Oral Fixation

This post is not about what you want it to be about.

Chicago has a robust storytelling community–shows where people get in front of a crowd and tell a true-life story–and I finally decided to take the plunge. This past Wednesday I took part in Story Lab, which is really conducive to rookies in storytelling like me. I told the story about the time I almost fell off a bluff the summer before fifth grade. I’ve told the story to people over the years, but it’s usually over a pint and it takes about three minutes to tell. Now I had to take up six to ten minutes and do it in front of strangers.

The group of six storytellers gathered a few weeks prior to tell our stories and get feedback from the group. It was much like a critique session for writing–beef this section up, restructure this section a little bit, maybe focus on this concept more so the ending hits harder. I got some really great feedback that I incorporated into my story. Much of it dealt with craft, like pacing, focusing on tension, etc. I sort of rushed the story when I told it to the small group, mostly because I was nervous. The fact that I was nervous in front of six people didn’t bode well for me; what would I do in front of seventy? Also, I was going “off-book,” which meant that if nerves got the best of me I wouldn’t have a written story to fall back to.

Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried so much. Apparently, the bigger the crowd, the less nervous I am. Don’t get me wrong, I was plenty nervous leading up to the show, but once I got in front of everyone, I relaxed and just told the story. I felt comfortable onstage. Thinking about pacing and tension had certainly helped my performance, but I didn’t actively, consciously think “pause here for two beats, speak a little softer here.” The audience laughed, got scared, and teared up at all the right places, so I considered it a win.

Like most writers, I’ve told stories my whole life in one form or another. This was just a heightened form of telling a story to friends over dinner. Do I have room for improvement? Absolutely. But it’s definitely a craft I’d like to hone.


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