Personal Stories – Storytelling for Everyone

We are facing many challenges in our current crises today: personal, health, economic, and social. Due to the pandemic and the downturn in the economy, many of us are dealing with isolation and even privation. With the harsh spotlight on existing racism in our country, we can all protest that unacceptable reality and work against it.

One way to connect with one another is to tell our personal stories of challenge and invite others to share theirs—to listen with an open heart. We all can relate through stories.

Trials take the measure of us. No matter how experienced or prosperous we become, we continue to face challenges. Even if we’ve achieved most of our life’s goals, something will come up to sorely try us. We can be thrown back on ourselves, sometimes to the core.

Though trials make life difficult, they create the best stories. The appeal of any story is conflict: the more challenging, the better. We want to know how you survived, your way out, and what you learned.

One might even say that the entire purpose of the ancient, oral tradition is to show the way out of trouble, told with an overriding belief in a positive outcome: the “forever after” happy ending. The message in most folk and fairytales seems to be to cheer us on—urging us with wise advice for our journey. Kindness, compassion, honestly, humility, courage, industry, persistence, all win the day. These traditional tales see the heroic in daily life and enrich ours with meaning.

Life offers many challenges—not all are the same size or type. Whatever a particular challenge meant to you, you faced it down, and became the wiser. Whenever you tell that story, you hope to teach a life lesson, a moral, and empower others to avoid the same conflict and learn how to overcome it. Some trials are personal and ongoing, such as attacks against one’s identity. Others are born out of external crises, perhaps financial, physical, disaster-related, or a trauma.

Personal stories of challenge help us to understand that each one of us is a hero in our own, unique journey. We can identify, empathize, and applaud one another as we walk in the others’ shoes.

Challenge & Hardship

To find your story of challenge:

  • Recall a time when you had to work your way out of a crisis or hardship
  • During that critical time, select a few scenes that depict the problem and its challenging tasks
  • Allow us to experience the challenge with you, through sensory images and key details
  • Keep to the main action
  • How was the crisis resolved?
  • What did you learn?
  • How do you hope to change your listeners by telling this story?

Avoid “telling” listeners the meaning you made of the challenge. If you weigh down your hardship story with commentary, they will not be able to experience the lesson and learn it vicariously.


This is a personal story of mine, in my eighteenth summer, when I was told to earn my tuition back to my college in Chicago in time for the fall semester. Desperate and new to California from Texas, I went to the California State Department of Employment county office to apply for a summer job, something I later discovered most teenagers did not do. The unique experience I gained that summer was worth much more than the pay. What do you think?


Cupertino, CA -1960

“Starting up!” The guy on the high platform yelled loud enough for every worker in the barn-sized workhouse to hear. He turned on the conveyor belt with a clank and a lurch and dumped the first crate of apricots through an array of sprinklers—fresh off the orchard trees just outside the canning shed doors.

As a jumbled heap of apricots rolled towards me, the first station on the belt, I clenched my paring knife in one hand and used the other to sort through the fruit. Scanning the mess, I grabbed twigs, leaves, green ‘cots, and other debris that went into a bucket on my left side; looked for rotten fruit that went into a bucket on my right side, along with any brown or bruised spots I trimmed with my knife.

That first day on the job, there were about fifteen workers stationed along the catwalk on either side of the belt. Bent to the never-ending blur of ‘cots with a steady focus, I still noticed a tall, dark man with a pencil thin mustache, wearing well-pressed khakis, slink behind us on the narrow ledge.

The second day, there were only seven of us. Unknown to me, a rookie at seasonal canning jobs, the foreman and floor lady had watched for speed and accuracy and kept the fastest workers. At the morning break, I learned about that drill from my fellow Latinas. The only Anglo on the belt, and the only English speaker, I was proud I’d passed the test against more experienced help. I retied my splattered, plastic bib apron, ready to prove my worth again, and earn the much-needed tuition for my sophomore year in college.

The third day, I woke with every muscle aching and rashes on my arms from the acidic fruit.The thought of facing that endless stream of apricots was almost unbearable.

My mother stood in the bedroom door, knowing it was past time for me to rise. “It’ll be harder to get up tomorrow,” she said, in a flat tone.

Not needing another prompt, I raced to get ready; grabbed my cleaned, plastic apron, and began the mile-long walk to the canning shed. I crossed Stevens Creek Road, and soon I was running down the gravel lane through the orchards, breathless. When the corrugated aluminum shed appeared through the leafy groves, I saw the floor lady outside the barn doors, waiting for me.

“I wondered if you’d come today,” she said smiling, and handed me my timecard to clock in.

