Storytelling tips from The Moth.

The Moth, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, began when Founder George Dawes Green (also a poet and novelist) wanted to recreate, in New York, the evenings in his native Georgia when he and his friends would gather on his friend Wanda’s porch to share spellbinding tales. There was a hole in the screen which let in moths that were attracted to the light, and the group started calling themselves The Moths. The first New York Moth event was held in George’s living room, but events soon moved to cafes and clubs throughout the city. Now, in addition to excellent live events, there is a free weekly podcast. I am an enthusiastic consumer of The Moth’s stories and have collected favorites along the way. However, if I must single out one, it would be the emblematic story of original porch talker Wanda Bullard about her dad titled “Small Town Prisoner.”

In addition to the stories themselves, The Moth provides potential storytellers with a set of storytelling tips that I find to be applicable tips across many different forms of storytelling. They are posted here in full:

Be forewarned:
Moth stories are told, not read. We love how the storyteller connects with the audience when there is no PAGE between them! Please know your story “by heart” but not by rote memorization. No notes, paper or cheat sheets allowed on stage.

Have some stakes.
Stakes are essential in live storytelling.  What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage.

Start in the action.
Have a great first line that sets up the stakes or grabs attention.

No: “So I was thinking about climbing this mountain.  But then I watched a little TV and made a snack and took a nap and my mom called and vented about her psoriasis then I did a little laundry (a whites load) (I lost another sock, darn it!) and then I thought about it again and decided I’d climb the mountain the next morning.”

Yes: “The mountain loomed before me. I had my hunting knife, some trail mix and snow boots. I had to make it to the little cabin and start a fire before sundown or freeze to death for sure.”

Steer clear of meandering endings.
They kill a story! Your last line should be clear in your head before you start. Yes, bring the audience along with you as you contemplate what transpires in your story, but remember, you are driving the story, and must know the final destination. Keep your hands on the wheel!

Know your story well enough so you can have fun!
Watching you panic to think of the next memorized line is harrowing for the audience. Make an outline, memorize your bullet points and play with the details. Enjoy yourself. Imagine you are at a dinner party, not a deposition.

No standup routines please.
The Moth LOVES funny people but requires that all funny people tell funny STORIES.

No rants:
Take up this anger issue with your therapist, or skip therapy and shape your anger into a story with some sort of resolution. (Stories = therapy!)

No essays:
Your eloquent musings are beautiful and look pretty on the page but unless you can make them gripping and set up stakes, they won’t work on stage.

[The Moth]

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