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Story selection - storytelling to adults

11 Jul 06 - 10:08 AM (#1781008)
Subject: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

I hope you don't mind my posting this in the music threads; it is about performance so I think it probably does belong here.

I have been storytelling for almost a year now. There is not a storytelling circle where I am, though I do go away to festivals and events, and a storytelling circle occasionally. Too expensive for me to do all the time. So one of my main places for telling a story at the moment is turning up at a local folk club with a story. My first couple of stories were fine as I chose a couple of local legends that were good ghost stories. Fine for adults!   

I have had more trouble choosing subsequent stories though. There is a definite sense that stories are for children rather than adults. Kiddies' tales as one person called stories. I did tell this particular gentleman that there were stories that were suitable for adults and he went, "You mean sexy, like?" I hastened to say that no, I meant more complex!!!

The audiences don't have much background in storytelling. I have lost count of the times people say, "Do you write them yourself?" and "How do learn all those words?" I tell traditional folk tales. Most of the audiences have seen very few storytellers - Taffy Thomas at Whitby mainly. My own main role model is actually Stanley Robertson as I was fortunate enough to live in Aberdeen for a year when I was younger and Stanley used to tell quite often at the folk club. Over the last year I have been to storytelling events up and down the country so have now seen quite a good number of top storytellers. This has probably made my background wider than my friends who go to the folk clubs with me.

I am trying to choose some new material to tell at the clubs at the moment. The golden rule in story selection is to choose a story you love. Well actually I love a whole lot of stories so that is no problem. But how do I choose stories that my audiences will love too?

I asked a few friends at the club what they liked. Big mistake! One said he didn't like happy endings, another wanted exciting stories and a third said he didn't want fairy stories. I'm no further forward.

Can you advice me please on what would be the definite no-no's?   I'm avoiding the classic fairy tales that most people have learnt as a child (but don't rule out interesting variants). I'm avoiding imps, elves, pixies and fairies (unless it's a really good story) because of the poor way that this area was treated by the Victorians.

Where does that leave me with the vast amounts of stories with magic in them - many wonderful stories? Or the many excellent stories with animals in them? Will they be considered childish? I have seen many top storytellers with a gift for bringing these stories to life, even for adult audiences.

I am still fairly close to being a beginner; it takes a very long time to become a highly skilled storyteller so I am not going to be as good telling them as a professional is. And I've also managed to score an own goal I think as I am also a singer and my songs generally are very well received.

If anyone could give me some tips I would be most grateful. Thank you.

11 Jul 06 - 11:23 AM (#1781055)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Wesley S

I have no storytelling experience other than reading books to my 5 year old. I wouldn't be so sure that adults don't want "childish" stories. It's a great relief from the real world. I rather hear about a unicorn or a fairy at the end of the day vs more info about Iraq.

Tell stories you love and others will love them too. {and don't assume they will be too complex for kids either}

11 Jul 06 - 12:19 PM (#1781091)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Bert

Here's some Aine's story page

11 Jul 06 - 12:20 PM (#1781093)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Anne Lister

I'd second Wesley's remarks. In my experience (and I work professionally as a storyteller with all kinds of groups, as well as having run storytelling workshops for all kinds of groups - including prisoners in Dartmoor) adults love all kinds of stories, just as children do. All you have to do is to keep looking at your audience, to remind you that they're adults and can enjoy the story on different levels, and then just go ahead and tell the stories you love best.


11 Jul 06 - 12:22 PM (#1781096)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Bert

And here's another one for ya.

Little Ol' Red Rose - Bert Hansell

It was dark and it was raining.

It was one of those days when you go to work in the dark and work all day, and when you come home it's dark again, and you wonder where the day went.

My wife was complaining, she was complaining about the rain, and complaining about the dark, and complaining about the young un keeping us awake half the night, and complaining that we were late for work.

I said "Well I'm gonna make us a bit later 'cos I've got to stop for gas".

She said "Why didn't you stop for gas last night, you know we never have time in the morning".
I said "Because I was tired and I didn't think of it. Why didn't YOU get gas last night?"

Well, I filled up with gas and went in to pay. I just got out my wallet when I saw her tail lights disappear down the road.

The Manager grinned and said "You're in big trouble now boy". I said, as casual as I could, "Oh she'll be back" adding to myself "I hope".

I said "can I use your phone" he said sure for a local call. So I called the boss and asked if I could have the day off. He said "OK; without pay!"

I got myself a cup of coffee and one of those plastic poncho things and I said to the guy "You'd better give me one of those red roses that you've got in that bucket there".

I went outside to wait in the rain, taking a sip of coffee now and then to keep warm. I looked like a sack of garbage in that plastic poncho, and pretty much felt like one too.

After a while she came back and pulled up alongside. She pushed open the door and said, "I got you a six pack of beer, lets go home and waste what's left of the day" I handed her the rose, and by the look on her face I could see that the day wasn't going to be wasted after all.

Well that was a long time ago now and we've just seen the little un off to college. But we still get a laugh now and then when we pass that gas station.

