Hearing stories told live is a great way to remind yourself of the power of language. Totally ephemeral, the words are gone as soon as they are spoken, so that unlike the written word a story told live relies on the linking of powerful images to guide you through the plot, and to remind you of where you have been. In this spoken language the sound of the words is very important - many storytellers use alliterative devices or rythmic repetition to delight the listener, some stories include passages of poetry or verse. Contrary to popular belief, this is a very sophisticated art form these days, with the tellers carefully crafting their language for maximum effect and impact.
At the festival I heard a fair few of these, but also some wonderful performance poetry by Matt Harvey, a word-wrangler whose wit and delivery quickly won him a new legion of fans.
By the way, I have several of Hugh Lupton's tales on CD, including The Iliad and The Odyssey which I highly recommend. Greek myths dull? Not told this way they're not.
A great presence at this festival was the traditional tellers including the enthusiastic Clive Fairweather who knows over 400 traditional tales by heart, and who told us a 600 year old story that has recently been translated from old english and had its first airing since that time at the festival.
So what did I learn from the storytellers that I can transfer to my own writing?
- First - no rambling. If a live teller rambles we soon get bored and begin to shuffle on our camping mats!
- The more odd and unlikely the image, or the more beautiful, the more it sticks.
- Recap any particularly salient points, but not in the same words as before.
- Use plenty of dialogue and keep description to one or two well-chosen images.
- Vary your voice (or in the case of writing aim for a variety of tone)
- The audience likes to be surprised, to expect one thing and be given something different.
- It is alright to use a refrain, an image or words that return again and again.
- Language is infinitely flexible, the human being will try to make sense of even the most nonsensical statements, so be bold.
- Characters must be individuals, whether prince or wolf or stupid Jack, each one must have his own particular idiosyncrasies and not just be a mere cipher.
- The ending must fulfil the promise of the beginning of the story, with a twist.