What is Storytelling — Helen McKay

What a simple question but – oh, how difficult it is to define.

To me storytelling is a measure of magic shared between the teller and audience. It is a meeting of minds where visions, values, feelings and memories are passed on in words. Storytellers send out words showing their vision and receive feedback from their listeners in the form of body language. When this connection works, a special form of energy is present – I call it magic.

What is received is different for each listener and the feedback from the audience is different with every telling. The magic of stories can transport us back to more innocent times or project us forward into the unknown future, in fact, it can take us to any place we could possibly go.

In that way storytelling is a journey of exploration. What the listeners see depends upon the skill of the teller and their perception of the journey – some see all the scenery while others just see the technical things.

Storytelling can rekindle memories in the minds of the listeners and teach us in subtle ways. It is a vehicle which can be used to heal, break down barriers, and build bridges in communities without the listener being aware of its purpose – it’s a community activity.

As a teaching tool oral storytelling is a process of creating words spontaneously, rather than the more tortuous process of developing written language, with all its stylistic limitations.

You could say oral storytelling is a precursor to written stories and is an important process for those who find reading and writing difficult.

By telling their stories people are experimenting with language, structure and form in an easy way. Storytelling is one of the ways to develop creativity in children – it develops the skills of language, listening, and literacy and may be extended right across the curriculum.

Storytelling is like taking medicine – if it’s the bitter truth, you hate it, but when it’s sugar-coated it becomes more palatable. Story is the sugar and has a very important place in today’s sick society.

Storytelling is indeed a measure of magic.

Helen McKay © 1997,
Australian Storytelling Guild (NSW).