"Do I have enough stories for the work I want to do?" is a common question I hear. The number of stories you need changes based on where and when you will be using your stories. That's the short answer. Generally, you need three times the stories you think you will need. A one-hour concert is best served with three hours of available content.
As a coach, I like to think of the question a bit deeper. I think it's important to recognize the type of stories a teacher or teller needs, not just the volume of stories. I'm not referring to the question of folktale versus personal tale, but the bigger idea of the how an artist processes the stories they know (or will know) in their repertoire.
Here are the Six Stories I think you need. All of this is flexible, with and ebb and flow of where your stories fit. I also think that these concepts apply across all the situations where you use oral storytelling including business, education, entertainment or inspirational settings.
Stories That Promote Change
"With great power comes great responsibility." –Spiderman's Uncle
Let's start with the most obvious type of stories, recognized by grifters and preachers alike. Why be an artist (or trainer) if you don't want to make an impact? Your stories well told will move an audience in some manner. Sadness to joy, inaction to action, dying to rising, there to here are all changes that you can facilitate with your stories. Embrace the catalyst you have in the stories of your collection.
Stories That Inspire Awe In You, The Storyteller
"The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper." –Eden Philpotts
While there are many situations where you will use storytelling, you will always have "that one" story that summarizes some of the transcendence you feel in your life and work. The arts inspire, motivate and create wonder. As an artist, as a communicator, you will need these stories to remember that you are using an art form that moves beyond the surface, that connects on deeper levels when you are overwhelmed with the "why am I bothering to do this" moments.
I've seen this "one story" with all my coaching clients. Perhaps you use storytelling in healing settings and your story centers around one patient or client and their journey. Maybe it's a story about something you as the teacher learned from the student. In a business setting, your story might be about how your work actually made an impact on your customers.
Stories That Are Workhorses
"Do…or Do Not. There is no try." –Yoda (Star Wars)
The working artist, from stage to staff room, is working a job. Communication, storytelling and teaching are often jobs. While the fresh-faced artistic apprentice (of any age) might get caught in the inspirational or transcendent storytelling, the specialist knows the routines and pacing of when stories are presented and repeated. I have malleable stories that I nearly always tell, enough to create varied presentations even for the same audience in the jobs I hold (and am honored to have) as their presenter. Don't be afraid to have many workhorse stories. Their reliable presence in your artistic "day job" makes it possible to tell the previously mentioned stories that inspire awe.
Stories That Are Funny
“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.” -Oscar Wilde
to the workhorses, you need stories in your collection that are simply
entertaining and funny. Funny stories gather groups, break tensions and
build relationships. I've never known of a setting where a funny or
lighter story couldn't be used. This is a very broad category of stories
that requires cultural sensitivity and a light touch. The days of the
public-speaking "tell a joke first" are gone. In its place are full
stories that are fully crafted and deftly told.
Stories You Don't Tell Anymore
"…the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity." –Calvin Coolidge
We all must develop and change. Cultures change, from the overall norms of society to the microcosm of your school or business. Your story repertoire is a mix of fallow and planting, composting and reaping. As an artist, you will find that a story that once made sense (and may have been a workhorse) no longer fits your viewpoints. As a communicator, you must abandon stories that are no longer appropriate for a changing world. I have been at storytelling for more than three decades. When I look at old set lists, I find story titles that I don't even recognize or titles I remember but think, "nope, I'm done with that." New growth as an artist requires the compost of the old journey.
Stories You Won't Ever Tell
"The better part of valor is discretion; in the better part I have saved my life." –Shakespeare
There are stories you should not tell to an audience. Your deepest stories of pain or conflict are best shared among your closest friends or therapists. Don't drop your problems on your audience. Don't reveal everything. In an age of oversharing, you might struggle to recognize the stories that need to be reserved for only the most particular of circumstances. Knowing that all artists have these stories and recognizing your own untellable stories is a sign of maturity as a person and artist.
Whickety Whack, Six Stories in Your Sack
I hope, in these Six Stories, you find a better understanding of your work with story. I'd be interested in hearing from you if you have a category that isn't covered by one of these six settings. Need some more tips? Take a look at my Tips Book at storytellingtips.com.
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.