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The Story League wants you to share. Every month the local group stages a contest, open to anyone, centered on a theme. Veterans and newcomers try to wow a panel of three judges with tales designed to enthrall and entertain.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Storytelling is an age-old practice, and it has some age-old traps. Ken Reid, a Boston stand-up and practiced storyteller, is hosting tonight’s likely-to-sell-out Story League event at Busboys and Poets. (The theme is “My Secret.”) I hit him up recently for some storytelling tips.
1. “It has to have an ending. If you know where it ends, you’re in good shape.” Even if your tale includes super exciting things like hidden identities, espionage, sex changes, a guy slipping on a banana peel, more sex changes, people that don’t understand what SOPA is, debaucherous acts and Hollywood starlets, it needs an ending. “If a story doesn’t have an ending, you’ll forget where it’s going,” Reid says.
2. “Don’t feel the need to embellish.” “Sometimes my stories are fairly unbelievable,” says Reid, who started doing stand-up because his visa was stamped incorrectly, which left him unable to get work in the U.K., where he was living. Rather than sit around twiddling thumbs, Reid decided to try his hand at comedy, and quickly ended up on a televised game show. This is a true story. “If it’s a good story and a genuine story, you don’t need to add anything. You can tell when someone is telling a legitamate thing that happened. If they’re making something up they’re not as confident and that fear is noticeable.”
3. “Let the story tell the story. You don’t need to act out all the parts like it’s a movie.” Reid has experience telling one story over the course of an hour. He’s written and performed three one-man shows, each focusing on a specific theme. The reason why his shows work is because they’re not Robin Williams-esque. He’s not running around the stage, changing voices. The point of telling a story is to put the audience in the moment with just your words.
4. “Details are more important than you think they are.” We have senses. We use them. It’s how we connect to the speaker. “It helps set the scene, making it something the audience can relate to. It’s actually what makes it an interesting story. The more specific you get, the more people are on board. Details help the crowd understand your life experience.”
5. “Have a story.” Though it should go without being said, well, it needs to be. Sometimes people forget that every story needs a beginning, middle, and end. “It has to go somewhere, an interesting anecdote is not necessarily a story. Make sure the story isn’t only good because you had to be there or know the characters in the story, figure out a way to get everyone up to speed.”
Story League presents “Story Contest 3: My Secret” at 9 p.m. tonight at Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St, DC (202) 387-7638, $10