The fourth day, I was on the catwalk on time, ready to work. Just before the conveyor belt started up, I saw a Portuguese woman next to me make the sign of the cross. She told me that her work was a prayer. Humbled, I was never late to the canning shed again that summer. When the last apricot crate was picked and canned, the job was over.

The ladies on the line asked me, “¿Vas a Libby’s?

I would’ve liked to work the tomato crop at Libby’s Cannery in Sunnyvale, but it was too far from Cupertino. My heart swelled with pride because they’d asked me, included me as a comadre in the harsh cycle of seasonal canning. I’d made rank!  

But I never acquired a taste for apricots.


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Storytelling Creates Common Ground – Storytelling for Everyone

In our fractured world today, broken not only along political lines, but cultural identity as well, stories can bring us back together. We’re not like “Humpty Dumpty,” even though we might think so at times. We are actually made of the same stuff, a common humanity that can connect through our personal stories. When we tell one another our experiences with a good story, our listeners walk with us.  

Storytelling has been around as long as humans have. The ancients of every culture told stories to make meaning of life, to remember their history, and to entertain. A lot has changed since then, but stories haven’t. Some of the oldest stories ever told are still with us—because it’s in our nature to both tell and listen to them. 

In today’s noisy, techie, automated world, storytelling is not only relevant, it’s vital. Without stories we cannot connect to each other. We lose something important; our humanity gets lost in technology. Storytelling fills a crucial need in society by providing a direct, personal connection through its art and engaging oral tradition.

Our stories don’t exist on a printed page, but in the images we’ve stored in our minds. These pictures are fluid, holographic, the instant replay loops of our experiences and dreams. They are powerful: Stories define us and create the narratives that construct our lives.

Personal stories are universal: They illuminate our common ground and connect us in compelling ways when we share them. The art of storytelling helps us communicate with others, discover ourselves, inspire and embolden us. By telling the pivotal stories of our lives, we invite transformation.

One way to share stories that resonate with a wider audience is to pair like stories with someone of a difference culture. For example, I workshopped with a fellow author, Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte, to write similar stories of childhood memories growing up in the South during Jim Crow, from a Black and White perspective. We are excited to be able to tell them in a LiveStream this Sunday, July 19th.

Please join us with a Six Feet Apart Sunday Night Stories production, Stories in Black and White.

Click here to view live or replay this FREE event:

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Author adminPosted on July 15, 2020July 15, 2020Categories Personal Story, TechniquesTags Black Stories Matter, blacklivesmatter, cross-cultural

Storytelling with Kate Farrell – Storytelling for Everyone

Podcast by San Francisco Writers Conference

Podcast host Matthew Félix asked Kate about the importance of stories, based on her book, Story Power. He also asked about the history of oral storytelling, as well as the resurgence it has enjoyed since the 1970s.

Kate explained the difference between telling a story orally and writing it down, highlighting the role that a live audience has as co-creator in the experience. She also discussed how storytelling foments change, both for the audience and the storyteller themselves.

Storytelling is not just for the stage, but also has practical, day-to-day applications, as illustrated by three types of stories: defining, signature, and personal branding, which Matthew and Kate discussed.

Kate explained the benefits of having a repertoire of stories at the ready for different circumstances and shared ways of gathering stories, as well as how to choose which ones might best be suited to storytelling.

Matthew asked Kate about the features essential to every story, and they reviewed the seven steps to preparing a story to be told—Kate emphasizing that stories should not be memorized.

Kate shared key things to keep in mind while performing, including important aspects of vocalization and the importance of making eye contact with the audience.

Matthew asked Kate about what she referred to as the cutting edge of storytelling: weaving or braiding archetypes with personal narratives.

Podcast by Matthew Félix

Enjoy the entire interview!

Listen here or on: iTunes | Stitcher | Spotify | Google | TuneIn | Amazon | 
Player FM | Deezer

Watch on YouTube

Check out San Francisco Writers Conference 2022!

For more about storytelling and how to tell your stories, order the award-winning Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories in eBook or paperback, available at all retail outlets: | | |  

“Telling unforgettable stories will feel easy after reading the advice various contributors give in this book. Each contributor shares their secrets for how they tell memorable tales. Stories define us, and Story Power embodies the power storytelling has to help everyone discover themselves and better the ways they communicate with others. ”
            -Reviewed By Liz Konkel for Readers’ Favorite

Kate Farrell, a graduate of the School of Library and Information Studies, UC Berkeley, has been a language arts classroom teacher, an author, a librarian, a university lecturer, and a storyteller since 1966. She founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project, and she has published numerous educational materials on the art of storytelling. Kate edited the anthology, Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother, and co-edited two others: Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the ’60s & 70s and Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence. She is past president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and a presenter for the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Learn more about Kate Farrell:

