Oral Storytelling: Memoir in the Raw

So excited about my next book. After ghostwriting umpteen million memoirs for others, I finally figured out the angle to take on my own memoir. It all came about because of the Santa Fe Speakeasy, the oral storytelling show I host once a month. I usually anchor the show with a story of my own, so once a month I get to come up with a true story from my life and try it out on a live audience. The fact that we have a new theme each month inspires me to think of stories I’ve never told before, but that are kind of lurking in the back of my mind. Over the past six months or so I’ve found this to be an invaluable exercise, because I get immediate feedback on what’s funny and what’s not. Oral storytelling is always surprising that way, and deeply informative. Basically, it is memoir in action, in process, in the raw. Though the spoken story is always quite different, and significantly less detailed than a written one would be, the audience response at the Speakeasy gives me a sense of which details are interesting to people and which tend to distract. So, call me thick headed, but after telling a story a month for half a year, it finally occured to me that a compilation of these would make a hilarious book.


There’s the one about how I learned about the birds and the bees, the one about the summer that changed my life, the one about the roommate who tried to murder me, the one about the time I punched a guy in the mouth . . . oh man, it never ends. The thing that has worked to develop all these stories is the fact that we have a different theme each month, and that forces me to do it. It’s basically a lot like going to a writing group, except nothing is written. This way is actually better, because all the participants in the speakeasy aren’t fussing with the exact wording, like writers would. Instead, they work on story concepts; story themes; basic beginnings, middles, and ends–the real meat of any story. The fact that, as oral storytellers, we don’t allow ourselves to concentrate on clever turns of phrase ensures that our stories have substance and meaning, first.

I just want to encourage writers, and even ghostwriters out there, to try this oral storytelling idea, if you get a chance. It’s a great way to break out of what can be the stifling and paralyzing world of trying to find that exact right verb, exact right descriptive phrase, and Tell. The. Story. Oral storytelling makes you check and make sure you really do have a story after all, and not just a collection of cool sounding words. Watching the Speakeasy, you can tell which people write their stories first and memorize them. They’re not very good. Nobody laughs. It’s simply because they are depending on clever turns of phrase instead of actual content. Those who know where the story begins, and know where it ends, and let it flow in-between are the ones that really entertain a crowd.


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