Good Story Telling




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by F. Haydon Dimmock

"...and that was how Julesburg was saved!"

There was a chorus of sighs and audible breathtaking from the Scouts seated in a circle round the Scoutmaster.  For twenty minutes they had sat spellbound as the tale had been unfolded.  Not for one second had their eyes left the teller of the tale.   They had been enthralled, inspired and completely carried away.  It was a story they would remember for many a long day.

The world of books, the realm of history, the everyday events of life, all present to the story-teller material for yarns.  Every boy loves a story, but it must be told in a manner that he can understand.

What constitutes a good story?  Opinions are bound to differ, but we must think with the mind of the boy.  What does he like?  Adventures with plenty of stirring action!  We must remember that we live in an age of swift movement.   The Atlantic has been conquered by air; the world's long distance railway record has recently been broken; wireless telephony has been established between Britain and America.  All these conquests tend to speed up the mind of the modern boy.   Therefore, in our tale telling we must not bandy words.  The story must move and the action must be sustained.  Our story must have a point in it. 

Whilst we may dispense with a plot, there must be a reason for the yarn.  It may be a story to illustrate victory over adversity; it may show the value of being able to swim; it may prove the virtue of being cheerful and the good it can do.  It must not be a story just for the sake of a story.

Know Your Story

The successful tale-teller must have his story at his fingers' ends.  It is fatal to read from a book.  However well you can read--that is, indeed, an art in itself--you will fail to impress.  You must remember that the words of the book are not your words, but the words of the author.  You could not speak as the author writes, so the reading is unnatural.

If you propose to relate a story you have discovered in a book, read and re-read that story until you have card-indexed in your mind the salient points of the yarn. Then when you are alone, experiment on telling the tale in your own words.  At first you will find that you have a sort of condensed version of the story.  It will sound more like a synopsis than a complete story.  That is not a fault, for you can build up from the condensed version until you have a polished effort.

Items of news provide material for yarns.  A hundred-word paragraph describing a man's return to his native country with a big bankroll, the result of twenty years hard work since leaving home, a poor man, can, with a little imagination, be the basis of a really fine story.  Keep to the main truth and the rest may be fiction.

Our history books are full of good stories.  Don't worry about dates.  The boy learns these at school.  Tell the story as dramatically as possible.  It is quite a good plan to ask the Scouts to supply the dates, and this makes a suitable competition.

There are hundreds of good stories in the Bible that can be retold with due reverence in modern speech.  Similarly the Bible stories can be adapted and given modern settings.  It requires careful preparation.  Avoid talking too goody-goody.   Avoid repeating the same moral time and time again.  I have seen Scouts bored to tears because of the constant moralizing.  It may be found more advisable to leave the Scouts to discover the moral for themselves.  They will do it readily enough if the story has been told well.

Our second consideration is "How shall we tell the story?"

Keep It Dramatic

We will assume that you know the story, and knowing the story that you will visualize the action.  Keep that mind picture before you, because that will be your greatest assistant.  Start the story with a dramatic touch.  Don't preface the yarn with a long preamble.  Get right off the mark, as it were.

Suit your voice to the words.  If speaking the words of a character, try to speak as you imagine the character would do.  Live the part and live the story.  You must be whole-hearted or the effort will be wasted.  Even a poor story well told will get over.  If you find the interest waning move a little quicker, brisk up the action.  So many stories fail because the teller allows them to sag in the middle.   Keep. going all the way and don't wander from the theme.  You may often feel inclined to do this but you must resist the temptation.

A good finish to the yarn is essential.  Having come to the end of the yarn let it go at that.  Don't attempt to go over the ground again, as it were, pointing out the main features of the yarn.  If you do this you will destroy the effect of the tale.   This is permissible if you are running a competition, or when talking to a small audience of boys you know well, but with a big audience it is fatal to go over the ground again.

Here are just a few golden rules:

Boys enjoy humor. Introduce a humorous touch in your yarns.
Avoid morbid tales, ghost stories and those with sad endings.  The hero must triumph in the end.
Choose simple language.
Be sure of your facts.  Boys are heartless critics.
Allow the boys to sit comfortably.
Enjoy the telling of the tale.

See Also:

Campfire Story Telling

Ernest Thompson Seton on Story Telling

A. E. Hamilton's Stories by Firelight and Emberglow

Bibliography for Camp Fire Stories

Campfire Helps






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.