I'll say "You know the best present I ever had was a six pack of beer, how about you?"
and she'll say "Oh! Just a little ol red rose"

11 Jul 06 - 12:51 PM (#1781115)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you all. I guess I'll just have to mix my types of stories and find out by trial and error which types get the best responses. The stories that I actually like the best tend to be very imaginative ones with a lot of magic in them. But I'll have to mix those with ones that are based more round the human condition.

The incentive is the 6 storyaround sessions in Whitby next month at the Folk Week. Some of my older material is suitable but I could do with some newer ones. I would prefer to have tested them at a folk club first before Whitby.

It's a very slow process of learning. I can't tell stories on guest nights because there is never enough times for stories then, so it has always to be singaround nights, and some of those I like to use for my songs. It doesn't help my confidence that that there are people in the audience who would probably prefer it if I sang instead. But I want to do both. Any skill requires a stretch of time while you learn it.

11 Jul 06 - 01:13 PM (#1781133)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Wesley S

Would it make any sense to tell stories about songs ? Like "the true story behind Child Ballad # 3,472".

11 Jul 06 - 01:47 PM (#1781163)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: EBarnacle

I often tell tales that relate to a song just sung in the circle at the monthly Chantey Sing at South Street. Part of it is having a good collection of stories available. When we were bombing Iraq [officially], I told a tale of a "Smart Boat" that did not know when to stop. When we sing about bootlegging, I have a couple of story/song combinations that go over well. It's all a matter of being ready. By the way, don't change the ending because someone might object that it is not a happy ending. Be true to the story.

11 Jul 06 - 01:58 PM (#1781169)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: wysiwyg

I've always enjoyed the way experienced storytellers set the scene and mood for the forthcoming story-- how they hook me into believing the story will be targeted just for me. Then they tell whatever they were going to tell. Maybe your favorite stories have themes that you can highlight in that way to help educate your new audience as to what is about to unfold, without giving away the finish.

Some tellers do that with humor, some with dramatic presence, some with pointing out some human characteristic we all seem to have to deal with in one way or another, despite whatever makes us different. Perhaps someone who has some experience with the genre has observed your storytelling and can tell you what you are already doing well in that regard, which might lend you a tad more confidence that the people will listen and go with you where your story goes.

I don't think it's about what people LIKE-- as if they can know in advance what they will or will not respond to, before they have heard the tale and felt all the emotions the tale will evoke. I think it's about getting them over the age-old hurdle of the need for audiences to suspend their sense of disbelief.


11 Jul 06 - 02:46 PM (#1781197)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: CeltArctic

I consider myself a storyteller as well as a balladeer, but I rarely perform stories. My problem is, most of the gigs I get locally are 15 minute slots in variety show type events. To tell a story to an untried audience, I need to build a rapport and 'train' my audience to listen to me. I find it very difficult to do that with a 15 minute story. Besides, I don't know any traditional stories shorter than 15 minutes.

I am often frustrated by the perception people have about storytelling. Either they think writers are storytellers, or they think storytelling is just for kids. Another problem I have is that I feel isolated in the type of stories I tell. These days, many storytellers have become theatrical in their telling, making the performance more like a short play than a story. Other tellers tell anectodal stories. I don't have a problem with these types of performances per se, but I always feel like a throwback or something out of a time warp.

I prefer telling to adults. And if I can get a long enough set, or if I am telling at a storytelling festival or club (where the audience is already primed to listen to storytelling) I find whatever I tell will work, simply because I am so involved with the story as I tell it. When I am telling, the story is absolutely current and real in my own mind - I'm feeling and experiencing everything as though it were happening at that moment. As a result, my audiences (I hope) are equally into it.

It helps, too, that in these longer performances, I can mix things up by including ballads, recitations and what-not.

Northerner - have you hooked up with anyone in the Toronto Storytelling scene? There's a storytelling club there called 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling. Also, there is a national storytelling organization called Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada (SC/CC). You would get lots of support and suggestions from these avenues. The SC/CC produces a quarterly magazine called The Appleseed Quarterly which often references storytelling books, albums and other resources. Their website is:

Good luck, Moira

11 Jul 06 - 02:51 PM (#1781200)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Hello Wesley. That's an interesting direction and one that I haven't tried. Tam Lin is available as both a song and a story; however my friends are likely to prefer a song version of the ballad. And given that I do sing, they would probably feel slightly cheated if I used a spoken word version of a ballad.

Hello EBarnacle. Sounds as if that works well for you. However, I am pretty close to the start of the journey and don't have enough stories learnt yet to be able to do that. I find, in any case, that a story never feels part of my repertoire until I have actually got up and told it.

Hello Susan. Taking hold of people's imagination is really part of the big challenge here. The next two stories I have chosen for telling are fairly "realistic". However, I am considering using a more magical one to follow them. At the moment I am conscious that I am not in the place where my audience are. I will have to use my voice to lead them to where I want them to be. Some of them may be pleasantly surprised to find that they enjoy it. I have a very vivid imagination; I will aim to build up my confidence to take them with me.

