Every storyteller has a favorite approach to the process of learning and remembering a story to tell. Some storytellers use a combination of steps that work well for them. The one thing every storyteller I know seems to agree about is that learning and remembering a story does not mean memorizing it.

A good storyteller understands that a story is always a creation in progress. In an ideal world, a story is re-created by the audience and the storyteller every time it is told. This is why a story is usually different with each telling, and why memorizing does not properly serve the story, the audience or the storyteller. 

Following are five basic steps you need to consider when approaching a tale you want to tell. (In this article, I am focusing on how to learn and tell a folktale. While most of these steps apply to learning and telling other kinds of stories, there are a few minor differences when it comes to creating an original or a family story. This will be a topic for another time.)


Read and re-read a folktale you want to tell to make certain it is a good one for you – one you like, and one you believe your audience will enjoy.

Look for other examples of the story for different renditions. You may discover a variety of cultures where a similar story has been adapted to reflect a different time and place, yet the “bones” are really the same.  


As you think about the folktale, picture the different scenes in your minds-eye. Do the sequences seem logical and easy to follow? 

Think the story through as if you were telling it. Will you tell it in first, second or third person?

Decide where and when you want to place the story.  

Consider the characters in the tale, and take time to become acquainted with each one just as you do when first meeting someone new. 

Try out a few memory techniques that appeal most to your learning style. 

o   Write an outline of the story

o   Create a story map or draw the story sequence in comic book form

o   Think about the story and talk it through to yourself 

o   Make a rough audio of the tale as you recall it

o   Tell someone you trust about the story

o   Ask yourself and trusted listener(s) if there are questions that need to be addressed the next time the story is told

o   Make a rough draft of how you want to tell the story


Without using notes, a story map or outline of the story, tell the story to a peer group and obtain appreciations and suggestions about your telling so you can consider their remarks. Do this step as many times as needed.


Review what you know about the story in private, with a small group of trusted friends, or make an audio or video of the story for your ears and eyes only.  Review and consider what is working and what is not working in the story as you rehearse. Be sure to stay open to changes as they become known to you.   


Do these steps as many times as necessary until the story is “yours,” and you know it is time to tell the story to an audience. 

Pay attention to how an audience reacts and participates as you tell the tale. These cues will help you refine the story until it becomes more “set” in your mind, and it can be considered a solid addition to your growing repertoire. 
I hope these steps are helpful to you. If you have questions or run into problems learning and remembering a story, please let me know ( glenda@storyworksgroup.com ). It will be my pleasure to help you overcome any roadblock you might encounter as you develop your story list and your unique storytelling style.