Guest Post: Bringing a story to life (Part 1)

Sally Pomme ClaytonFor our second guest post we’re pleased to welcome storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton, who continues our theme of stories in a sensory environment.

Sally is a writer and performance storyteller. She founded The Company of Storytellers with Ben Haggarty and Hugh Lupton in 1985, spearheading storytelling in the UK. She tours throughout Britain and internationally, and has published nine children’s books.

I worked with Mark Hildred (from Apollo Ensemble) on ‘Inside Story’ for The British Library back in 2005. We were asked to make some rare manuscripts fun and accessible to groups of school children from Rotherham and Leeds. We involved the children through storytelling, enacting, drawing, writing, designing, and re-telling, bringing the ancient manuscripts to life. The project ended with Mark and his team building an interactive installation – a digital manuscript which included the children’s art work, sounds and voices. The children had really got inside the story!

Children need stories. Their imagination is stimulated by following the drama of a plot, meeting characters who are familiar or strange, and encountering danger. Repeated experience of stories builds the skills of listening and concentration, develops a sense of story structure, and cultivates emotional and moral understanding. The world of the fairytale is metaphorical, describing an inner landscape. The psychologist Bruno Bettelheim knew the value of fairy tales. In his book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, he wrote:

The fairy story communicates to the child an intuitive, subconscious understanding …. that to be a human being means having to accept difficult challenges, but also encounter wondrous adventures.” (Bettelheim 1991:155)

Tales told in Tents
‘Tales told in Tents’ by Sally Pomme Clayton, illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer, published by Frances Lincoln (2004)

If you want to tell a story – you need to make the story your own. Telling a story is not about remembering words, so don’t worry about learning a story by heart. Telling a story is about creating pictures in your listeners’ mind. By using your imagination and senses you can allow the story to change, grow, and become yours.

Sketch: Roughly tell the story out-loud to a friend. Don’t worry about detail, just sketch out the plot.

Bones: Reduce your story to a list of words that encapsulates the essential events that happen in the story. This list is the basic bones of the plot. Then challenge yourself to reduce your list to 7 words. Then try 3!

Visualise: Close your eyes, and see the story as a film in your mind’s eye. See it as vividly as you can. Use all your senses as you journey through the story scene by scene:

  • What do the characters look like, and where are they?
  • What colours can you see?
  • What is the light like?
  • What textures can you see?
  • What sounds can you hear?
  • What is the temperature?
  • What smells or tastes are there?
  • What are the characters doing, thinking, feeling, saying?

Tell: Tell your story again, and see how different it feels – now that you have put flesh on the bones!

Like all the best stories, to be continued….