11 Jul 06 - 03:04 PM (#1781204)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Hello Moira.

Your Canadian storytelling scene sounds very active. I'm British and a member of the Society for Storytelling. However, there is no-one very active near me. Occasionally I travel up to Newcastle and tell at the storytelling circle there. It's a geat place to tell stories at as the audience are really appreciative and knowledgeable. We do have a regional centre opening this autumn; it is still several hours from me but it should be fairly influential. I have been told that the leading storyteller who is associated with it may be running a mentoring scheme and possibly it is something that I may be eligible for. All the more reason to get a good story worked out in the next month or so because I am hoping to have a chance to tell a story to him.

My feeling is that a folk club audience is not geared up in the same way for listening to a story as a festival or storytelling circle audience. They are ready for a performance but are having to adjust to something that is not very familiar to them. Most of the audience will see a storyteller maybe once a year only and that is if they go to Whitby.

Your storytelling sounds very interesting. I am aiming to do like you and include some ballads in my programme eventually.

11 Jul 06 - 03:20 PM (#1781211)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Don Firth

This is not necessarily my area of expertise, but I have done a little storytelling from time to time. If I were going to go into storytelling in a big way (which, who knows? I may do, at least as an adjunct to singing), I would thoroughly investigate the collections of folklorist Richard Chase.

If I wanted to expand beyond folk tales into just plain gripping stories, I would go back to some of my favorite short-story authors of bygone days. One hopes their writings are still available. Some of their stories indeed can be found complete on web sites about them. For example, one of my favorites is H. H. Munro, who went by the nom de plume "Saki." Try, for example, his story, The Interlopers. That'll give you—and your audiences—goosebumps!! Another is Ambrose Bierce. His classic—one of his classics—is An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Then, of course, there is O. Henry, Mark Twain, and many others. For spooky stuff, you could even mine H. P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft's short story Pickman's Model will have you and your audiences bolting the doors and hiding in the closet!).

I have told these stories from time to time, not memorized, just narrated and sometimes condensed a bit, with good results. The Interlopers, in particular, is a doozey! I don't know what the copyright situation is on many of these stories. They may be out of copyright by now, but in any case, I don't think you would run into any problems.

Don Firth

11 Jul 06 - 04:42 PM (#1781261)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,John

Difficult isn't it. I don't often tell stories in a setting that is populated by people who by choice enjoy a different aspect of 'folk', but a while back did try, and got a muted reaction. Thinking it was probably through unfamiliarity I tried again, but tried harder to draw people in, elicit a response etc. Turns out the club had previously been plagued by someone who at best had been a poor childrens entertainer and my ham-fisted attempts to create a real 'performance' just brought back bad memories. Moral - never underestimate your audience. I bet they do know some storytellers but they'll have their own reasons for not responding the way you would like to what you are doing. They'll maybe be happy to share those reasons if you ask nicely!

11 Jul 06 - 04:42 PM (#1781262)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Don. I think that I will leave the short literary tales at present.

Thanks for the link about Richard Chase. I've heard of him before. Time to see if any of his books can be obtained through the library perhaps.

11 Jul 06 - 05:00 PM (#1781277)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you John.

I think that the only storyteller that most of my audience members have seen before is the renowned Taffy Thomas. And as a beginner (started just under a year ago) there isn't any way that I could be up to his standard. It takes a very long time to develop skills in this area. I may well look slow and plodding to them. I'm not a bad storyteller, incidentally, just a new one. I'm also developing into a good singer so there are people who prefer me to sing.

I don't know what the gentleman who doesn't want me to tell fairy stories is going to do because that is an area of storytelling that I intend being very active in, together with some myths and legends. I think it is basically the ones that he is familiar with from his own childhood that he doesn't want; he specifically said he doesn't want Goldilocks. Well, he won't be getting Goldilocks. I will use material that is likely to be new to most of the audience. It's the lack of storytelling background that is revealing here. I have heard many wonderful stories told over the last year, by storytellers visiting here from overseas as well as our own British storytellers. My eyes have been thoroughly opened to the possibilities that storytelling can bring.

I am working on a story for a folk club singaround. It's a very short story but that gives me some leeway for embroidering it to make it more visual and to give it a personal touch.

