“Great stories happen to those who can tell them” Ira Glass
Good storytellers appear to be inside the story as they are telling it. Great storytellers grab you and take you with them.
Nearly half of the Bible is written in narrative form. And there is no doubt: the stories are mind bogglingly good.
However, despite the greatness of the story, sometimes we teachers don’t tell them so well. We either just read them out loud or ask a student to do it.
If the telling matched the quality of the story we’d be able to “transport people to another place” (JK Rowling). That’s what we should be able to do with Bible narratives on a Sunday morning.
There are a few things you can do to make a narrative come alive.
Living a story while you are telling it is the art of storytelling. You are “inside” the story, describing what you see, showing your class the inside of a different world.
Tell the story from the perspective of one of the characters. How about telling the story of Daniel in the lion’s den from the perspective of king Darius as he paces the floor of the palace all night hoping that Daniel is not killed (Daniel 6:18)?
A narrative has a structure, but there’s nothing to say you have to begin the story at the same point in time. If you begin the story of Daniel in the lions’ den with Darius, you can re-order the story bringing the evil satraps into focus.
Sometimes an ancient setting is hard to imagine. An easy way to change that is to set the story in a modern world. This is especially true for parables. Perhaps the easiest parable to modernize is the parable of the prodigal son. Modern life is filled with runaways who leave home to go their own way only to find that all the excitement the world has to offer is nothing compared to the love they had at home.
Narratives often leave out assumptions. Put them in to help the story. For example, the story of the good Samaritan plays on a cultural prejudice held by the Jews against the Samaritans. Providing background at appropriate points brings the story to life.
What do you know about the character in the story. The story will tell you what he is like by showing you what he does. Highlight those things and make implications about his character. A great way to get your students to understand a character is to compare him or her to someone they know who has similar character traits. What is Darius like? We know he likes flattery. His satraps used this to get him to sign the no-praying law. Perhaps he has an ego that needs to be polished. In the end Darius makes an amazing statement about Daniel’s God. Flattery to his own ego is turned to right praise to Daniel’s God. Darius’ character is transformed enabling Daniel to prosper under his rule.
Every good story has a conflict and a resolution. For example, in the story of Daniel in the lions’ den the conflict is both within the king (his angst filled night) and with the wicked satraps. The conflict is real and we can relate to both kinds. Both are resolved in some way – God, not the king, looks after Daniel and the satraps meet a brutal end.
Stories without emotions are like spaghetti without sauce. What kind of emotion does the narrative portray? Is it sadness, melancholy, or joy and celebration? How you tell the story should highlight the emotional arch of the narrative. To do this, think about the dynamics of the storytelling. To tell a story dynamically try varying your speed and volume. If there is a dramatic moment use a visual aid. If there is something you can do that demonstrates what a character might have done it will aid in portraying an emotion. For example, you could pace the room as you talk about Darius’ night of worry.