Not all stories are ours to tell, even the ones that impact us.
Too often, we focus more on the tale than the transformation.
Here are 3 ways to tell a story that does not belong to you.
You may ask, "What does it mean that a story doesn't belong to me, especially if it changed me?
Some stories are cultural and sacred.
Those stories belong to the people of that culture. Just because a cultural or sacred tale impacted you, does not give you the right to tell it as you own it.
Some stories belong to other people.
A story of someone's personal experience may be magnificent, but it is not your experience. It is for them to tell, not necessarily you.
Here are 3 ways for you to tell stories that do not belong to you.
Think of the most beautiful picture frame you can imagine. Close your eyes. Visualize it. Do you see it? That frame tells a story. It tells a story before you even get to the picture inside of it.
Now, think of the most basic picture frame you've seen. It was probably a black square. It was plain, but it held the picture just as the fancy frame did.
A frame's job is to hold a picture.
A frame story works the same way; it holds a story.
Frame stories are one of the oldest methods of telling a story, and you see evidence of the narrative frame in early British Literature. William Shakespeare used it in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mary Shelley used it in Frankenstein. It's purpose then is as strong as its purpose now. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for you.
What is a frame story?
A frame story is a story that rests inside another story. It's that simple.
A story that does not belong to you needs to be framed by your experience. You need to begin telling about you. Who were you before you heard this story? Where were you at in life?
You begin to answer the "why" questions.
Why are you telling this story?
Why do we need to know about you before you tell it?
The "why" frames the tale.
I will talk more about frame stories in my next post.
Once you have constructed a frame, you can begin to tell the tale.
Be mindful, you are not just telling the plot, but you are telling the story. Often, when we retell stories that don't belong to us, we just give the highlights of the plot. It is much like one of those summary books you used in high school or college that summarized the book, and it spared you from reading it.
Audiences don't want plot summaries; they want stories!
Identify and animate the significant players.
Bring the audience in.
Activate the senses!
The binding that holds your frame together is transformation.
You can build the most beautiful frame and insert the most fascinating story, but if it is not bound together and hung adequately by transformation, you have nothing.
It will fall apart.
What is transformation?
Transformation is how that story changed you. The person you were at the beginning should not be the person you are at the end.
Transformation is the change in you.
That change can only be attributed to the story you told.
The transformational power finishes out the frame because it continues to answer the "why."
This is "why" I am different.
This is "why' my thoughts changed.
This is "why" this story changed me.
Through framing, telling, and transformation, you can take stories that do not belong to you, and you can make them yours. You are telling the story of your transformation, so you are not just telling a story for the story's sake. You are telling the story to attest to the transformational power of stories.
If you are telling stories for performance, it is still essential to ask permission before you tell tales that are sacred, cultural, or personal to individuals and groups. Remember, you are telling a story that does not belong to you.
For example, I have a friend that I adored. She was one of the kindest funniest, most sincere people I have ever met. She passed away New Years Day 2015. She told me one of the most amazing personal stories of how she met her birth mother decades after she was adopted. Based on the impact the story had on me, I knew it needed to be told, but it was not my story to tell. Not too long after she passed away, I was booked at a storytelling festival, and I wanted to tell her story. I made sure to ask her daughter for permission to do so before I did it. She graciously gave it. In the telling, I framed it, told it, and emphasized the transformational power of it.
To a degree, these steps made the story mine because it was more about how I was changed, but it added to my dear friend's legacy and immortality because new audiences experienced her story.
How can this help you tell stories that don't belong to you?
Let me know in the comments.
Charlie McCoin is a teacher, a traveler, and a storyteller who works to help people discover and tell their stories.