11 Jul 06 - 05:13 PM (#1781287)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults

In my experience - mainly in Ireland - storytelling is almost exclusively an adult activity.
We have been lucky enough to meet and record a few of the remaining storytellers here - some of them having stories lasting well over an hour in length (imagine any child sitting and listening for that length of time). We were told that one storyteller here in Clare would start his story on Monday night and tell a part of it each night until the end of the week.
The rule among the ones we met seems to have been straight narrative, no funny voices or gestures none of the tweeness you get from many revival tellers. Talking animals, fairies, giants, ghosts, cloaks of invisibility - all are taken in an audiences' stride as long as they are told with conviction.
For sources, the Penguin Book of Irish Tales and Duncan Williamson's 'The Thorn in the Kings Foot' are worth looking out for, so is Scots Traditional Tales (Bruford and McDonald editors – published by Polygon).
Tocher, the magazine of The School of Scottish Studies (particularly the early ones) have an endless supply. The School of Scottish Studies have issued a double CD of Scots Traveller storytellers that is well worth having, and the Irish Traveller organisation, Pavee Point has done one of the Travelling family, the Cassidys entitled 'Whisht'.
The Stewarts of Blair were among the best storytellers around, but they never did an album just of tales.
We compiled one consisting of Irish, English, Scots and Welsh tales and yarns for the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library back in the eighties called "… and that's my story", but I don't think it's available any more – you might try the library.
Jim Carroll

11 Jul 06 - 05:34 PM (#1781308)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Jim. An hour in length! That would be far too long for most of my audiences, and the MCs wouldn't allow it anyway (I only do floor spots at present). Seriously, an hour is quite a long time to listen when you are not an experienced listener.

I have quite a number of the sources you mention e.g. Bruford. I bought quite a number of Duncan Williamson's books last autumn, mostly secondhand through Amazon. Have seen him tell several times and had the privilege last autumn of telling to him up at a storytelling festival in Edinburgh. Got a pat on the shoulder and a peck on the cheek from him! I have already told "The hunchback and the swan", a lovely story that is one of his. I'll look out for some of your other references though - thank you!

Telling with conviction... You could well be right. I would have used the word confidence but conviction might be the right word. I certainly have to learn to really carry an audience with me on my journeys and not to feel worried that the material might not appeal to them. I have had compliments on my telling from a number of professional storytellers so I should hold my head up high when I tell.

11 Jul 06 - 06:01 PM (#1781341)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: EBarnacle

Don't be afraid to fail. Bring a recorder with you to record what you do right and wrong and use it develop your material. If there is a pub near you, engage your neighbor in conversation and practice the short form. You will learn as your go. Most important, keep trying.

11 Jul 06 - 06:11 PM (#1781351)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Ebarnacle.

12 Jul 06 - 01:27 AM (#1781534)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Bert

Way back, hundred years or more ago, I remember Parkinson on British Television reciting, "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog".

It was great.

You might also try some Stanley Holloway stuff.

12 Jul 06 - 02:57 AM (#1781563)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Bert, but no, I won't be doing any recitations. I will strictly be a teller and singer.

12 Jul 06 - 04:31 AM (#1781603)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults

For storytelling style try to get hold of a recording of Alec Stewart; his somewhat flat, down-to-earth, laconic delivery, underplaying the supernatural and magic elements of his stories, particularly in his 'Jack' tales is masterful.
I know about the time limit on storytelling nowadays, the people we met came from a time when time was plentiful; no televisions or other distractions (or Travellers with no electricity in pre-transistor days). The point I was making is that an audience that is prepared to listen to a story will not care how long it is. I've seen audiences when a storyteller who has tried to shorten a story (Travellers), demand that they tell it properly "you've missed a bit".
I'm not suggesting that you tell long ones; just that they are there if you have the opportunity to (and want to). The argument of reduced attention span that is often put forward, doesn't stand up in my experience. Somebody who will sit for hours reading a book will also sit and listen to a well-told story.
Confidence, first in the story, then in the audience, is probably the most important element in storytelling.
For humorous traditional storytelling on record, search for John Campbell from Armagh; there are a few of his cassettes floating around. He often appears with magnificent singer Len Graham and they compliment each other perfectly. They sometimes appear at clubs and festivals in the UK but I recently heard that John is quite ill, so he won't be touring for the time being.
Good luck,
Jim Carroll

12 Jul 06 - 05:35 AM (#1781633)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Jim. I'm not sure how I'd get hold of John Campbell's work; I haven't been able to locate anything through google. I'll keep my eyes open though. Occasionally I go up to Scotland so maybe I'll find something that way. Looks like I've missed a really good storyteller there.

Not sure where I'd get copies of Alec Stewart's storytelling either, but Sheila is appearing at Whitby Folk Week. If I ask her nicely I'm sure she won't mind pointing me towards her family's storytelling on cassettes/CDs.

I'm still very short on storytelling opportunities. At the folk clubs I have to fit into the slot that their MCs provide in the programme. I have to work my stories so that they fit into the equivalent of 2 songs in their timing, i.e. 8-10 minutes maximum.   Many of the better, more complex stories seem to be about the 15 minute mark so I'm not able to try them out at present. I'm trying to get more opportunities in the voluntary sector; it looks like I will have the chance to tell in a day-care facility fairly soon.

Thank you for the advice.

