Storytelling Exercise | Telling in the Moment

Back to G after a long time I didn’t write about his journey.

As proceeding with his training, another creation emerged – a new sculpture. It is at the foundry now and when it’s ready, I’ll post a picture. It evolved from the work around ‘David’s Lament’. G decided to offer the local ‘master of ceremonies’ to perform the lament on memorial day and she agreed, which got him all worked up around needing to be ‘good’. We went back to the lament and found it drifted back into pathos, sounding memorized more than told in the moment. What struck me most was his attempt to add expressiveness – facial, vocal, physical – in an external manner, not as something emerging from being present in the story. It looked and sounded fake.

Telling in the moment

This expression, often heard among storytellers, ‘feels good’ and is at the same time a mystery to many. “What does it practically mean?” is a thought I’d bet has crossed many storytellers’ minds. How can you be in the moment when another moment is coming up? how can you know you’ve left a moment and told out of it? hmm… tricky questions. Besides, not all moments are created equal. Maybe all minutes are (I’m not sure about that too) but surely not all moments; there are heavier moments and lighter moments, sweeter and more sad – just to mention a few possibilities.

‘Spinning a yarn’

This expression, very often used as a synonym to storytelling, originates in the times marine crews would be twisting together yarns of old rope during days too nasty to go to sea. What do you do when your hands are busy with such a task for long hours? share stories. The same is true for knitting, winding yarn and spinning.

Find someone knitting (they are back!) and talk to them or look at them talking to someone else. It seems the knitting helps the words come out and vice versa. They can stop knitting for a moment to emphasize something they want to say and go back, falling into heavy silence for a couple of seconds, as if rearranging their thoughts and getting them in order like the knitting they are busy with. Sometimes they might unstitch or unravel a piece and then go forward again taking the story back and forth with them. That’s telling in the moment – and you can see the moments and their special quality if you keep your eyes on the yarn job.

Exercise: story cord

Use a strong cord that can’t stretch. Your telling needs to stretch and a firm cord will be the appropriate counterpart. The best would be to have as much cord as possible, even an entire reel; 10 meters you can use back and forth can do too. For the first part you’ll also need a buddy and a story, preferably short, 5-7 minutes long.

Part I

Place both your hands on the cord as if trying to grasp it lightly. Your buddy’s part is to pull the cord in a stable pace through your hands while you tell. As the cord moves, keep your eyes on the part emerging from your gentle grip – that is where you can ‘see’ time. When the cord reaches its end, buddy just pulls it back starting with the other end. The cord needs to go through your hands smoothly so you can ‘feel time’ too, as you tell. From experience my recommendation to buddy is – keep pulling from about half a meter away – don’t walk with the cord because it will become very difficult to control.

Part II

Here buddy listens, sitting in front of you. Tell the story while pulling the cord with one hand through the other, watching the bit leaving your grip. Try and work with the cord the way you feel – is the story moving fast? so should the cord. It’s not a technical thing – try and find the right pace of fast for that specific phrase. Sometimes you’ll feel you want to stop the cord and speak over that stop; then you’ll start moving the cord again, naturally. Just keep listening to what comes up. Sometimes the cord will help you illustrate something in the story – do it, don’t criticize. Sometimes you’ll feel a need to repeat something or lean on the rope for a while, stretching a word or a syllable – just do it.

When the story is over, ask buddy what it was like. Then let the cord down and tell again. It won’t be fake – you can be pretty sure about that.

Telling in the moment

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3 thoughts on “Storytelling Exercise | Telling in the Moment

  1. Pingback: Storytelling Exercise | Telling in the Moment

  2. Late in seeing this, but LOVE this! I will share with our Drama Ministry as we begin a section on Storytelling next year. I found I did the same thing while cleaning my house with a friend to help. In talking I or she worked and told naturally, sometimes going faster or slower, and then there were times we just had to stop working to emphasize a point. Then back to work. Love this explanation of “in the moment”.

    • Happy you like it. Physical action helps feel time, doesn’t it?

      I don’t think there is much “late to see” on this blog. You are welcome to visit anytime.

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