Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Telling (Not Writing) Stories

By badgering demand from Haddayr.

OK, so, two weekends ago I was down on campus (in beautiful Champaign, IL) for classes. The 3rd--Friday--was Storytelling class. Basically the class is all about learning to do orally what I and many of you do on paper; we're not allowed to read from a paper copy of our stories, but we're also discouraged from straight memorization. The problem with memorization being that should you stumble once, you could lose the entire thread of the story.

We're each telling three stories this semester, but since we only meet in person once, two of the stories are over the phone. (Our class format is basically this; we all meet in a dedicated chat room and listen to lecture over a RealAudio stream; discussion is in the chat. When someone's telling a story, the tech gets us on the phone before class and we perform without benefit of body language, facial expressions, props or anything else.) My first story, unsurprisingly, was "The Bremen Town Musicians," and I don't even know how many times I had to practice doing those animal noises before I could be sure I wouldn't collapse into giggles over the phone.

For last weekend, I had talked to the professor about making up a story of my own. I came up with a title first--"The Elephant Who Overslept." Again, I'm sure none of you are shocked by the choice of elephants. (I also have a history of oversleeping, but that's another matter.)

What I find sort of funny about all this is that until a year or two ago I never thought I would be able to write for kids. Mainly this was because everything I wrote tended to go dark or "mature" at some point--death and sexuality and just plain adulthood always seemed to creep in. But either I've laid to rest some of my neuroses (not likely) or I've found a way to compartmentalize them when it comes to kids.

Anyway, here's the basic story, with the [major stage directions] added in:

My friend Alexander was telling me about a dream he had the other day. Alexander usually dreams about baseball. He dreamed that he heard the crack of the bat with his big floppy ears, and he dreamed that he chased down the ball with his white tusks gleaming in the sun, and he dreamed that he reached up with his glove at the end of his trunk and caught the ball just before it dropped over the fence.

You see, Alexander's an elephant. But, he lives in a house and he sleeps in a bed and he goes to school just like you and me. And he loves baseball.

So Alexander woke up from his dream and he rolled over in bed and he looked at the clock . . . and he sat straight up in bed! "Oh no!" he said. "I'll be late for school!"

Now, you might find this hard to believe, but Alexander loves school almost as much as he loves baseball, and he didn't want to miss a minute of it. So he jumped out of bed--and the whole house shook when he did that, let me tell you--and he threw on some clothes and he went to his door.

But he couldn't open the door, because he'd forgotten to put on his trunk.

See, you might not know this, but when elephants sleep in beds they usually take off their trunks. You probably would, too. I don't know if you've ever slept on your nose, but if you did [holding nose] you probably woke up talking like this. [Normal voice.] So Alexander usually took off his trunk at night. But, and you probably do know this, an elephant's trunk isn't just a nose. It's also a kind of a hand, and Alexander usually opened doors with his trunk.

So he turned around and started digging through the piles of clothes on his floor--Alexander's a very messy elephant--until he found his trunk, and he put his trunk on, and he opened the door, and he ran out of the house without saying a word to anybody.

"I hope I didn't miss the bus," Alexander said to himself. But when he got outside he looked up and down the block, and he didn't see anybody waiting at the bus stop. None of his friends were there, the birds and the wildebeests and the hippos. Well, Alexander felt kind of bad about that. He really likes his mornings at the bus stop. He likes playing with his friends, running and chasing and laughing. He likes to help his friends out, too. He carries their bookbags on his tusks . . .

Well, that's when Alexander realized he had forgotten his tusks. See, you might not know this, but when elephants sleep in beds they usually take off their tusks. Especially if they're sleeping in waterbeds. I don't know if you've ever slept in a leaky waterbed, but if you have, you probably woke up . . . wet.

So, Alexander went running back into the house, dug through the mess of clothes on his floor again--I really hope he's cleaned up his room by now--found his tusks, put them on, and ran out of the house without saying a word to anybody.

Well, by this time it was pretty clear Alexander had missed the bus, so he decided he was going to have to make the six blocks to school on his own. So, he started running.

[Running in place]
Six blocks. Five blocks.
[Stop running.]

