One of the most frequently asked questions people ask me is: How to find a story to tell? So let me tell you where I find my stories and where stories find me.
You might be looking for an anecdote highlighting a lesson you want to share. Or you are telling a story on an open stage in your neighborhood. Or, as a teacher, you are looking for stories to tell in your classroom.
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💡 The links to books on this page are affiliate links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Whenever you buy something after clicking on such a link, I get a little percentage. This costs you nothing but helps me make this website possible. Thanks!
1. Get specific about what story you are looking for
There are a zillion stories. It won’t be easy to find a story you like if you don’t restrict yourself. Answer these four questions for yourself; they will narrow down your search:
- Who are my listeners? Adults, teens, or children? Male, female, or mixed? Will your listeners have a specific cultural or professional background?
- What is the genre of story I am looking for? A true-life story, a fable, a historical story, a fairy tale, etc.?
- How long should my story be? A short anecdote of two minutes? A ten-minute intermezzo? Or a story that can fill an evening?
- What is the goal of telling this story? To persuade, to inspire, to entertain? To teach a specific lesson?
2. Look at the stories you already know and tell
I have been a storyteller now for more than ten years. Often I am asked to tell a story for a specific theme, and sometimes it is a struggle to find the story I want to tell. However, I find that often, I already have a story in my repertoire that I can adapt to another theme.
Example: I tell a folktale about a riddle involving three dolls to adults. When primary schools asked me to tell a story around the theme ‘professions,’ I adapted this story by adding new characters with different jobs who help solve the riddle of the three dolls.
3. Connect this story to your personal stories
You are searching for a story to tell. How does this story connect to your life? What has happened in your life that could help you find a story to tell?
Example: I was asked to tell a scary story. This made me think about the moments in my life when I was terrified. For instance, I vividly remember walking through a pitch-black forest for five minutes. Finally, I became so scared of what was lurking in the dark that I started to run like a madman.
Finding this moment helped narrow my search: I would be looking for stories about the fear of what lurks in the dark.
4. Read many stories: folktale and fairy tale collections
When you know a lot of stories, it is easier to search for a story to tell. So I recommend everybody who wants to tell better stories to read up on folktales and fairy tales. Even when you don’t want to tell this kind of story, their story patterns will help you tell other stories.
Where to start? I recommend Favorite Folktales from Around the World by Jane Yolen (link to Amazon).
After that, please look at what I wrote about the excellent collections of the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library.
It takes time to get a broad overview of the many stories told and written down through the ages. However, it will give you many ideas for stories that you can use when searching for a story to tell.
💡 Read my article on where to find fairy tales in your library.
Another advantage: older story collections often reside in the public domain, so you do not need permission to tell them.
5. Search for stories online
A Google search can give you many stories. Often, too many!
Remember the four questions I gave you in step 1? Try to use them in your search online, and search as specific as possible.
Example Google Searches:
- inspirational story doing the right thing adults
- scary ghost story teenagers
- folktale boy becoming a man
- anecdote what leadership is about
- working together folktale children
❗ Caution: when you find a story online, it does not mean that you can use it. You need to track down the source and get permission.
Personally, a good Google search gives me better results than visiting some story collection websites.
6. Ask your community specific questions for stories
People usually love to help you. Especially when you tell them what you are looking for in specific terms.
People are a bit like Google. They need some specifics to start the search process in their head. However, they differ because they will come back to you with their associations, which Google would never get you.
So, don’t post in a Facebook group that you are looking for a story about working hard. But do post that you are searching for a short anecdote that shows the value of hard work to adults. Who knows what will come back to you?
You could also call a friend to chat about a specific theme and what stories it brings to their minds.
7. Collect good stories by listening to people telling
The easiest stories to tell are the ones you get when they are told to you.
Do you know any older people that have great stories to tell? I think you might be surprised what you will find when you sit down and tell them what kind of story you are looking for. Also, they might help you out because often, the longer you live, the more stories you have to tell.
8. Create your own simple story and let it grow
Sometimes you are just not finding the story that you want to tell.
Maybe you have some ideas of fragments of a story that could work. Making stories is a skill that you get better at the more you do it.
Start with a simple story structure with a few characters and an apparent problem. Then, come up with an ending and some steps between the introduced problem and the conclusion. Voila, you have a simple story.
Now tell this simple story one-on-one to some trusted listeners. Let it grow by telling it. You will find out what works and what does not work. Adjust your story until it is good enough.
Congratulations: you just found a story to tell in your imagination! 🙂
9. Tell the stories that find you
This last step is a strange one.
When you ask professional storytellers, they can indeed point out how they find their stories. However, at some point, many of them also agree about this:
The stories you need to tell will find you.
So while you are looking for a story, you might find a story to tell. Sometimes, however, you might encounter a different story than you were searching for. A story that touches you, impresses itself on you, calls to you to tell it.
I have a few of those stories in my life. When I started to tell them, usually only knowing that they spoke to me, I understood what they were telling me.
I hope that this blog has helped you in your search to find a story to tell. May the stories you need to tell find you!
💡 Once a month, I send out an email with new writings on storytelling and fairy tales.