Lessons from the Story Slam

Yesterday I went to the Easthampton BookFest, sponsored by the local arts council. It was a celebration and fair dedicated to the local literary arts community. Special activities included a literary marketplace featuring works by local authors, several literary panels and workshops, and book-themed art exhibits. I didn’t get to experience as many of the festival’s activities as I wanted to, but I did have the opportunity to attend my first Story Slam.

The slam featured seven local storytellers, who took to the stage for live tellings of their own original stories, all centered around the theme, “roots.” The storytellers were all witty and outgoing, and they each shared their own personal, engaging tales of everything from notable family members, childhood memories, and even public restrooms.

As I was watching these storytellers, I was reminded of many of my lessons on good form in creative storytelling in the written medium. And while spoken word has the additional criteria of auditory quality, I noticed that the best storytellers incorporated¬†many of these creative writing elements into their speeches. For example, several of the stories fully immersed the audience by including sensory description, characters and dialogue. Their tellers, rather than relaying a monologue, crafted their narratives into vivid scenes. Many creative writing teachers these days like to preach “show, don’t tell,” but something I learned while writing my honors thesis is that many stories, especially personal narratives, are best crafted through a combination of showing and telling. The participants in the Story Slam exemplified this technique and put on a truly inspiring show.

I struggle with this kind of storytelling for two reasons. First, personal narratives can be difficult for me because I have trouble recalling details of events in my life. Usually only a few details stick out for me, but the bulk of what I remember are the emotions I associate with each event. That may make for an interesting memoir if I ever get the chance to sort through my mind (a hellish project in itself), but for a speech I don’t think it would work. The other problem I have is that I can’t accurately express myself through speech. I’m a writer, through and through. I need time to compose and revise my thoughts before I share them. Writing gives me this time, while speech doesn’t. Also, sometimes my mouth decides it doesn’t want to work right (I believe the term is word vomit) and it utterly fails to convey even the simplest of thoughts. This has been tons of fun in job interviews, but I digress…

If you get the opportunity, I’d recommend going to a story slam (or a poetry slam, if that’s your thing). Listening to skilled storytellers is a great experience, ultimately beneficial for both the teller and the listener. We can learn a lot from every story, and there are plenty of stories out there to be told.

Oh, and Camp NaNo is going well. Missed yesterday, but had enough momentum that I was able to catch up. I’m about 25% of the way to my camp goal, and the entire screenplay thus far (including everything I wrote before camp started, much of which still needs to be rewritten) is about 74 pages long. Getting there!

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One thought on “Lessons from the Story Slam

  1. That sounds great. Hmmm, I’ve never been to a story slam. I used to “read” my stories at coffee house readings, which is another form of story telling. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to simply standing before an audience and letting rip. My hat’s off to those who do it. Thanks for a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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