Old Dog teaches me about storytelling being interactive

How My Dog Reminded Me: “Storytelling” is Not Just a Compliment

Yesterday – it was 70 degrees, blue-sunshiny, the ducks were paddling in the stream and the owls were hooting back and forth…the old doggie was enjoying stretching out on the still-dormant grass and soaking in the welcome early spring-ish warmth.

Today – it’s been snowy-blowy out there, big flakes swirling wildly past and among the aspens and firs, dropping temps under the blustery gray sky  (ah, March in Colorado!)…Old Doggie came in from a brief yard patrol all happy and chilly-frisky and hey-let’s-play-frisbee! (– for about 37 seconds: she IS Old Doggie, after all!)

I’ve much, much to reflect on these days as I accompany my sweet dog into her old age…but today, as I enjoyed her changes and different responses to the different weather conditions, she actually made me think about perhaps the very best, most important, and artform-specific characteristic – indeed, core truth! – of storytelling:

Storytelling changes and responds differently to real-time circumstances.

And most especially that means adapting and responding to the audiencethe listener/watcher/participant(s)! This is core to how and why storytelling connects people so deeply!

“Storytelling” is a specific practice and art form – NOT JUST A GREAT COMPLIMENT!

Have you noticed? – The word “storytelling” is used as a descriptor and a compliment for any number of other artforms and practices.

It actually seems to be the ultimate compliment when applied to a movie or a novel or choreography, etc. (“This movie is storytelling at its most compelling!” “That dance was pure storytelling!”)

Similarly, “storyteller” seems to be the ultimate positive descriptor for other kinds of artists: “That movie director is a master storyteller!” “This novelist is a master storyteller!” “That artist really tells a story with paint – a visual storyteller!” (Or yet again: “a master storyteller!”) And so on.

Also, these days it seems the word “storytelling” is used everywhere in business, and advertising, and organizations, etc. etc.

Here’s just one example of another storyteller who has blogged thoughtfully several times on these issues: Limor’s Storytelling Agora.

Here’s the thing: Storytelling is interactive.

Most storytellers – and certainly most of us who fill in the “Occupation” blank on forms with the word “Storyteller” (and yes, there are those of us who do that; I’m betting most novelists, movie directors, marketers, etc., don’t) – know well this truth: Storytelling is an interactive, participatory experience.

Though it can be recorded while it’s happening and the recording enjoyed by listeners, the art and practice of storytelling is actually a real-time event (and usually real-presence, though technology can mediate that: for example, it allows me to share stories, real-time and interactively, via a computer screen with my granddaughters 1300 miles away).

Consequently, one of storytelling’s best practices is to be truly responsive and adaptive to that real-time audience and context. (How that can play out will be explored in future posts – keep watch!)

An old dog can learn new tricks – and a storyteller can learn to respond to the audience!

One of deepest satisfactions I get when I teach workshops and/or coach storytellers is to witness student storytellers experiencing and growing the ability to offer such responsive connection to their audiences! It’s beautiful to see that understanding and enjoyment develop as a person deepens his or her work with the telling of stories.

Over the 26+ years of giving myself to the profound and joyful experience, practice, and art of storytelling, I have learned this: The core beauty, truth and power of storytelling, and of a good storyteller, is the embrace of the interactive nature of the storytelling event.

This is true whether telling in a library story program, performing on a festival stage, or sitting with your kids, grandchildren, or neighbors.

The teller is still the same teller, the story is still the same story, but…

…connecting and responding to the particular audience, time, and place is foundational to the power and the joy of actual storytelling.  There may be nothing more joyful!

Unless maybe it’s watching your Old Doggie revel in both sunshine-basking and brisk-weather-romping. Who knows? – tomorrow we could be puddle-playing in the rain!

Read more:

What is Storytelling? –  read the National Storytelling Network’s definition/description of storytelling here – it’s really good!

Here’s a good exploration/explanation of “Are Videos Really Storytelling?” by Sean Buvala  (“If everything is storytelling, then nothing is storytelling.”)

What do you think?!  I’d love to read your comments!

Thanks for reading – Pam