Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Criteria for a Good Husband-Storytelling?

Winema I am writing an historical youth novel on an actual young Modoc Native-American Indian woman named Wi-ne-ma (which means “woman-chief”).  Wi-ne-ma married (at the ripe old age of 14) a white miner from California. She became a central and critical part of the Modoc Indian Wars in the mid 1870’s in California and Oregon.

Her father allowed her to marry since Frank Riddle produced the six horses necessary as a gift to marry his daughter (it specifically was not a “price” but was a socially obligatory gift).

But Se-cot (Wi-ne-ma’s father) did not approve of the marriage, until afterwards he found out three things:

  1. Riddle was an excellent shot
  2. He was a good story teller
  3. He did not abuse alcohol. 

At that point, to show his approval for the marriage, he returned all the horses and added some from his own herds.

I am intrigued by #2.   While I understand that native American cultures were more verbal than written and thus storytelling took on a bigger role than it does in our culture, I am intrigued for a couple of reasons: 

  1. Story telling is such an essential part of preaching.  No matter what type of preaching you do, you need to be good at storytelling.  I am not talking about creating stories whole-cloth, but we need to have the observations skills and the ability to draw a mental picture for people and the enthusiasm that draws them in and makes them WANT to hear the picture.  Even as we tell the stories of the Bible, we can make them deadly dull, or we can make people feel as if they can at least catch a glimpse of what it was like to be there at that time and place. As we increase our skills at story telling, I believe we become better preachers. 

I came across a very simple list of skills necessary to improve one’s storytelling:

Voice Mechanics: Speaks with an appropriate volume for the audience to hear. Employs clear enunciation. Uses non-monotonous, vocal expression to clarify the meaning of the text.
Face/Body/Gesture: Expressively uses non-verbal communication to clarify the meaning of the text.
Concentration is clear.
Eye contact with audience is engaging.
Maintains a charismatic presence in space (stage presence).
Characterization: If dialogue is employed, characters are believable to listener. Storyteller's natural voice is differentiated from character voices.
Use of Space: Storyteller seems comfortable, relaxed and confident in front of listeners. Storyteller maintains clear spatial relationships for characters and narrator.
Pacing: The story is presented efficiently and keeps listeners' interest throughout.    (from here.)

I would add to this list good observation skills. As we observe what happens either in an event or in human life generally, or in a Biblical text, we have more data to be able to draw upon to build the scene or characters or action in our storytelling. 


2. We often think of storytelling as something that is reserved for “artistic types.”  And it may come easier to people who are more right brained.  But I would say that those who are more analytical can learn to be good storytellers because we have good observation skills and it is a skill in which we (at least) can improve. 

The story I am writing about Wi-ne-ma will be one that I will tell to a group of 4-5 graders the first of next month.  (The church camp we attend is named after her).  I didn’t used to think of myself as a good storyteller, but it is a skill in which I have grown AND have come to thoroughly enjoy. 

I am staying with my parents-in-law for a couple of weeks to help the family through a medical emergency.  I am sure glad they didn’t ask me how good I was at storytelling before I married Loretta!  (They might not have meant the same thing that Se-cot did!!)

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