Author adminPosted on January 18, 2022Categories Folktales, Personal Story, TechniquesTags Matthew Felix, San Francisco Writers Conference, story power, storytelling

Storytelling Techniques in Memoir – Storytelling for Everyone

There are many ways to approach writing a memoir: one of them is that of the storyteller. The oral tradition offers time-honored techniques in the construction of story, whether a folktale or a personal narrative, so that it is universal and engaging. The three most effective techniques in the enduring, oral art of storytelling for memoir are:

Role of the narrator
Structure of story as a narrative arc
Importance of voice

Narrator in the Oral Tradition

The role of the storyteller is omniscient, knows it all, interprets the characters, emotions, meaning, and frames the story. The traditional teller is like the black robed musician in the symphony orchestra, invisible, the instrument that allows the music to fill the concert hall with its drama, emotion, power. So, the storyteller becomes invisible and allows the story to take over, so that listeners can become lost in the story, engage, and find their own meaning.

Marie Louisa Shedlock in her classic work, The Art of the Story-Teller (1915), defined the essence of art with stunning clarity. Shedlock described storytelling performance as an “inside out” process that is both powerful and simple.

Many of the storytelling guides today, either published or online, tend to construct stories from basic elements, such as: story structure, narrative arc, emotional charge, or timing. By crafting stories from the “outside in” one can develop good story lines, but they won’t reflect the essence of the art or engage the listeners in the same way. This is also true for memoir writing.

This is how Marie Shedlock describes the role of the teller:

“It would be a truism to suggest that dramatic instinct and dramatic power of expression are naturally the first essentials for success in the art of story-telling, and that, without these, no story-teller would go very far; but I maintain that, even with these gifts, no high standard of performance will be reached without certain other qualities, among the first of which I place apparent simplicity, which is really the art of concealing the art … The fault in the artist which amounts most completely to a failure of dignity is the absence of saturation with his idea. When saturation fails, no other real presence avails, as when, on the other hand, it operates, no failure of method fatally interferes.”

The role of the storytelling narrator is neutral—even though the story might be full of emotion, catharsis, passion, the teller must remain at enough of an emotional distance to be “saturated” in the entirety of the story, taking all the parts, knowing the inside out of all its characters, holding the story within an all-embracing awareness.

Gaining this emotional distance and detachment can be useful because the writer is shaping raw experience into a story to share with others, who will then identify and make of it what they will.

Simple Structure: Narrative Arc

In the folktales and fairy tales that have survived millennia, one immediately imagines a framework, the conventional beginning, middle, and end, ‘Happily ever after.” Implicit in that structure, is the role of the storyteller, the mastermind of the piece, ever present, but not visible, the impresario.

Stories in the oral tradition that have survived have a simple structure, often with a repetition of the main action, such as the three bears, or the three wishes. We enjoy the predictability that also allows for rising tension that comes with each repeated act.

If you can select one action scene from your memoir or personal narrative and adapt it for storytelling, doing so can provide a number of benefits: role of narrator, structural shaping, repetition, clear resolution, and emotional distancing.

Creating effective scenes, using an outline to track its narrative arc, or a storyboard. If your action scenes have a clear structure, they will engage readers, and allow for the neutrality of the narrator, who can step aside, and let the story take hold.


The oral tradition relies on the spoken word to convey all meaning. The same can be true of memoir. Here are a few practical ways to develop your awareness of voice and to use the spoken word to deepen your understanding of your story.

Recording the story: Practice telling the story until it comes naturally. There are any number of ways to practice telling a story. You could play the recorded story and join in with your live voice until there is no hesitation in the flow of words. Recruit your family, friends, or pets for a live audience—often the best way. Tell it to a mirror without notes and watch your facial expressions and hand gestures. Videotape your telling and play it back on Zoom or Facebook Live or another app.

Listening to the story: Deepen your connection to the story by isolating the truth in the story and relating it to your own truths. Spend time doing some research to verify the accuracy of your personal story. Consult with friends or family members who were there or had similar experiences. Even though you might not add the details you research or learn from eye witnesses to the tale, they verify what you have remembered. You might then listen to your recording of the story and close your eyes, at a time when you are most relaxed. Think about what the symbolism of the story means to you. Your understanding of the layers of meaning in a story greatly adds to the telling of it. This is the subtext: It tells what cannot be said.


All three of these storytelling techniques taken together, create neutrality by encouraging empathy within the teller and the writer of memoir: Acceptance  of all events, each character, and the final outcome.