Diane Taylor

12 Jul 06 - 07:58 AM (#1781719)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Cats at Work

I have been telling stories for many, many years and worked with some of the most awesome storytellers out there. When I look for a story for adults, and I do usually tell for adults, I choose a story I like and I have an affinity with. Then I look at the language I use, the phraseology, vocabulary, internation etc. I always start with a 'safe place', it could be setting the story in a locality known to all listeners or in a setting which is close to you, but I never start with 'this is a story about..' I always start as if I am about to have a conversation with someone, and you are, except they don't get to talk to you! Eye contact is very important, it makes people think you are telling the story directly to them.. and you are. Telling a story is like singing a song, rehearse it, not until you get it right, but until you can't get it wrong. Remember the bones of the story and weave your magic around them. You'll never tell exactly the same story twice. But whatever you do you must bring your listeners 'safely home'. You cannot leave them hanging in mid air. A comfy start and a safe ending. As for length, I can tell a story, and I do tell the traditional stories of Cornwall, that lasts 3 minutes or I can do a 45 minute epic, although I wouldn't do that at a folk club. As for sources.. find things you like, that suit you and that you are comfortable with. If you have that and you choose your vocabulary well, you modulate your voice well and pull people into the story you could tell them goldilocks or red riding hood and it would work. Most importantly... don't stop telling or keeping them to a storytelling club. There's a huge audience out there.

12 Jul 06 - 08:51 AM (#1781750)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: wysiwyg

I'm still very short on storytelling opportunities.

Bingo-- there's your trouble. Your thought about more volunteer opportunities is spot on--- senior centers, community events, churches, those are all good-- but take ANY opportunity to talk with people and slip in a short story. Out to lunch with a few friends? Tell them a story. Chatting on the phone? Tell a story. Have a party, and don't tell them that there will be stories, but take the floor at some point and tell a few.

And don't ask first-- just go ahead and capture the moment.

Tell stories in your sleep. Tell them to yourself when driving around. Just tell them and tell them, until they roll off your tongue. Tell them in the mirror, tell them in the shower, tell them at bus stops. Don't worry about being nice about it or about plesing people.... disappear into the story.

Watch videos of good stand-up comedians. Hear where they put the punchline, how they mug, how they set up the empathy before they get to the meat of the story. These people have gone over and over their material until it really "sings," eliminating all the glitches or awkward phrasing that impede the delivery of the point of the joke or story. You can do the same with preachers and their sermons. Hate church? Sermons on the radio.

Just ideas-- but don't stop and don't worry about pleasing anybody listening to you. The story is bigger than them! And, when you're telling, so are you.


12 Jul 06 - 12:45 PM (#1781886)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults

"I asked a few friends at the club what they liked. Big mistake. One didn't want happy endings, one wanted exciting stories and one didn't want fairy stories".

Not a mistake, just a challenge. Asking the question of 3 people has already offered you three options, which both proves that your club fiends have thought about your storytelling and responded to it, and also that it is a mistake to try to please all of the people all the time. Listen to what your friends say. I'm sure some storytellers could satisfy all three requests at once, but if your experience so far is limited, then look on it as a three-part opportunity and try to suit each separately. Introduce your new stories by saying that having spoken to so-and-so you hope this story will be enjoyed. People appreciate being considered! and after all, if you wish to use a forum that is primarily focussed on music to tell your stories, then it is only good manners to accept the member's tastes and select to suit - no point in performing to an audience if their enjoyment is not important

12 Jul 06 - 02:53 PM (#1781979)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Anne Lister

And if I ask children what they want, I'm bound to get "scary stories" or some plots taken from cartoons.   I sometimes let them have a vote between three deliberately sketchy plot summaries, but that's about it for choice! After all, they can't know what they want before they hear it, and I've yet to have a story die on its feet with any audience.


12 Jul 06 - 04:16 PM (#1782022)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you all! Some really good tips there!

Choosing stories to suit these three gentlemen might be a good way forward. I wonder if the gentleman who wanted an exciting story would like a story about pirates? Yes, I have a book of pirate stories. The gentleman who wanted a sad story would probably appreciate "Sarkless Kitty", a story already in my repertoire but which I haven't done yet in that particular club. The gentleman who doesn't want fairy stories is slightly more challenging but a local legend would probably suit him.

I've been out shopping at "Borders" the bookshop earlier today; have several good story books to read through. Looks like some good material.

Even when I'm not telling a story I like to keep in practice performing. This week I'll be performing at the Mela in my town. Ensemble work in a drumming circle, not storytelling. But there's going to be 20,000 people there!!!! It's a good way for me to see other performers and a wider range of venues. And there's a storytelling event on too that I can see.

Thank you all for your tips. They are really appreciated.


