Storytelling, Stillness & Deep Listening

Life can become so very hectic and full of movement that we can forget what it is to be still and have nothing to do except to be still. (Abbot’s Notebook)

Before joining Mary Beth Coudal, Joanna Parson and Kathryn Cramer for a thoroughly rejuvenating Adirondack Memoir Retreat at Skenewood I posted a wandering rumination on storytelling. It connected dots. Loosely.

Mist. Lake. Mountains.

During the retreat I presented to the group on storytelling in the digital age, emphasizing the importance of — and increasingly abundant, powerful and affordable/free tools for — good storytelling. While the tools are many and evolving daily, the keys for good storytelling are few and enduring.

  • Listen Suspend noise, distraction and judgment.
  • Wonder Become curious and receptive. Ask questions.
  • Distill Strive to “unpack a narrative in its purest form” ~ Bob Davidson
  • Plot Sequence the scenes: beginning, middle, end.
  • Revise Trim the fat. Focus the narrative. Polish the delivery.
  • Practice Discover the narrative’s energy, pauses and cadence.
  • Share Relate interactively with your audience.

Although the last tip might vary depending on your storytelling medium (ie. print and video, for example offer minimal interactivity between storyteller and audience), I believe that “sharing stories” remains a superior goal to “telling stories”. After all, the story exists not in the words, images, etc. of the teller. The story is conjured up in the imagination of the audience. Whether oral story, book, movie, cartoon, it is the interaction of teller and audience that breathes life into a narrative.

For this reason, the best storytellers remain receptive, listening deeply to their audience even while relating their stories. Listening, revising, improving their narrative(s) for the current audience.

Mary Beth Coudal’s post-retreat reflection reminds us to listen and discover.

I’m finding benefits to being still, keeping quiet…

As we walked in the Adirondacks, the other writers and I stopped talking for a little bit. We said nothing.

When I wasn’t talking, I could listen. I could hear our footsteps, our breathing, a bird on the lake. I could hear a breeze through the leaves of grass. (To Pursue Happiness)

Mist. Lake. Boathouse.

Abbot Philip Lawrence’s quotation at the top of this post, excerpted from “Storytelling: From Ira Glass to Benedictine Monks“, was in my mind as I spoke with the retreat attendees about storytelling in the digital age. Today storytellers are blessed with ever richer storytelling tools and platforms, but their audience is drowning in distractions. It’s a noisy, hectic world, and it is more important than ever to cultivate stillness and quiet in order to listen.

Another conference attendee, William McHone, is setting off in pursuit of stories following the retreat.

As I head off on Wandering III, the people, places and events I come upon will inevitably remind me of the many wonderful people, places and events that have shaped my life thus far. I am hopeful, over time, the recording will become both something of a travel log and memoir… (Wandering With Moe)

As a fellow wanderer, perennially swaying to the siren song of adventurer, I envy McHone’s walkabout. Such sweet seduction!

And yet he must cultivate stillness as he wanders. He must be curious and receptive in order to discover the stories lurking in the people and places and events he will encounter. He must ask questions and listen deeply to the answers. He must distill the essential scenes and weave them into intoxicating narrative adventures. And he must share them. Again. And again.

And if he does, when he does, we will be listening.

One Comments to “Storytelling, Stillness & Deep Listening”

  1. […] Listen. Play. Be honest. The rest will take care of itself. […]

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