Finding Stories to Tell

For the tenth year, nearly rounding out a decade, I am preparing to teach a graduate seminar in Storytelling. This course requires many kinds of skills, from public speaking to understanding audiences and much more, but the first skill that every student must acquire is the ability to find stories to tell. Specifically, for their first stories, each student must acquire the ability to find folktales. You could head to the local public library and browse the 398.2 section, or you could start online

With the task of finding folktales at hand, my students find that there are fewer excellent online resources for finding folktales than you might think. Those linked here offer good starting points because they have reasonable information documenting origins either as source notes or as annotations or because they situate tales in relation to each other.



You know you're ready to tell a story when you have found and read several versions of a folktale, understood its origins, considered the meaning(s) you hope to convey, and have begun to practice adapting the story in your own words and voice. If you can't find several versions of the same tale, it's still wise to seek out other stories on similar themes or collected from similar times and places or perhaps the same cultural group. Storytellers always hope to find tales with excellent source notes. A good source note tells you where the story comes from, gives you some sense of who owns the tale--culturally or individually--and lets you know where you could find out more about the story. It also gives you enough of the story of the story that you can borrow this information as you introduce the story you are telling.

Here's an exemplary source note:

Excerpted from Nursery Tales Around the World, selected and edited by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Stefano Vitale (for book contents and cover illustration, see http://www.judysierra.net/nursery-tales-around-the-world.html).
"THE RAM IN THE CHILE PATCH"/Mexico
Source:  Americo Paredes, Folktales of Mexico.  Collected by Stanley L. Robe in Tepatitlan, Jalisco.  Told by Maria del Refugio Gonzalez.  Slightly retold with permission.
    Aarne and Thompson indicate variants of Tale Type 201555, The Goat who Would not Go Home, from Finland, Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Turkey, and Spanish America."  (Sierra 107)
Sierra, Judy, ed.  Nursery Tales Around the World.  Illus. Stefano Vitale.  New York:  Clarion, 1996.


And here's an example of a story shared online that comes from Virginia Hamilton's book The People Could Fly, but is shared without any citation or source note:

So research your stories, find the best source notes you can, attribute them to tellers or cultures of origin or any information you have about where the story comes from. It's fine to say "this story come from China," but it's so much more meaningful if you can indicate that "this story comes from a collection of stories called Stories from China that lacks any further details about origins." In the latter case, even if you leave off the explanation and just cite the source, you will be showing audience members who may be far more learned in the cultural origins of this story than you are that you are doing your best to cite sources and give acknowledgment to the sources of stories.