Tips and Tools for Storytelling

Here you will find ideas, tips, inside baseball so to speak, about living the life of a professional storyteller

Money can be an odd thing when you are a professional storyteller, or artist of any kind. Sometimes it seems like our bank accounts are very healthy, we turn around, and they are completely empty. This is typically called feast or famine.

This fall marked my 28th year as a professional storyteller.

Every now and then I question whether or not I'm living up to the expectations I had for myself when I was 21.

I was given an interesting challenge today. I had to convince some grown-ups that their children were perfectly capable of handling an assembly.

When I do public shows, I tell the audience what my plan is before I perform. 

I do this for several reasons. 

Sheila has been a librarian in Georgetown, SC for forty two years. She has seen some things, let me tell you. The two of us just laughed, thought, talked, and solved all sorts of problems over Asian glazed salmon and an immense bread pudding with bourbon sauce.

This week I am in residence in Stoneville, NC. This means that I am teaching all week at Stoneville Elementary school.

Any day that I am planning to perform starts the night before.

First, I receive my data sheet. These are compiled by my manager husband, and they contain all the information necessary. Depending on when and where the work is to be done, I get this sheet either the night before I have to leave if it s a travel experience, or the night before the show if it is a day trip. The sheets look like this.

I'm stranded in Virginia at my parent's house. assures me I will be here until Monday at the very least.

I guess if you must be stranded, it might as well be with people you love.

Well, it seems the perfect time to break out an inclement weather post!

When I started this blog, I made several assumptions. I assumed people who found their way here would already be somewhat involved in the world of storytelling. What did not occur to me was that there would be people who were trying to figure out how to get into storytelling. 

Last week I performed in one of the High Schools in the area. The school originally booked me in for the ninth grade, but discovered some extra cash. They asked if they could use it for a special show with a small group of students. They gave my husband the acronym they use to describe this group, but nothing else.

In 2000, my book, The Big Spooky House, was released. I was excited. I always am when a book hits the market. I was especially pleased because in 1996 I'd gone into baby making mode and wasn't working all that much.

These 7 posts are all part of the Crafting 101 Series: These posts take a story from my first encounter through the process I use to bring it to performance.

I spent an incredible week of telling in the Currituck area.  So many of the various things I’ve written about on this blog happened last week, that I’ve been in a perpetual state of amusement.  There are times when you just have to throw up your arms and surrender to the universe without getting too upset. 

I am married to my business manager.  Now, in saying this I do not mean that my business manager and I work together so often, and are in each other's lives so deeply, that my husband says I might as well be married to her or him.  No.  My husband is my business Manager.  I often refer to him as The David.

This week I am in Currituck County, NC.  It is much colder than normal due to the lovely Polar Vortexthat has decided to descend on the United States.  If you are in Buffalo, NY, you have my warm thoughts and good wishes.  If I could send all of you hot chocolate, I would.

We may have done future professional storyteller's a disservice by shouting 'everyone can be a storyteller'!  Not because everyone doesn't have a story to tell, they do, but because not every one of them is going to be able to hang out a shingle, and become a professional storyteller.

This week was typical of winter work.  Weather threatened, but we kept our spirits high.  Then, the day before my first show, we got the word:  ICE.

If you do not live in the south, you have no idea how this word can throw terror into the heart of every administrator.  Now, it isn’t that we don’t know what ice is.  We do live in the south, after all.  Ice is that stuff that floats in your sweet tea to make summer bearable.

Tales From The Trenches: Telling It In Schools

Telling stories in schools is not for the faint of heart.  After twenty-seven years of touring and telling, I still have days where I see things I have never seen before.  

Sometimes I don’t think you could pay me enough to do what I do, and other times I really ought to be paying the school because I learned so much from their students.

All of these things happened this week….

Just In Time For Halloween: Telling Spooky Tales 2.0

- There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you probably ought not tell young children.  

- There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you probably ought not tell in the dark.

- There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you probably ought not tell in certain religious settings.

- There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you should tell every chance you get.

How do you pick which is which and when you should do what? 

There is a very odd thing I see in audiences.  I spent the first part of my career looking at it and trying to understand it. 

What am I talking about?  I call them the TV Heads.

TV Heads have obviously spent lots of time in front of a screen where their behavior has zero effect on what will happen during the course of the time they are plunked there. 