13 Jul 06 - 05:03 AM (#1782452)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,Pete Castle

This is a really good thread and I don't think I can add anything that hasn't already been said. I'm a professional storyteller and folk singer, one of the few who work on both circuits plus with the general public who wouldn't venture into either world. Other people have said it but I'll stress it: tell a story you like and respect and tell it with conviction and tell it to the audience which is there in front of you - reacting to their reactions. It will come out slightly differently every time depending on whether they are adults in a story club or adults in a folk club or a mixed family audience or all kids. But if you are honest and doing it properly they will all appreciate it in their own ways and will get different things from the story. Although there are some stories you wouldn't tell to children and some obviously not meant for adults. Some kind of scene setting or explanation of why you're telling that story at that time can help - unless the reason is that it's the only one you know!
A couple of people have mentioned style and I think that's what puts off some folk club audiences. They don't like the telling to be too actorish, it must be natural and honest (I keep coming back to that word) in the same way that song presentation must be. It's the story/song that counts not the cleverness of the artist who is just the transmiter.
For more info. background and ideas you could try Facts & Fiction storytelling magazine (which I happen to edit!) Look at

13 Jul 06 - 05:51 AM (#1782470)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults

Thank you Pete - you have put into words what, as a folk club member I feel but wasn't sure how to express. I quite enjoy storytellers but I feel very uncomfortable when they either over-dramatise(hand gestures or emphatic pauses for example) or try too hard to make strong eye contact to elicit a reaction. The end result is that I feel the teller thinks I am too stupid to get the point without help!

People who can also sing a ballad simply and naturally can generally tell a story in a way that lets me enjoy it and think about it in my own space, rather than being forced to participate.

13 Jul 06 - 05:58 AM (#1782473)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Pete.

I'm working on some very short stories at the moment; they are little more than elaborate anecdotes basically, but contain wisdom in them. Little in the way of "acting" involved. I am hoping that they will have appeal for those in my audience who are perhaps not ready for wonder tales as they reflect more on the day-to-day living that most of us experience. It makes sense to have stories of varying lengths and styles.

I'm enjoying the books that I picked up yesterday at "Borders"; there are some excellent stories in them that I can use eventually.

I'll be in touch shortly to take out a sub to your magazine.

Thanks again.

Diane Taylor

13 Jul 06 - 06:06 AM (#1782478)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Guest for your comments on your feelings as a listener. It sounds as if I am at the stage where I should ask for more feedback from some of my friends at the clubs so that I check the areas that I need to improve in. My gestures are relatively small so hopefully my performances shouldn't be coming over as over-acted.

13 Jul 06 - 06:14 AM (#1782483)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,jOhn

Guest John was not me, he's an imposter.

13 Jul 06 - 12:06 PM (#1782699)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Cats

If anyone is going to be at Sidmouth, Janet Dowling is doing a series of Storytelling workshops each day. I am guesting at the Sunday 9.30 - 11am one and then I am leading a workshop on How to tell a story at 11.30am. I'm also doing the Ghost stories session at 9.30pm, all at the Woodlands Hotel along with Janet, Hugh Lupton, Di Read and Jack Lynch. Get there early... I'll also be around the festival for the first part of the week if anyone wants to talk stories..............

13 Jul 06 - 12:09 PM (#1782702)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,of 5.51

No problem, Northerner. Glad to be of help. Does your home club tend to feature traditional or contemporary material? If it is a traditional club, I'm sure they would enjoy 'magical' or 'mythical' stories - after all a lot of the ballads feature supernatural elements such as witchcraft, ghosts, talking creatures, portents and signs etc. And even a contemporary minded audience will be used to magic via Harry Potter etc!

13 Jul 06 - 12:43 PM (#1782728)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,Ewan McVicar

To hear 20 current Scottish storytellers in action go to
Lsten to the differing voice qualities and story content that show they are telling for/to kids, or when they are telling for everyone.
Listen to
for archive recordings from the School of Scottish Studies etc, and consider the assumptions the teller makes about who is listening - or at times they are telling the story to an adult, so they assume various things. Also there are ballads, and kids telling stories.

13 Jul 06 - 01:46 PM (#1782774)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: EBarnacle

As mentioned, the same story can range from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. Once I was telling Moby Dick to a senior citizen's group and we got diverted into a discussion of a boat which one of them had owned. We eventually got back on track. After the session, one of the staff said, "I never knew those things about our resident." You never know what will come out of a session but you have to allow it to flow.

13 Jul 06 - 11:00 PM (#1783119)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Jacob B


Your question mirrors the discussion that has been happening on the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling discussion list. How to present storytelling to people who know nothing about storytelling but think they don't like it?

Since you are also a singer, two story formats occur to me that may be useful to you.

One is the song introduction. I can imagine a twelve minute traditional story being used to introduce a three minute song.

The other is cantifable: a story with musical accompaniment that occasionally breaks into a song chorus. As examples, I think of Gordon Bok's "Peter Kagan and the Wind", and a story recorded by the Boys of the Lough about trying to get a baby to go to sleep.

14 Jul 06 - 12:20 AM (#1783149)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,.gargoyle

Adults - innuedeno - they get flys over heads of the kids....resque but safe. (However, the 12 year olds have a personae from TV that implies they know....more than they... DO Know.)

A copy of "Soup Stone" was in the local trash. Grabbed it quick...price free...for the taking.

Even the guesomness can be veiled, so the adults witness and the children only hear. Metaphor/Analogy/Simile.

Your monologue is memorized. You have said it 100 times, times ten. WRITE IT DOWN.

EVERY paragraph (no matter how short) should contain a visual/tactile/offifery/kenesthetic/oudio/smell sensory connection.

