What are those characters saying?

A storyteller has to carry all the characters inside her self. She uses words, expression and imagination to make them real and come alive in a story.

What story characters say and then do, carries the plot along to a resolution. Not only that, but all the different ways they might speak make an impact on the meaning made.

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Statue of La Fontaine with the fox and the crow

Some stories have only two main characters like La Fontaine’s fable “The Fox and the Crow.”  The fox outwits the gullible crow through flattery. Fox will say anything to get that cheese. The crow feels stupid.

In some versions the fox is male and the crow is female. Here’s a version featuring Master Reynard and Mistress Crow http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/FoxCrow.shtml

Might crows be either gender, or maybe both? Flattery is a common human foible to help a person get what they want

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It’s what characters say and how they say it that is so loaded. ” How well you look today, my dear. Your beautiful feathers are so glossy. How finely chiselled is the nose on your noble head. If only we could cut the ties that bind and fly away together!” Hmm.

What characters look like and how they dress can give more clues as to what they might say. (Be wary with stereotypes.)

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The two of them may have known each other for long time and saying nothing says a lot.

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or like the Crow and the Fox, they have just met.

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They may both want the same thing and agree to share.

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But stories rely on conflict being resolved: finding solutions to problems.

Are they earnestly competing with each other? Is there money at stake? Might one be a poor loser?
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This argument stopped me in my tracks. I heard their angry voices first.

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As soon as I put the camera down, he took her arm, and kissed her and she kissed him back.

That’s one problem solved.

But wait, there’s more! Story characters keep on coming. Thank goodness.

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PS. Listen to this recording of actor Jonathan Pryce reading ‘The Fox and Crow’ aloud. He’s reading rather fast, for my liking, but he is using his voice like a storyteller. Listen to how his voice makes the characters come to life. He uses all the variations his voice can offer to sound ‘fox-like’ – pitch, tone, volume and timing.

Longer pauses and visualising the story, as you tell, helps listeners see the character and believe they are real, as well as keeping up with the action.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/subjects/english/aesops_fables/1-8/fox_crow

PPS. Doesn’t the birdsong, in the audio background, take you into the woods.

All text and photos by Meg

 Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

What Motivates Characters ?

As a storyteller I imagine that the characters in the story I am telling are real. I can see them in my mind’s eye. They have human qualities. As I prepare a story for retelling, I’m often stopped in my tracks wondering “Why did they do this  … and not that?

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There’s a Sufi story Idriess Shah retells about a group of villagers discovering something they’d never seen before in the middle of their wheat field. They thought it was a monster and ran for their lives. 

Life does bring the unexpected. Wandering in a garden, I  wondered what made gardeners do this?

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Then one day, a knowing stranger came along. When he crept up to investigate the monster he saw it was a watermelon. But pretending he was a brave warrior, he jumped up and killed it : chopped it to pieces. The villagers were amazed. When he then began to eat it noisily, they were horrified and feared they might be next! So they chased him away from their village.

This world is full of differences; new; strange; unfamiliar.

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There are sights that can arouse assumptions. Who are the flowers for … and why?
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Why did they leave these behind? Did they have fun stomping on the cans?

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“What possessed the makers to dye these cheeses?

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Recently, my sister told me she’d watched the completion of beautiful mural near the Paris flat where we were staying. Next day, what I saw wasn’t what I expected. Why did he do this?

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Some days later another traveller walked into the village and heard about their monster in the wheat field. When he saw how frightened they were, he crept to the field alongside them and having seen the watermelon, said they were right to be afraid and together they ran back to the village. He stayed with them for a while and every day, bit by bit, he told them all the facts that he knew about watermelons … until the time came when the villagers were no longer afraid and they started cultivating those strange fruits themselves.  

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© Meg Philp

Thankfully, characters’ motives in folktales are made really obvious.  Balance must be restored and problems solved in a shortened space of time . Each character’s desires are made clear from the beginning. They want to change, to go out and seek their fortune :  to move from ill fortune to good fortune,  from fear to confidence, from doubt to trust. They want to live well.

When observing people’s actions in real life, their motivation is not so easy to fathom.

Perhaps that’s why people tell stories. By learning from a safe distance what others feel like –  through the story’s characters, their choices and possibilities for action – we are learning how to live well, together, before any “monsters” appear.

I can learn about myself and others by putting myself in the character’s place. As the poet W.H Auden once said,

The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.

What do you think?

All text, except quote,  and photos by Meg

NB. I read this Idries Shah’s story recently but I can’t remember where. You can find Sufi stories in his collections like –

Tales of the Dervishes: teaching-stories of the Sufi Master over the past thousand years, London, Octagon Press, 1982

 Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.