Monday, April 28, 2014

The Art of Storytelling by John Walsh

The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story by John Walsh delineates how to tell a story to an audience, explaining how to find a story through how to stand in front of a group of people, whether a small intimate gathering or a larger audience, and tell the story with confidence.  This book is written by a Christian man and published by a Christian publisher and the author’s faith informs much of the book and dominates the latter part.

I mention this because I did not pay attention when I picked up this book and so I was understandably confused.  I chose the book because I thought it would be interesting to read it after having read K M Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel.  However, this book is not so much about telling YOUR story as it is about telling A story.  A small but profound significance.  And the book is truly written as a tool for group study and sharing, with exercises where you tell a story to another person.  This is easier said than done for some people and I would strongly recommend anyone who wants to fully explore this book to 1) be prepared to have a few family and friends who will listen to you tell stories and practice or 2) use this book in a small group where everyone can learn and grow together as story tellers. 

The book begins with several story suggestions and then assigns one story to the reader.  The first part of the book walks the reader through the steps of learning the story, focusing on not memorizing every sentence so much as honing the beginning and ending, developing and learning story telling skills—like exaggerated facial expressions, gestures (less is more), and pauses—that will make the experience of listening to you tell a story a joy.  Although the Bible and Christianity are mentioned throughout, it is not until the third part that the emphasis shifts to the Bible and the author talks about the proselytizing power of storytelling and encourages the reader to go to his website to see videos and download free resources to help them learn more about storytelling and BibleTelling, as he calls it. 

Truth is, if I had watched any of the videos, I would not have read the book.  I found the author's technique dull and his tone a bit condescending.  I also found it problematic that, within the book, he shares a story from another book without actually researching the Greek of the original text, effectively changing the interpretation of one of the Bible stories.  Had he bothered to do a little research, he would have realized that the story he was telling was not well researched and perpetuating false teaching seems a bit peculiar.

I was especially turned off when he warns the reader to be aware of their physical appearance and shares how he once went to a presentation by a woman who wore short sleeves but, because her upper arms were flabby, he was so distracted that he didn’t pay attention to the storyteller.  Ironic.  I closed my eyes to allow myself to fully engage with his video and found it boring.  Perhaps if he had focused on what she was saying and not on her appearance, he might have been able to tell whether or not she was a good story teller.  And apparently the same goes if you have tattoos.  Better to cover them up because your audience won’t hear your story if you don’t.

The publisher is a conservative one so it doesn’t surprise me that the author is as well.  This is probably a good book for Christians who are interested in learning how to share Bible stories with others.  There is no doubt that stories are powerful and can be used to influence and inspire.  Perhaps if the author had focused more on technique and not shared stories about flabby armed women or inaccurate stories from others, I would be more enthusiastic about the book (even if I would still have found his videos dull).  As it is, I would recommend this book only to Christians and would encourage them to read it with some discernment, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, because I think it will be needed.

With that said, I knew that I would not want to keep this book by the time I'd finished the second chapter but I had also thought of someone I thought might benefit from and even enjoy reading the book.  I know she has enough discernment to take what she needs and disregard the rest.

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