Perspective and backstory

Every story is told from a particular perspective, from a specific point of view. When I’m working on stories, I find it helpful to shift that perspective, to stretch myself. I see the story from new angles, noticing aspects I didn’t earlier understand. I’ll tell myself the story from the point of view of a peripheral character or the dog. I don’t usually tell the story this way, but use it as an exercise to anchor the story firmly in my imagination.

I’ve been thinking about perspective since the flooding in May when I saw this blue heron. Normally, we only see these magnificent birds from below. I took this picture standing on the bridge looking from above. I had no idea they were this brilliant!


I love working on perspective and backstory, understanding aspects of story characters that I’ll never put in the told tale. What color does the big sister in The ghost with the one black eye have? Pink. Do listeners need to know this? No. If I told you every detail, you’d be bored long before the end of the story. It’s helpful to me in order to create characters that are fully formed in my imagination.

If I find myself losing interest in a story, I may change the image in my mind. I picture the family in The ghost as African-American. I’ll imagine the little girl in The Gunniwolf as Asian. Again, I don’t tell the audience how I’m seeing the story in my mind. They have their own pictures. Doing this freshens the story up.

When I teach kids about backstory, I tell them that I need to know everything about the story, that I should be able to answer any question they pose, without even thinking. Then they start slinging me questions!

And speaking of backstory, here’s the picture I took just before the one above.


What informs our work as storytellers

I've been thinking about Eric Booth's idea that 80% of what we teach is who we are.

As I've mentioned before, it's why I'm comfortable putting workshop outlines on my blog. I know that if somebody else used my outline, it would be a different experience. I'd like to extend that theory, to add that though we change and grow throughout our lives (or at least I hope we do), we are who we were at age five. We add on to our selves through our experiences, thoughts and dreams, but I think we each have a unique spark that we always have had. 

The first time I thought about this clearly was when I was in my early thirties. My sister and I went to visit a childhood friend. We hadn't seen her in many years, but we felt immediately at ease together because we were all at our core the same people we were when we were young. 

What does this have to do with storytelling, you ask? I'm just feeling my way around this idea. When I'm working well, I am my authentic self, not putting on a larger-than-life storytelling persona nor covering my inner light with a self-deprecating bushel. I'm bringing all of my Priscilla-ness to what I'm doing, whether it's a performance, workshop, residency, in-service or coaching session. There's an essence of each of us that shines through when we do our best work. If I think back on the last month and a half, I can see how this esence came out when I told Grimm tales in a bar, Tristan and Iseult in a gallery, in my keynote speech to the Kansas Museums Association conference, with preschoolers at libraries and families at outdoor Halloween shows.

When I attend storytelling perfomances that touch me, it's because the storyteller is being the best of who they are and who they have always been (and yes, also that they've chosen good stories and have compelling storytelling styles). 

Just something I've been ruminating on lately. What do you think? 

(My mother says that I had been crying, but my father asked me to smile for the camera, so this is how I complied.)