. When you do story telling you pull at the roots of human language and consciousness. If you want to be real fancy, talk about the historical role of stories in breaking down a bicameral mind in which cognitive functions, divide the brain, into "speaking”, and listening/obeying sections. Think facing a problem and hearing a “god” giving instructions rather then reflecting on your choices. This view draws on the controversial theories of psychologist, Julian Jaynes.

But I wander away from story telling that for me draws on two separate traditions, improvisation and Bardic telling. The show to see is Whose Line Is It Anyway, (comedians create characters, scenes and songs on the spot, in the style of short-form improvisation games) for getting an idea of the skills needed. If you want to know more then the guru is Keith Johnson and his book Impro for Storytellers. Try the what happen next game in which the audience gives a negative and then a positive suggestion to build up a story, its fun.

The bardic tradition combines music, poetry and storytelling based on a pagan love of nature. You tell classical Celtic stories such as The Sons of Tuirenn that lasts 20-30 minutes or even an hour. The Bardic Handbook by Kevan Manwaring gives you an idea of how to tell stories within a modern Celtic Bardic tradition as part of a contemporary pagan life.

My style combines the two forms. I use the Dragon teeth technique. Essentially, you break a story into nine images related to a 3-act structure. You then use this to improvise the story to or with the audience. I also take traditional stories, and adapt these to another period or situation. For example, I adapted a Persian story and set it in the Chicago gang politics of the 1920’s and a Celtic story and told it as if describing the gang fights of the early Edwardian London East End. I look for real gangster stories and incidents and then adapt them to the structure of the traditional story. The Dragon teeth approach is also good for taking stilted 19th century accounts of traditional stories and giving them back to an audience again. I also want to retell the stories with three-dimensional characters as works of fiction … one day, one day. As they say, may my story live in you for your telling.


  1. Hi John - thanks for stopping by. I very much enjoyed your post, especially where you explain how to readapt stories to make the revelant/interesting to different audiences. Fantastic!

  2. Awesome, John. If you lived closer, I'd stop by to actually see you perform. (Unless you're planning a trip to the US anytime soon..)

  3. Hi, waves at Heather and Melissa, thanks and story telling is great fun. Sadly my US tour is still delayed!

  4. Fascinating post. The Dragon teeth method sounds very similar to a very standard method of film narration. Happy WG.

  5. Sounds like great fun, John! The "growing stories" especially.

    Thanks for the tip about Jaynes. Always great to read about different perspectives on cognition and communication. For a new twist, you might enjoy some of the recent work on embodied communication.

    Keep us posted about your US tour, or maybe a video podcast :)

  6. Your methods sound great, and I'd love to see you perform one day. Whose Line is one of my favourite shows _ when it's on. :)


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