I think that over the last 14 years, I have told something like 1000 stories. This is a rough estimate, and some of those stories were pieces of others. They folded into one another like nesting dolls, linked up like paper chains, or hung like pearls on a string. Other stories stood alone.
Some days, I told none, and others, I told four or five. I would tell a story as part of the main lesson content of the day at school, perhaps an event from ancient history or a legend of a saint. Then at snack time, I would tell some anecdote from my childhood. A disagreement between two children might provoke a little story about two squirrels who couldn't get along, or a sad child might need to hear about a beautiful hidden treasure found by a patient seeker. A raucous moment in the afternoon called for a story about our favorite ship, the Morning Star, and her wise skipper, Captain Rose, who battled gremlins and led his crew to help the merpeople protect their watery kingdom.
And then at bedtime, a story for my own little boy...
I have a treasure trove of characters, plot points, metaphors, and allusions, drawn from every story I ever read or heard. There are ideas from episodes of the Smurfs, names from old ballads, twists and devices from fairy tales, names from children's literature and from childhood friends. Everything is fodder for the storyteller. The squirrels, rabbits, and birds in my tales come from my own observations of nature, with a big boost from Thornton Burgess and Beatrix Potter. Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged hut show up now and then, as do Peter Pan and Sara Crewe. I call upon the old gods in myth and legend to walk through my stories now and then, and I look to the star travelers I loved as a girl to pull my tales into the future.
Dig your own story well. Start by reading, watching, listening. Drink in everything you can. This well is deep, and there is enough for all, but you have to dip your cup in to drink, and you have to tap the source yourself. Listen to Irish ballads and 'fifties pop songs. Read children's books and fairy tales. Watch movies and cartoons. Think about your favorites-- what happens? Who wins? Who loses? What love is found or lost? Go out into the woods or onto the street and watch. Listen to people and birds, cars and kids. Listen to what they say, how they say it. Let the words and pictures fill you up. But you can't just listen. You have to let the stories work on you. That's the first step. Next time, how to start telling...
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.