Look for fun....look for puns....look for enuendo....and include them.


14 Jul 06 - 09:20 AM (#1783346)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you all for your tips and comments! Hi there Ewan! It's Diane Taylor, the lady who brought a topsy-turvy doll to your workshop up in Edinburgh in the spring. Nice to see you again! Hope to be up in Edinburgh for the storytelling festival later this autumn; maybe bump into you again.

I've had some disappointing news this morning folks. I was hoping to get some experience in a nursery, specifically the Sure Start nurseries hereabouts. I did a few stints at one nursery but it didn't work out. It wasn't a supportive environment. They really didn't seem to have very much idea about what storytellers do. Eventually we parted company.

I'm in touch with a lady from a volunteering agency; she's trying to get me experience. She was in touch with another Sure Start; sadly they are asking potential volunteers to go on a training course and get qualifications in general nursery work before they are accepted as volunteers. I probably can't afford the time or money to do that. I suppose there are other nurseries... Very disappointing.

18 Jul 06 - 10:25 PM (#1786850)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,Dagenham Doc

hi Northerner
must be the best resource on the net.


19 Jul 06 - 01:58 AM (#1786982)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

I have been telling stories, in my performances, for forty years and I discovered the trick to telling a story to an audience that isn't there to hear "stories". I tell it about myself and I use real people as characters, real relatives and real friends. You know that a story must have , I hope I spell this right, verisimilitude in order to get the listener to suspend belief. Some years ago, in my capacity as workshops chairman for the PFS, I hired three storytellers and I was impressed when one of them seduced us into a long shaggy dog joke because we, honestly, thought it had happened to him. When he hit us with the punchline, the laughter was drowned out by the applause. Another participant, Mike Agranoff, told a ghost story as a personal experience and, when he hit the eerie ending, the audience was thrilled. When I do a Jewish show, I tell stories about my family, one or two of which might be true. I tell stories about the songs I sing (The history of "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" is very romantic and very relevent to an adult audience)
I do tell some stories about myself that are true but I try to avoid too much honesty in a performance. I have an image to maintain.

                      Mike Miller

19 Jul 06 - 03:41 AM (#1787042)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you Doc. I already know that website; it's a good one!

Thank you Mike. I'm not too sure how well my stories would work in that way; most of them probably can't be altered in that respect. I can certainly think about it though.

If you've read my latest thread you will hopefully find that my latest news is a lot more hopeful. I now have a large primary school that is willing to let me come in in the autumn to tell stories to the children.

19 Jul 06 - 11:04 AM (#1787291)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

Even if your stories are classics and you just can't bring yourself to lie about them (No good deed goes unpunished), you should, still, begin your presentation with a "personal" story as a warmup. Audiences are more comfortable with reality (real or imagined) and, once you've got them, you can lay on the gnomes and trolls with abandon. I am not suggesting that you start off with, "Once upon a time, I was a princess in a tower." You can, and should, tell about something that really happened to you or to a relative but, if your life has been truly uneventful, you'll have to borrow a little.


19 Jul 06 - 01:19 PM (#1787413)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

"if your life has been truly uneventful"... hmm, no far from it. I've had a rare and potentially life-threatening medical condition, which I've beaten, and went back to uni after it and got a Master's. I do tell the story occasionally. At a folk club come-all-ye spot though there is time for only one story - no warm-up.

19 Jul 06 - 02:16 PM (#1787453)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

Right. I had forgotten that your problem was telling at an open mike. My shows are sixty minutes so I have time to develop. Still, the more personal you make your story, the more palatable it will be to the uninitiated. The real trick is to be able to empathise with your listeners and to realize that they have to be catered to. I would, still, try to get them with "true" stories until you build credibility and they become comfortable with your role. Mazel mit glick.


19 Jul 06 - 04:38 PM (#1787601)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Kaleea

One thing I like to do is to include the names of some of the folks in the group as characters in a story. (choose some of the more good natured folks) It's especially fun if the characters are critters. At festivals, I often inquire beforehand about some of the local dignitaries & well known spots & include them in a story. Doing this has always been well received by audiences of all ages.

20 Jul 06 - 12:36 AM (#1787914)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

You betcha, Kaleea. Using names in tha audience promotes identification and not just for those actually named. The others will experience what H. Allen Smith called "vicarious vertigo", the thrill of remote connection with fame. I never do a kids show without using everyone's name. Teens and adults like it, too. It might not give a story credibility but it involves the listeners as participants and that is always a good idea.


20 Jul 06 - 04:57 AM (#1788018)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Northerner

Thank you for the ideas! Yes, I could give my hero the name of the one of the children at the school. They'd like that! Not so easy to work into my adult programme though - probably depends on which stories I'm using.

