Thursday, June 18, 2015


A flow of words is no proof of talent or wisdom.

Stories are how we understand and explain the world, they are basic to the human thinking process. They are the oldest form of communication, of teaching, of healing, of entertainment. The first stories were hieroglyphs, petroglyphs and geoglyphs. 


Hieroglyphs were pictures or symbols drawn onto rock or other surfaces to stand for an object, sound or idea. It's actually a Greek word meaning sacred writing. The ancient Egyptians are well known for writing hieroglyphs on papyrus. However the Mesoamericans like the early Mayan and also Mediterranean cultures used hieroglyphs and painted them on protected surfaces protected from the sun and the elements. Some of the oldest hieroglyphs found in caves in Europe have been dated to over 60,000 BCE and the oldest petroglyphs established at around 10,000 BCE.
Petroglyphs, however are pictures or symbols that are carved into some types of rock by pecking, chiseling or sanded off to reveal different colors underneath. Of course they are much more permanent than hieroglyphs. The word itself means 'rock carving' and can be dated by style or by microscopic analysis of the weathering or wear of the edges of the cuts. 
Some petroglyphs found in New Mexico are thought to be over seven thousand years old. Others have been determined to be only several centuries old.
The third form of early communication using pictures is geoglyphs or earth pictures. These are large scale depictions and are sometimes referred to as intaglios. They are created by removing or adding surface rocks, stones, gravel soil or vegetation of a different color that the surrounding area. They can be miles in size such as the Nazca lines in Peru created some two thousand years ago.

Stories are a tree to hang knowledge on as fruit.

All these things far predated the written word. The human mind thinks in pictures, so the best storytellers can visualize with power to create word pictures to enable the listener to formulate (see) the story in his own mind. The oldest profession known to mankind is…nope you're wrong, it's Storytelling and it knows no age or ages.

Stories are linear in nature, but are best presented by an abstract person.

But, what is a story? I ask this question in almost every workshop I teach. Get all sorts of answers from an experience; a plot;  a fantasy; a presentation and so on. When you break it down to its simplest terms…It's a sequence of events. One thing happens first, one thing happens second, one thing happens third. Of course then you can get into story arc, narrative, meaning, subtext, ect. But, it's still a sequence of events that are colored by the storyteller with word pictures and…emotions.

A good story comes from the heart…not the head.
Word pictures - Power visualization...As a demonstration of how we really think and remember, I used to have my acting students play a game in class called the noun game. Now, most nouns name things, right? Apple, orange, horse, man, gun, sun, sky, river and so on. I might have ten or twelve students in the room and I would start by telling them to visualize the item I would name like an Apple. I don't give a darn if they pictured a Granny Smith, a Golden or a Delicious, just picture an apple. Going around the room, the next person would repeat the word I started with and add another in the same genre or something associative like, Orange. The next would repeat those first two and add one; banana. Then maybe the next would get creative and say banana split; the next; ice cream and on around the room…Sometimes it would get real interesting if someone started with body parts. 
Each person had to repeat everything named before and add one. We got as high one time as fifty-four noun-pictures before someone missed. Often, I would stop them around thirty or so and have the next tell an improv story using all the nouns in their proper sequence—"I was sitting under this Apple tree, eating an Orange when my buddy, Jim, came by and offered to trade a Banana for my orange. I said, I'd rather have a Banana Split, do you have any Ice Cream?—Get the point? The stories often got hilarious as each succeeding student had to make up a different story…all using the same noun-pics in the proper order.

The Storyteller is the brush; Emotions are the Colors; the Character is the Canvas; the Palette…your Imagination.

The objective was a prelude to teaching them to not memorize dialogue…but to learn it through visualizing the story. Once they realized they actually saw pictures while they listened or read a story, learning dialogue was a piece of cake.

The best Storytellers never let the wheels show.

Many of my students could be off book—that means know an entire four or five page scene—in thirty minutes. Which is all the time I would give them before they had to perform the scene in front of class and on camera. The new kiddos were always amazed they could do it since they had always tried to memorize their lines by rote before they came to my class…Oh, as a plus, they naturally would also know every other character's lines in scene in addition to their own. Ah, the value of Power Visualization.

Storytelling is seeing what you say.

Word pictures and other descriptions by the Storyteller serve to bring the listener/reader into the story. They become part of it when the Storyteller uses words through the narrative and through the characters to enable the audience to see, hear, feel, taste and smell what's going on in the scene.

Don't ask me what I mean to express with my story…ask yourself what it means to you.

We as Storytellers serve to stimulate the imagination of out reader/listeners through the proper and judicious use of word pictures.

Reality can often be too complex…Stories tend to give it form and function.

I regard storytelling as an investigation of characters and the words they use to tell the story. Isn't it better to give the reader/listener two plus two plus one instead of five? There is no right and wrong, there is only interesting and less interesting. A great book should leave you with many experiences…and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading or listening.

A great book is never read…It is experienced.


  1. Lots of meat on that bone! Good job.

  2. If a story is a sequence of events, then a great story is one that the observer (and subsequently the listener) never forgets.

    Very good insights. It's a mystical thing, this storytelling business.

  3. It is indeed, Vonn. Like I said, it is experienced.