Observing our storytelling work – what are we looking for?

If you paint or sketch regularly, you know the habit of backing off for observation. After working for an hour or two you take a break, go make some coffee or brew tea, and come back to take a seat and watch what you’ve done.

This habit of backing off and observing for ten or twenty minutes, develops the ability to understand what ‘works’ and what does not ‘work’. You learn to discern, to understand how the shapes, lines and colors on the page translate into something that moves you, influences your thoughts and feelings – or doesn’t.

The same happens in writing. You write and write and write, then take a break to observe – or is it something else? In writing, observing the text you’ve written from afar won’t do much. What we actually observe or sense or try and detect, are the results of reading the text. Through this act we learn to discern what we are really writing about, the parts that should stay from the parts that can go. What word combinations move the phrases, capture the mind, tickle the imagination, open up new questions and provoke engagement. We find the word combinations, phrases and clauses that have no power anymore. At least not in the context we’ve created this time.

And then there is storytelling work. I tell for several sessions and then take the time to look back and observe. In this case I don’t have a canvas or a page to look at; neither do I have a stable text on a page. What I have is a memory – of thoughts and sensations, of particular events that occurred during the session, surprises and disappointments after decisions I’ve made while telling, fragments of audience response.

And I was wondering – if I want to elicit this observation habit in storytellers I work with, what should I tell them to look at or look for?

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