Spinning Straw into Gold

Learn the art of storytelling from Kate Farrell (author of Story Power), expert of all things stories.

And when the girl was brought to him, the king took her
into a room which was quite full of straw, gave her a
spinning-wheel and a reel, and said, “Now set to work,
and if by morning you have not spun this straw into gold,
you must die.”
So there sat the poor miller’s daughter, and
for the life of her could not tell what to do—she had no
idea how straw could be spun into gold.

“Rumpelstiltskin” -Brothers Grimm

How do we take our raw experiences, half-remembered, fragmented, and spin that seedy straw into the golden threads of a memorable story well-told?

Whether you want to enliven a dinner conversation, engage an audience, roast a retiring colleague, or toast your best friend, a sparkling story will make you unforgettable while elevating the moment. The gold coinage of story adds value to everyday exchanges, either social or professional.

The raw stuff of our life experiences can become entertaining, inspiring, even motivating when shaped into a well-crafted tale and told with effective techniques.

It’s true that we are surrounded each day by piles of straw: the mass substance of experience, the constant flow of incidents, the non-stop sensory impressions, and the emotional impact of it all. Our castle room is full, up to the rafters.

How do we, the magical alchemist, the storyteller, spin that material into gold? What experience is not only vivid, memorable, has emotional charge, and personal significant, but has universal value?

The golden thread is one that has a through line, that connects the listener and the reader in a deeper way—that has value for both.

Capture that thread! Spin your experiences for the telling. Share a signature story at a job interview or a childhood story on a date: Personal stories are a way to immediately connect. And when they are crafted and well-told, you’ll engage your listeners so that they remember you, because they will have identified with you.

We are all a story, a life story. We may see people’s stories more clearly after they’ve lived them to the end, when we know how everything turned out. But stories are just as exciting in the middle, when we don’t know what’s going to happen—when we are living each day. It would be good to share our stories with one another along the way. If only for the sheer entertainment of it, we might amuse each other with our predicaments. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to begin. So, we mostly keep to ourselves and talk about the news, the weather, loose ends.

Some people seem to tell stories about themselves better than others. They’re animated, amusing, entertaining, and so believable. When you listen to them, you’re drawn right into the experience. What enables one person to tell stories and events better than another, personality aside, is the use of a few techniques that require some initial concentration. After you learn the basic dynamic that builds credibility, it becomes second nature. That is the art of storytelling


Though we follow the storytelling art from a raw idea to a narrative shape through a variety of means, we keep to the basic elements that make up every successful story:

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

In addition, doing some research and finding layers of meaning within each curated tale adds depth. This is the critical weave in the telling, one that changes you and the listener.

The more you can tell without saying, the more impact your story will have. In theater, this is the subtext; in written memoir, it’s the commentary of the author. In the live, oral art of storytelling, the complexity of deeper meanings in your story is delivered with tone, mood, voice, gesture, and emotion.

We weave the first threads in the storytelling process through creating and crafting, but the real magic takes place in a live telling. Certainly, you will have changed as you focused on your life experiences in a written piece, a journal entry, a free write draft, story outline, or storyboard. When you selected and shaped your stories, you created them in an intensive framework, learned more about yourself, and the core lessons of your life.

But the storytelling alchemy is complete only when you tell your story aloud. That is when the transformation takes place: Telling your story to a live audience, even in a private conversation, is the point of maximum change. Not only do you contribute to the social discourse by sharing wisdom, honoring the personal over mass media, the live connection over the digital, but you produce a dynamic dialogue with a live audience.

At some point, you are all telling the story together, adding meaning and dimension: an ever-changing tapestry.


Source: Excerpts from Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories by Kate Farrell, Mango Publishing, 2020.

Read more about Kate Farrell and her storytelling book: katefarrell.net

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.

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