Just over a week ago, I got a chance to tell a story out loud to an audience at this event as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2014. Not a made-up story, a real story.
I rarely write down what happens to me. Well, that’s a lie, I’ve kept a journal for over ten years, on and off, but I’ve never written down my own experiences for others to look at. My Twitter feed is a stripped-down version of a daily journal, detailing mostly what I ate and what music I listened to, and whether I was annoyed at anyone on the internet. But I make up fictional stories all the time, and I like showing them to people. Combining those two impulses, the personal record and the public narrative, took some getting used to, but it was ultimately easy – due to the supportive and safe environment I created my story in, and the feedback from the others who took part in the project.
I’m fascinated with the way people use stories to make sense of things, which was the premise of the project I took part in: telling stories about your time abroad to help you make sense of what happened, and help tie your experience in with your life after getting back. We were encouraged to create a story in three parts, using two experiences from our time abroad. The third part was about something that happened after we returned. Once I’d identified that I wanted to write about road trips, all these memories started coming back, and the most difficult thing was picking which incidences to write about. Sorry, talk about. Out loud.
The process of writing stories to be read out loud was very different from writing stories that would always be written down. During the workshops leading up to the event, Alette led myself and the other participants through brainstorming sessions, stream-of-consciousness writing spurts and, finally, an activity that involved telling your story to the others. Without your notes. It was interesting to see what stuck and what didn’t, what remained the same as my written version and what didn’t. Most of my “pretty” phrases got left behind, and what came out of my mouth were the bare bones of the story.
Feedback from others was important too. I thought I’d created three similar stories with a similar sentiment, but the others told me they got a very different emotion from each of them. In fact, after the storytelling event, my flatmate Natasha told me she thought I was going to cry on stage. This feedback surprised me, because I completely hadn’t realised that the stories carried emotion.
I think that telling a story out loud has an element of surprise, a uniqueness and an immediacy that a written story can’t recreate. In writing, I feel like I can, to some extent, control what emotion I bring across to the reader. But when I’m telling a story out loud, the sound of my voice, my posture, my gestures and my facial expressions all add emphasis and emotion – and sometimes, these little additions happen unintentionally. And I might accidentally tell a passage differently each time I repeat a story, I might forget something or add a new detail. It was scary, knowing that I was taking part in a one-off performance, that I wouldn’t get to edit and re-edit my work before anyone else would look at it.
This was my first time telling a story out loud to an audience, so I can’t pretend to be any kind of expert. What do you think makes storytelling different from writing?
If you’d like to read more about the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, click here!
Dr. Alette J. Willis, our instructor for this project, has done a short video about her research, which you can find here.