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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

Dylan Brody and the Art of Storytelling

By on June 13, 2010

If you follow this blog, you know that I’m trying to develop myself as a storyteller (The Bus, the Bench, and the Chamber of Doom text version | audio version). They say if you want to be a writer you should read great writers. So I figure if I want to be a storyteller, I should be listening to great storytellers. It doesn’t hurt that I survived my adolescence by means of nightly doses of Jean Shepherd on the radio.

It’s a boon to me, therefore, that there is currently a storytelling revival going on. The Moth is a great example of this, sponsoring sold-out events nationwide that are nothing more than people getting up and telling a “true” story of 5 to 15 minutes in front of a live audience. Here in the Triangle region of North Carolina, Jeff Polish’s The Monti brings a local flavor to Moth-like evenings. (I plan to put my name in the hat for a chance to tell a live story at the next Monti Story Slam on June 22.)

As I’m learning the craft of good storytelling, whether in writing or “live,” one of the contemporary masters I’ve come to admire is comedian, novelist, artist and playwright Dylan Brody. Here’s a brief sampling of his genius, “The World’s Stupidest Mugging”:

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  • Wyclif

    I've been thinking about how to become a better storyteller lately. I don't think this is emphasised enough in seminaries, for example: wouldn't we have been better served if we had spent more hours studying storytelling than homiletics, the science of the sermon? I understand the difference, but surely there is a lot of crossover. To risk sounding crass, if you're going to tell The Story, don't you have to be good at telling stories in general?

    In addition to Dylan Brody, what books do you recommend? Garrison Keillor? Homer? If you post some recommendations, I'll be sure to look into them.

  • Couldn't agree with you more, Wyclif, about the importance of storytelling to preaching. Perhaps the reason this is not emphasized more is that the traditions you and I come from tend to downplay the narrative aspects of scripture (and the faith) in favor of propositions that can be argued.

    As far as books, I'm afraid I don't have much to recommend, although I'd like to research what might be good to read on the topic. The Monti story slam page has a brief but good summary of “Tips for Telling a Great Story.” I've also found that some books on writing fiction are helpful, even though they are usually about longer-form stories (i.e., novels). Particularly influential for me have been Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction and The Writer's Life and Stephen King's “On Writing.” Storyteller.net has some good articles, although not all are useful.

    Mostly, though, like any craft, it is best learned by much observation of master craftspersons and just doing it. Take advantage of every opportunity to hear good storytelling. Find out if your nearest city has any storytelling events similar to the Moth and Monti. Subscribe to the Moth Podcast. Listen to old radio shows of Jean Shepherd, my storytelling “mentor” from my teenage years, and one of the greatest American raconteurs ever.

    Then take every opportunity to practice the art. Do it in your preaching if you preach. Do it at an open mic night or a story slam. Volunteer to tell your stories at a nursing home.

    Bonus for inspiration: Watch the documentary about the career of comedian Eddie Izzard, “Believe: the Eddie Izzard Story.”

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