12 May 17 - 10:13 PM (#3854691)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: FreddyHeadey

Alec Stewart was mentioned earlier.
His stories can be found on Tobar an Dualchais  
paste ... Alec Stewart or Alexander Stewart
Limit by Genre: ... Stories

Gordon Bok's "Peter Kagan and the Wind", 

13 May 17 - 06:02 AM (#3854734)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Mr Red

observations from a listener (at Folk Clubs).
1) as with song - commit to memory, don't read off the page (per se), maybe bullet points are OK. This allows you to embellish with voice(s) and actions. Cadence.
2) make sure there is a solid pay-off, be it humorous or pithy.
3) Mike Rust was good at another wheeze, getting in a well known reference like "and that Richard (s)he met in (Town eg) went by the name of Richard Whittington, I wonder what happened to him? (or that's a story for another time)" - a good closing pay-off. References can be inanimate, Stonehenge eg, but hide their full identity until the pay-off.
4) avoid repeating phrases that have just been said, this is used by story-tellers as thinking time, but it is clunky.

13 May 17 - 06:40 AM (#3854740)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: FreddyHeadey

"...repeating phrases..."

Oh I love hearing repeated phrases!
...up the road and round the corner and over the bridge into the market square...

Not every story needs repetition and I suppose it can make the story sound a bit childish but I like the structure and anticipation it can add.

Alex Ultradish does a great 'adult' Goldilocks. It is a while since I heard it but there must be some repeated phrases in that.

13 May 17 - 11:57 AM (#3854786)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Jim Carroll

I think it's now long unavailable, but Malcolm Taylor at Vaughan Williams Mem. Lib allowed us to put out a collection of recordings of traditional British and Irish Storytellers, including The Stewart's recorded bt MacColl and Seeger, Miners tales from actuality from The Big Hewer and our own recordings from Irish Travellers in London and from West Clare - it was entitled '.... and that's my story'.
We wre always disappointed that it didn't receive wider circulation.
If anybody would like a copy, I'm happy to Dropbox to whoever sends me their e-mail address (but it will have to wait until I return from Liverpool next week-end
Jim Carroll

I was researching one of my songs, The Ranter Parson, when I came across this in a book on sexual morality entitled, 'Love Locked Out', about the itinerant preachers who used to ply their trade in Southern England in the 18th and 19th century.
Years ago there used to be a sect of preachers called 'Ranters' who would preach a Hell-Fire and Brimstone sermons around East Anglia
While their massage was strict, they reserved for themselves a hedonistic style of living that allowed them all the pleasures of the flesh, women - drinking - gambling and the like.
Their message was unusual in the way that, not only did they threaten retribution when the sinners died, but he or she would be punished in kind while they were still living
A man who coveted his neighbour's wealth would find himself penniless, stealing a farmer's livestock would lead to losing all his own... etcetera
The preachers would move into a town, beg hospitality from a resident and and stay until he had worn out his welcome – then he moved on.
One such man was preaching in the area of Romford in Essex, and his sermon on morality was so hot and enthusiastic that he stunned his audience into silence.
A young farm labourer, a bit of a lad who liked his pint and was keen on the women, went home petrified, determined he would mend his ways, which he did for some time, until one warm summer's night he went to bed and found himself dreaming about his neighbour's wife who he fancied wildly –he woke up next morning soaking with sweat, with all the bedclothes scattered around the room.
Out he goes into the yard to wash himself down in the tub, when he notices that a bit of his anatomy was missing – his favourite bit!
He searched the house from top to bottom – no sign, so he dresses and sets off down to where the preacher was lodged and knocks on the door and when the preacher came out, he explained his predicament.
The preacher smiled grimly and said, "I have just the thing for you here", and reaches behind the door and brings out a stout walking stac and proceeds to beat him around the head, telling him that it was the Lord's punishment for his evil thoughts.
Beside himself, he makes his way back home, when he remembers that, at the end of the village there was a 'wise woman', a sort of witch who used to give out advice and cures.
He knocks on her door and tells his story.
She says, "You're luck is in – in a couple of weeks it's midsummer's eve, so if you meet me under the big old oak tree outside of the village I'll see what I can do".
Beside himself, he paces the floor for the next couple of weeks until the time of his assignation arrives – he races off and gets there half hour too early   
When the old woman arrives, she instructs the lad to climb into the very highest branches of the tree, and reach up as far as he can and, she says, "You'll find a rook's nest full of the things you are missing" – feel around and you'll find yours".
Up he goes and finds the nest and, after a bit of fumbling around, he finds what he's looking for.
He slips it into his pocket and begins to climb down, bt, being a bit of an opportunist, he stretches up again, fishes aroung some more, finds the biggest one there and replaces his own with that one.
He then shinneys down to the ground, where the old woman is waiting
"Well" she says, "did you find it?"
"I did ma-am" he says.
"Let's have a look", she orders, so reluctantly, he hands it to her.
"You can go and put that back where yopu found it now" she says, "that's the preachers'

14 May 17 - 04:33 AM (#3854921)
Subject: RE: Story selection - storytelling to adults
From: Mr Red

repetition aka anaphora in poetry, aka refrain in song
such catch phrases are powerful.

the repetition that is wearing is where the story-teller has just said something then follows it with "and" and a repeat of the thing. It lacks a flowing delivery.