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Finding Your Story

By Aaron Shepard

(Tell a Story! ~ Part 1)

Part of the booklet Tell a Story! first published by Simple Productions, Arcata, California, 1990

For more resources, visit Aaron Shepard’s Storytelling Page at

Copyright © 1990, 1996 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose as long as no text is altered or omitted.

Your first step is to find a story. Not just any story. Find a story you love! You’ll tell it often, and you want to enjoy it every time.

A story for telling could be

  • a folktale, meaning a story from the oral tradition. This could be a fairy tale, hero tale, humorous tale, tall tale, wisdom tale, animal story or fable, love story, ghost story, myth, or legend.

  • a “literary tale,” by a single author, originally meant to be read.

  • a real-life story, from history or personal experience.

For most beginners, folktales are easiest, because they’re made for telling. They’re simple, direct, and lively, with built-in memory aids. So from here on, we’ll focus on folktales.

You can gather folktales from books, storytelling recordings, and word of mouth. Find books and recordings in both the adult and the children’s sections of your library and bookstore.

Start with short tales—one to three pages of text, or a few minutes of recording. Look for stories with clear action, strong characters, and simple structure. Of course, pick a story that also suits your listeners, if you know who they’ll be. Modern retellings are easiest to work from, because they are already refined and adapted for listeners in our culture. But you too can alter a story to suit yourself or your audience.

Professional storytellers must be careful about copyright protection on stories they wish to tell, but this is less important for an amateur. If you have relied on only one version of the story, it is courtesy to at least mention your source. Be aware, though, that some storytellers—including many native Americans—feel you’ve stolen their stories if you tell them without personal permission.