When Storytelling Fails

I am a storyteller and bear all of the hallmarks of that ancient profession.

I have a good speaking voice with emotive ability, an animated face and manner, and high energy, I am an avid reader with a huge vocabulary, and most importantly, I think chronologically.

I was born like this and it never occurred to me that other people thought differently until my husband and I started comparing our childhoods and he admitted he didn’t really have any memories that were structured that way. If he saw a picture or heard someone else tell a mutual childhood story, it sparked his memory but it was more like opening the drawer of a file cabinet and accessing the exact thing you wanted. The advantage for him in this memory system was that his mind is never cluttered. He has razor sharp focus on any topic or task and is never distracted down a rabbit hole of memory. The disadvantage is that when you ask him things about his past, sometimes he just doesn’t remember.

Life itself is a story in my mind. It is linear, chronological, in color, and most of the time it is in great detail. I have learned to use this to my advantage and often become an institutional memory resource for organizations I have worked with for a long time.

But for all its advantages, my storytelling nature can have its dark side.

Go ahead, ask me how my husband and I met, how I started a professional singing career as a preteen, what brought me to Texas…your choice!

I have learned through many hard lessons to pick and choose what my storyteller brain will share because, to be frank, you are probably just making conversation and if I don’t edit myself, I will inundate you with the story. Sometimes I can’t stop myself and I walk away from a conversation metaphorically kicking myself for losing control of the narrative and giving far more detail than is necessary or wanted.

Can you relate?

If so, here are a few techniques that have helped in the past with my storytelling fails. I hope they help you, too!

  1. Stop. When you sense that wheel is spinning too far, just stop. Apologize to your listener for giving them too much information and then follow their lead through the conversation that follows. There may be something specific they would like to know more about, but be careful not to start spinning all over again. Keep to the facts and keep it as brief as you can unless they give you the go-ahead for the whole saga. Even then, pay attention to their non-verbal cues and adjust accordingly.
  2. Think about your stories. Are there a few that come up in conversation most often? Think of ways you can condense them while keeping both the point and the humor and use that amended story the next time someone asks.
  3. Make sure you are including them in your storytelling as much as possible (Questions and requests to imagine the setting can often do this.) Be sure you are asking questions of them, too. Remember, this is a conversation and not a monologue!
  4. Practice your ending. Every story has an end and so should yours, so make it simple and easy for you to remember.
  5. Cut yourself some slack when you slip and tell too much. It IS your story and it IS valid and you owe no apologies to anyone for having it…you just may want to apologize if you have overwhelmed someone and you realize it.

Your gifts as a storyteller can be wonderful and I hope that if you have an inclination to write them down, that you do! There are many places to share them and I have learned so much from being a part of Story Circle Network and their International network of women writers. Life writing is something they do well and even teach, so if you are a storyteller in search of an audience, (But maybe not that new acquaintance at a party!) check it or another writing group out and see if it works for you.

Write On!


5 thoughts on “When Storytelling Fails

  1. Ooh my! This is me. I recently apologized to a new acquaintance for holding her hostage in the grocery store telling her a story!


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