Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Magic of Objects

You know a story is working its magic when a listener says they were really inside it. That’s what child after child reported this Wednesday in one of the classes where I was telling stories at St Stephen’s Primary School in Shepherds Bush. I’d asked them what they’d felt during a story I’d told them. ‘As if I was in it.’ ‘Like I was there.’ ‘I felt like it was happening to me.’

The same kinds of thing were said on Thursday at Session 3 of the Parents’ Storytelling Course at Kensington Palace. The parents on the course are a terrific group of people, all of them mums except for one dad. One said this week, ‘This storytelling course is really changing my life.’ It was the greater depth of their response to the world around them that several had noticed – like they were going more deeply into the things around them. One had done lots of Internet research on historical personages linked with the palace. Another is now bringing some of our storytelling techniques into the nightly storytelling she does with her children.

‘It makes them really involved,’ she said. ‘My son is aged nine. Now he is paying more attention.’

Making things happen

Making things happen was the general theme of this particular session, the third of six.

I began by telling a wonderful Chinese story which I’d told the day before in another of the classes at St Stephens Primary School. In it, a painter steps out of a much-admired mural he’s painted in order to help am orphaned child who is trying to learn to paint.

One of the particular aims of the Kensington Palace course is to base some fresh new stories on characters in William Kent’s mural on the King’s Grand Staircase. What would these people be like and what would happen to them if they stepped out of the painting and came back to life?

The Chinese story felt very appropriate.

After it, we moved on with my 5-minute seminar on basic patterns in story.

Pattern in stories

Question: If a story starts with a problem – and usually stories do – then what is likely to happen by the end of the story?

Answer: Some kind of resolution.

It’s such a simple realisation. Stories sort out problems, they give you a new perspective on life and in stories for children they usually end up happily. En route, of course, things can get a lot more complex. For one thing, there can be obstacles to the desired solution and we talked about the different types of obstacle that might occur, including weather and bad terrain. In the subsequent story-making, one small group ended up introducing brigands into their story, another two courtiers with poisonous thoughts.

Or there can be helpers in a story. A fairy godmother, a wise old man or kindly assistants, any of these could help bring a story to its resolution, often in a most unexpected way.

Magic of objects

Next I introduced some of my thinking about the magic of objects. Out of my basket came one or two items I’d pre-selected at home from my large store of such things. As they were handed around – a shiny slipper, a big old key – people came up with suggestions about what magic properties each might possess. For instance, the slipper might be magically able to fit any size of foot. It might be a slipper that could always find its missing partner. Or it might take its wearer anywhere in the world just like a magic carpet.

The day’s story-making

After we’d talked in this general way, we got on with the day’s story-making.

Each of the four small groups that formed for the work was invited to go and pick an object to see what help it might give to their story. The slipper, the big old key from my Aunty Mali’s house in Wales, a shiny necklace, a little ornate Indian mirror?

Four wonderful stories emerged (and were told to the whole  group by their makers) by the end of the session. What a pleasure! I felt like I was in them all.

A necklace that finally proves the identity of a lonely, orphaned child… A mirror that shows the truth about the nature of whoever looks into it…

Next week or the week after as the stories get finished (and, of course, there’s polishing still to do), I might retell one or two of them here – but only, of course, if their makers are willing.

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