How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth

Image of How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth
Release Date: 
April 26, 2022
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“Whether you have a story to tell, or just think you have something to share—How to Tell a Story belongs at the top of your reading list. “

As human beings, we love nothing more than sitting around the kitchen table, hovering over a picnic table, or standing around the water cooler at work and telling a story.

How to Tell a Story by The Moth authors is the book you will want to read in order to hone that skill and amaze your friends and families at the next get-together.

The Moth is a gathering of talented writers who approach storytelling with a passion and “this book is an invitation for you to take yourself seriously as a storyteller—to discover your stories, center what’s most important about them, initiate yourself in the fire of live performance, and use your truths to break down false narratives. . . .”

That simple paragraph is the foundation for this book. Through it you will learn to “. . . shape and tell your own personal story, using decades of on-the-ground experience. . .”

Simply said, How to Tell a Story breaks down the process into four concepts: an introduction that discusses how everyone has a story; how to develop that story; how to tell the story you’ve developed; and concluding with how powerful each person’s story is.

In addition to these clear-cut parts, the reader is given aids such as story prompts and The Moth pitchline to aid in moving forward with the story.

The direction for this effort is well organized and starts with some thoughts by George Dawes, the founder of The Moth as he shares how the idea emerged and with help from friends, became a reality. His thoughts are joined by Pegi Vail and Melvin Estrella, both founding board members. To ensure the ideas come across, personal experiences from Moth storytellers such as Neil Gaiman and Fatou Wurie share what they learned when they participated in the project.

John Goode, Moth radio host and himself a storyteller, sums up the introduction with: “Stories are what turn friends into family.”

For those who recognize the value of the story, they will move into Part 2 in which the authors explain how their stories developed and how they provide guidance to the individual through their own experiences. According to Neshama Franklin, “I believe we’re like Russian nesting dolls and everything we’ve done is still inside us. Just twist off the top, and there it is.”

The development starts with “Mining for Memories” and a list of comments will send the writer off into their memory bank for material. “The truth is our lives are made up of a million stories.” And we just have to troll through those stories to put us on the right track.

One of the most entertaining and educational aspects about this book, from beginning to end, is the participation of those who have experienced sharing their stories. These are the founder, the founding board members, and the very people who took the time to learn about storytelling and then share their stories with the world.

But mining the memory is just the beginning. Once those memories rise to the surface, the development continues with recognizing the foundation of the story to be told—this includes defining the materials to include, bringing forth the emotion on the story, building it, and finding the correct beginning and ending.

While it is difficult to pick out any one chapter or paragraph in this book, it should be noted that probably one of the most important parts is “Telling the Story.” Not everyone is good at standing on a stage and talking about personal issues from their life. The section on “From Page to Stage” focuses on both the successes and the failures people experienced when faced with talking to a large crowd. There is the question of memorizing one’s story or shooting from the hip—which presentation is best?

“These stories are built to be shared, and now’s the time to test your wings!” That simple sentence is designed to provide the storyteller with the confidence he or she needs, to move to that next sharing step. The timing, repetition . . . even language are gauged to present a successful event.

The section on telling the story out loud when practicing before the real event, shares several tips to help the storyteller, such as “Stand Up! Try your story without a net . . . [if your story does] not make complete sense. Do not fret!” Good words to live by.

Then, “One of the last things we focus on in rehearsal is delivery.” Here they share a number of hints that are designed to make delivery both comfortable and meaningful, such as, “remember that you know your story better than anyone else; it’s good to take a breath before  you speak; silence can be just as important as the words you say; acting is a different art form; when sharing dialogue, put the ‘I said’ . . . before the quote.” While these are just a few of the hints, this section will go a long way to helping any person who is apprehensive about being in front of a crowd.

Of course, as with any ending, this one sums up the previous parts by telling “The Power of the Story.” There is a discussion about the “ripple effect” that a story has not only on the storyteller, but the immediate audience, and those who hear about it second or third hand. In fact, the entire concept of storytelling effects everyone it touches—adults, children, high school students—everyone.

There isn’t enough time or space to cover all of the details put forth in this book. Suffice it to say—whether you have a story to tell, or just think you have something to share— How to Tell a Story belongs at the top of your reading list. And then you should take action and uncover that story.