Seven Steps to Storytelling By Kate Farrell

Kate Farrell, author of Story Power, has written a blog post for every storyteller out there looking to perfect their technique.

These seven steps work! They demystified the storytelling art for many thousands trained in the Word Weaving Storytelling Project. They concentrate on the internal elements of the framing process, and do not reduce the art to a superficial set of delivery skills. Taken one by one, each step adds to the depth of the storytelling experience, so that it is an unforgettable one.

Seven Steps: The Basic Technique

  • Select a story you want to tell.
  • Learn the structure and frame the story in sections.
  • Visualize the settings and characters.
  • See the action take place as if you’re watching a silent movie.
  • Tell the story aloud, using your voice to project the images you’ve visualized.
  • Learn the story by heart, not word for word.
  • Practice telling the story until it comes naturally.

1. Story Selection

There are many ways to find, select, and create a story worth telling. Some storytellers follow their emotional charge in recalling an experience; some use an object, a photo, a prompt, a journal, or a writing exercise. All of these are compelling ways to begin this first step of story selection.

Whatever process you use, the story that begins to come into focus must eventually have these essential features for a personal narrative to be effective and memorable:

  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Conflict, tension
  • Narrative arc of rising action, increasing tension
  • Sensory images within the action
  • Dialogue within the action, if possible
  • Resolution of conflict

Continue to refine your memory of an incident to recall sensory details, the inherent conflict or problem. The conflict or rising action can be an expectation or the beginning of an adventure with some anticipation—whatever makes us sit up and listen, asking that all-important question: What happens next?

2. Frame the story in sections.

Once you’ve selected a story, frame it, using keywords and images, if possible. Draw the structure of the story any way you wish: with a storyboard to show the scenes, an outline to lists its sequence, a narrative arc to show the rise and fall of action, on index cards—each card with a section of the tale, or with a mind map. Whatever form you use, you are now determining the shape of the story.

This is not a script, but a framing with trigger words, drawings, and images. A written script tends to restrict a spontaneous telling, one that is interactive with the audience.

3. Visualize the Settings and Characters.

Imagine each setting as if it were a movie set. Forget the plot for a moment and look around your story’s environment. Notice small details. See color and light. You are invisible on the set. All your senses function except your hearing. For now, the imaginary world of your story is silent.

This exercise calls upon your powers of concentrations and may produce sketchy results at first. But stay with it. If you can see only a few sensory details, try to sustain them as long as you are able. With practice, you’ll be able to step into its atmosphere after a rain storm, for example: feel the slippery, wet grass; smell the distant rain; feel the damp chill on your skin; pick the battered rose in the garden, or taste the tangy bite of a fallen apple.

Now that you have a good mental picture of the setting, add the characters and their habits. See their mouths move as they talk, make facial expressions, and hand gestures. Notice their clothes, their coloring, the expression in their eyes, how they move. With this step, you have built and populated the world of the story with your accurate memory and focused imagination.

4. See the action take place as if you’re watching a silent movie.

Close your eyes and run the silent movie of the full story. Begin with the first segment of your story and let the action roll. If you can’t visualize the story from beginning to end, keep trying: Go back to your graphic organizer and start again. As you watch the story scenes move in exact sequence, get a sense for which are fast-paced and which move slowly. Let the story build to its climactic scene, then let it wind down to the end. Switch off your silent movie projector.

This is the most important part of storytelling preparation. To the extent that you can visualize the story clearly, pausing within its structure (in your mind’s eye), you’ll be able to speed it up, slow it down, adapt it to different listeners or audiences, and change it each time you tell it. When I practice for a storytelling presentation, I often have my eyes closed, reviewing the action, setting, and characters. This is much more essential step than rehearsing a written script.

5. Tell the story aloud, using your voice to project the images you’ve visualized.

Using your voice is the most exciting and magical step of all. The reason you’ve been a silent witness to the story settings, characters, and action is to keep your creative, inner focus on the visual and sensory elements. You create all the sound the story will ever have. Your voice is the story’s sound track: You provide a  credible description, narrative, dialogue, sound effects, and emotional tone.

Tell your story a few times, refining the expression of your voice to reflect the story images, its emotions, and dialogue. You might record your telling of the story and listen to your own voice, as you continue to build the inner world with the eye of your imagination. Seeing and telling is a dynamic, powerful practice.

6. Learn the story by heart, not word for word.

Deepen your connection to the story by isolating the truth in the story and relating it to your own truths. Spend time doing some research to verify the accuracy of your personal story. Consult with friends or family members who were there or had similar experiences. Even though you might not add the details you research or learn from eye witnesses to the tale, they verify what you have remembered. You might then listen to your recording of the story and close your eyes, at a time when you are most relaxed. Think about what the symbolism of the story means to you. Your understanding of the layers of meaning in a story greatly adds to the telling of it.

7. Practice telling the story until it comes naturally.

There are any number of ways to practice telling a story. You could play the recorded story and join in with your live voice until there is no hesitation in the flow of words. Recruit your family, friends, or pets for a live audience—often the best way. Tell it to a mirror without notes and watch your facial expressions and hand gestures. Videotape your telling and play it back. For further refinement and to embed the story deeply within your mind, tell it while you’re driving, jogging, or showering.

A story when told is never perfectly performed, because it is always changing. Storytelling is an interactive, dynamic art with its listeners as co-creators. Spontaneity modifies and adapts the telling to each new audience and situation.


Story Power by Kate Farrell

Story power

Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories

Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.