Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Storytelling Practitioner: Toss Out Expired Stories

A story that was perfect for you once doesn't have to stay perfect for you forever.

Digging through my refrigerator and pantry the other day, I came upon some expired products. These finds are not a unique experience for most of us; there always seems to be that one thing in the back that we just forget about. While some products do well when they age for a bit, others really do become useless.

We store tales, anecdotes and story bits in our mind, too. Have you dug through your stories lately? Take a moment to clear out your own story-storage.

Do you have some stories that have expired? They could look like some of the following.

Do you have stories that you "borrowed" from other artists for which you intended to get permission to tell but never got around to it? Maybe when you started out in your storytelling career, you usurped borrowed these stories while you developed your own.  Now is the time to let go.  Don't eat the last remains in the crusty jar of home-made strawberry jam your friend gave you some time ago. Toss out that perished sweet and learn to make your own. It's not difficult to learn to make your own jam or stories.

You might have some stories you don’t really remember well. Some left-over meatloaf in your icebox can be used to create a fine sandwich, but when you have to ask yourself, "Wait, when did we make this?" it might be time to let go of the loaf. Most storytellers in any setting have bits and pieces of stories they may have told once or twice. Either make a feast with them (my book on that subject) or let them go and clear out some space in your mind. If you like the metaphysical aspect of discussions of storytelling: know that a story might choose you. It might choose to leave you, too. Don't hang on.

Do you have stories that (in a once-upon-a-time stage of your life) fit your lifestyle and beliefs but now when you tell them they just leave you uncomfortable? Like expired food in your fridge, do these old stories still pass the "sniff test?" Old chicken and old stories can both poison you.  Toss them if they aren't right. You can always get more poultry just as you will always get new stories.

Some other expired stories in your life might also include:

  • The personal stories (family or life-event stories) that you tell but yet you know (deep in your artist's soul) that the story really isn't a story.  You created the story just to fill time, perhaps, but in truth it is stilted and forced. It's probably expired, toss it. 
  • The stories about the lives and hijinks of your family members might also be expired if you tell them without the family member's permission.  Your stories of your cute kids might come back to bug you when those cute kids realize you've been yacking about them just to make a buck at a school show.
  • Any story that uses any type of cultural stereotype unless it is of your own cultural heritage and you are guiding the audience through to a better understanding of that culture. This includes, most likely, anything you have ever heard from a youth-leader who had a book of "101 Great Campfire Stories."
  • The stories in your life that manipulate your audience. Take the hint: that spoiled can of chicken soup you feed to your guests will make them retch after a while.
Stories do expire. Toss them out of the pantry of your repertoire. Don't tell every story you know.

et cetera: For more about "borrowed stories," see Lynn Ford's good article regarding permission at this link here. For more about salvaging cheesey personal stories (if you really want to save them), see my workshop/book here. Mark Goldman also has an interesting take on "leftovers" from his newsletter, too. For more in my "hardcore storytelling practitioner" series, click this link now.
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.