I would like to say that I never bought into the whole 'superwoman' thing, but I would be lying.  I want it all.  I want family, career, success, handmade crafts, cooking from scratch, and time to relax. 

Well, I fall quite short of everything, but regardless of whatever else is happening, I try to remember to relax and unwind.  Being a traveling storyteller can get unrelenting at times.

Antonio Rocha - Transitions in Eloquence

Most tellers are nervous about being silent on stage; they think it is dead time. Some look down while others plow through to the next line. It can become dead time if you stare at the stage floor. If you are connected with the essence of the story, your body will be eloquent.

Most of us pick photos of ourselves based on a few criteria.  For instance: 
We often look at the one physical feature of which we are most horrified, and try to pick a photo that does not emphasize it.
We consider which photo makes us look the thinnest.
We consider which photos show off our most attractive features.
If you are a super model, these are perfectly reasonable criteria for choosing a publicity photo, but if you are trying to tell a story of who you are, and what you do this might not be the most useful set of guidelines.

Being A Touring Storyteller Is Like Being Shackled to a Galloping Unicorn: Amazing and Disconcerting.

An itinerate performer’s life is not a stable one.  We travel to everywhere from Miami Gardens, FL to Lima, Peru.  Our daily lives can be described as many things but the word ‘routine’ is not one of them.  This is not such a problem if you are single, don’t have pets, and are not needed for anything in particular in your community.  This becomes much more tricky if you have pets, children, spouses, social obligations, or some kind of side job that requires stable hours.

Working With Sign Language Interpreters

When you are working with an ASL interpreter, you are doing a form of tandem telling.  With that in mind, there are things you can do to make sure that both of you have a successful set.

These are the rules of thumb I follow.

Mission Statement Impossible

I was just applying to be a roster artist for a particular city when I came to a box that asked for my Mission Statement.
I clicked over to my business plan, copied my mission statement, and pasted it in the little box. 
It occurred to me that in all the time I have been a storyteller nobody has ever asked me for my Mission Statement.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod: Driving Drowsy Does Not Make For a Safe Road Warrior

I was on my way home from Chicago about a month ago when I discovered I was behind a sleepy driver. They are not hard to spot. His overly large SUV would go straight for a minute or two and then list over to the rumble strips on the left side of the road. He would hear that ominous sound, jerk awake, correct, and lull himself back to sleep.

Telling Spooky Tales

There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you probably ought not tell young children.  There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you probably ought not tell in the dark.
There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you probably ought not tell in certain religious settings.
There are lots and lots of wonderful spooky tales that you should tell every chance you get.

How do you pick which is which and when you should do what?  Easy, that depends on your audience.

Care and Feeding of the Voice - Powering It Out

I always use a microphone.  Always.  I have a pretty strong voice for speaking, and I can fill a space pretty well, but there is no need for it when we have such technological marvels as microphones.

I often encounter people who are a bit annoyed by my request that the forum offer a microphone.  If they do not have a good sound system, I will bring my own, but I always ask for one.  There are some general responses when I ask for amplification.  They are as follows.

Effective Audience Husbandry in Storytelling.

One of the best literary examples I have ever seen about how a speaker effects an audience was written by Isaac Asimov in Robots and Empire.  The scene involves a gorgeous, reclusive one hundred and fifty year old woman from space, a mind reading robot, and settlers on one of the earliest human colonized planets in the universe.  It's a good read.  Now, on to the subject at hand!

The Storyteller's Tool Kit: THE VOICE

The Storyteller's Toolkit is a simple way to talk about the elements that storyteller's use to present a story.  These do not include puppets, props, costumes or anything extraneous.  You can certainly use all of those things as a storyteller, but they are not standard tools in the toolkit.

The Storyteller's Toolkit: THE EYES

Telling Folktales in Schools

The Three Year Rule - Breaking a new market

It seems that I get quite a few people who ask me how to become a storyteller.  I also get people who tell me they are just starting out and ask what sorts of advice I can give them.  Well, there are lots of ways to become a storyteller.  Some people take classes.  Some people just jump in and start telling to anyone who will listen.  Some people join guilds.  Some people start in libraries.  I think you get my gist, there are lots of ways to begin.  However, if you want to know if you are getting anywhere, I have a simple three year rule that I use to gauge that.


  1. have tried to get to comment but it took me ages

    1. sorry about that. Don't know what could be going on with the site. I will try to find out why. Thank you for telling me.