There were birds in the trees along the way, and they were singing a song. They sang:

[Yes, I sang.]
"What a beautiful morning
For laughing and play
We'll sing our songs
And fly all day
Because today--"

But Alexander didn't hear them.

He kept on running. [Running in place.] Four blocks. Three blocks. [Stop running.]

There were wildebeests in the fields along the way, and they were singing a song. They sang:

"What a beautiful morning
For laughing and play
We'll sing our songs
And run all day
Because today--"

But Alexander didn't hear them.

He kept on running. [Running in place.] Two blocks. One block. [Stop running.]

There were hippos in the river along the way, and they were singing a song. They sang:

"What a beautiful morning
For laughing and play
We'll sing our songs
And splash all day
Because today--"

But Alexander didn't hear them, because he had forgotten his ears!

See, you might not know this, but when elephants sleep in beds, they usually take their ears off. You probably would too, if you had big floppy ears. Otherwise they might get all scrunched up, like cauliflowers.

Well, Alexander couldn't go to school without his ears. So he turned right back around and started running back home.

[Running in place.]
One block. Two blocks. Three blocks. Four blocks. Five blocks. Six blocks.
[Stop running.]

[Quickly, slightly out of breath.]
Alexander went inside, found his ears, put them on, ran out of the house without saying a word to anyone and started back towards school.

[Running in place, panting slightly.]
Six blocks. Five blocks.
[Stop running, stop panting.]

The birds were singing:

"What a beautiful morning
For laughing and play--"

[Loudly] "Can't stay!" Alexander shouted.

He kept on running. [Running in place, panting harder.] Four blocks. Three blocks. [Stop running, stop panting.]

The wildebeests were singing:

"We'll sing our songs
And run all day--"

[Louder] "Can't stay, can't stay!" Alexander shouted.

He kept on running. [Running in place, panting like you're going to collapse.] Two blocks. One block. [Stop running, stop panting.]

The hippos were singing:

"Because today
Is Saturday!"

Well, as soon as Alexander heard that, he stopped running. I don't know what your school is like, but I don't have school on Saturday, and neither did Alexander.

Some of Alexander's friends were over by the baseball field, and they called over: "Hey Alexander! We need a center fielder!"

[Hands on knees, panting.] "OK," said Alexander. "OK. But I need to sit down for a while first."

And that's the end of Alexander's story.


Pretty silly, eh? That's what I was going for, at least. Considering that I was telling this to a roomful of graduate students, it was hard to gauge how well it would go over with kids. I got a few laughs and a lot of nice comments, though. Folks seemed to think that any age up to 3rd grade would probably enjoy it, though they'd probably need to be school age at least. The most interesting comment came from a woman who pointed out that when we make up stories we reveal things about ourselves, and she guessed correctly that I had a messy room and loved baseball. Ha!

I'm not sure how I'm going to use this class down the road, yet. For one thing, I'd kind of prefer to work with young adults rather than little kids, and they're harder to tell to. But, I'm finding the class to be good practice for things like reading aloud, too. I've done enough of that to know that some things work well read aloud and some don't, and the ones that tend to work best for me require a little bit of performance.

I should add, too, that I when it comes to anecdotes and the like, I am one of the world's worst storytellers. I blather and I drone and I find things much funnier than anyone else does. I blame my mother, from whom I inherited this tendency towards verbal ramblings. (Love ya, Ma, but it's true.) So, perhaps this will help me in that respect as well.

4 Comments:

Blogger haddayr said...

Aaaaaaaaaaah. Thank you. What a wonderful story.

I just went to a Punch and Judy show last Saturday, and the woman doing the show was really surprised by what the kids thought was funny and what went over their heads; she was experimenting with a new storyline which was very wordy and funny.

I thought it worked on both adult and children's levels, which is what the best children's stories do.

And I think your story does, too.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Great! That's definitely what I was going for. I have to entertain myself, always :-)

11:22 AM  
Anonymous SarahP said...

Yes funny. And silly.

Possibly because I imagined you telling it in a really strong Northern Minnesota accent, don'tcha know.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Heh. This one I told pretty straight. But the last one I told was the Theft of Thor's Hammer -- the Loki-Thor Buddy Story, with the cross-dressing -- and I told that one with the accent.

9:53 AM  

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