In our annual Family issue, we gave you all the ingredients for a perfect bedtime story, from heroes and settings to plot twists and happy endings. The only thing we didn’t teach you: How to deliver the story in an engrossing manner.
So I reached out to a handful of professional storytellers for advice on giving a great performance. These smart tips will make whatever tale you tell tonight infinitely more captivating.
- Don’t give away the plot. “People often start a story with something like, ‘This is the story of a bunny who fell down a hole and found a friend.’ Instead, get right into the action: ‘One day, little bunny was on his way to school when he slipped and fell down a deep hole.’ That way your kid will immediately be pulled into the action.” —Catherine Burns, Artistic Director of The Moth, a New York City-based non-profit that conducts live storytelling events.
- Have your child fill in holes. “When you get stuck, ask your child for help. Say, ‘Well, what do you think happened next?’”—Eve Claxton, researcher at Storycorps, a nonprofit that has recorded and preserved the stories of more than 80,000 Americans.
- Go slow. “Think of a story as a movie for the mind. If you words are spoken faster than your child has time to picture them, then you’re running ahead of the film.”—Heather Forest, an award-winning storyteller based in Huntington, New York.
- Keep details to a minimum. “Don’t go crazy with adjectives. Kids will see what you’re saying. And after all, you want them to tap into their imagination. If I say ‘There once were three monkeys,’ the kids will immediately see three monkeys. I don’t need to add ‘And they had stripes and they had tails…’”— Andy Offutt Irwin, a storyteller and humorist based in Covington, Georgia.
- And finally: Voices are key. “Voices really, really help. If you’re feeling self-conscious about doing voices, go into your room and practice saying “Once upon a time there was a little girl” in your lowest possible voice and your highest possible voice. Or try giving your character a voice altering personality trait. So maybe your protagonist is really whiny, and everything she says has that unmistakable whiny lilt to it, or maybe she’s really peppy, and her voice is staccato and vibrant and loud.”—Willy Claflin, a master storyteller based in San Francisco, California.
For a list of readers’ favorite bedtime tales, click here.