Review: The Art of Storytelling

Art of Storytelling

Honestly, this book was not what I thought it would be. Not exactly. I thought it was a book on how to tell stories. I’m not a good off-the-cuff story teller. I need time to think about a story before I can tell it well. I need to write it down, see the flow of thought, the syntax, how it will roll off the tongue. So I thought this book would be helpful in forming a story-telling mind. 

John Walsh grew up a stutterer. Yes as a stutter he speaks in front of large groups entertaining them with deep, imaginative stories, tear-jerkers, and Biblical stories in churches. He wrote this book to help others be able to roll out stories specifically in group settings. And by “group setting” I mean the Story Teller is on stage telling the story to an audience. 

So it’s not so much every-day story telling as it is preparing a story to tell in front of people. So the book wasn’t what I expected, but having said that, let me review it based on what it is intended to do and how well it does it. 

Introduction

To move from stutterer to storyteller to preacher, John Walsh had to figure out a way to tell a single story in under 30 minutes while still holding his congregation’s interests. He outlines different strategies to present a compelling story, such as your presentation, what to do with your hands while speaking, and how to create a killer conclusion. 

This is a book for anyone, especially those who have to teach (whether it be nursery, Sunday school, youth, or even adults). Much of our life is spent telling stories about our day at work, our experiences in college, the kids we used to get in trouble with in our old neighborhood. The bible isn’t much different. Much of the Bible is written in narrative (i.e. a story). 

Parts of the Whole

The book itself is divided into three sections. 

Part 1: “How can you create a captivating story?This section gives sprouting story-tellers fourteen steps in preparing the story. Ten steps are essential to telling a good story. The remaining four are optional, and, if followed, can take a good story and make it a great one. 

Part 2: Covers seven “how to tell” tools when in front of an audience. These tools are about how to tell the story with gestures, voice, facial expressions, and even nervousness (Nerves actually do help!). Speak with confidence. You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know you’re nervous (even when you are) because you speak with confidence. If you’re shaking, if your thoughts are racing, and if your heart is beating through your chest, chances are they won’t be able to tell. At least not until the sweating starts. And don’t tell them you’re nervous. That’s just a dead giveaway. 

Part 3: “Why is storytelling needed?” This section focuses on retelling Bible stories, along with how and why you should tell a story effectively. John discusses why churches should be telling more stories instead of lecture-sermons. We are taught Bible stories as kids and we remember them throughout, but does it have to stop? Two of his own resources are available on the web (www.bibletelling.org, www.btstories.com). I’ve downloaded them, but have not had the chance to look much at them myself.

The Chocolate Milk

Walsh has activities at the end of sections to practice what you have just read. I’m glad to see this part in here, for it’s one thing to read how to tell a story, it another to actually have to do it. However, I am not of the “creative” mind, nor the kind that wants to practice this creativity by trying to think up and work through stories. I can’t tell you how effective this part is because I didn’t take part in it. But, reading through Walsh’s writings and looking at the exercises, it’s easy to see just how this would help those who have the want to tell a good story. No doubt the practice would have been good for me, but I foresee success to those who do practice these exercises.

This book is very easy to read. This is one reason I know the activities would be good practice, because this guy knows how to write well! Reading was no hassle, and, if I remember correctly, I believe I read this in two sittings. Sure, I read a lot, but this book was interesting and easy. The chapters weren’t too long, and they all kept my interest, all showing Walsh’s strength in communication.

Walsh gives tips on how to “get to the mountain” in the story without burdening the audience with too many details. Often people want to tell every detail when they tell a story (“So I went over on a Tuesday, no…Wednesday….no, it was a Tuesday. Afternoon…um….well, anyway, I…”). And really, we don’t need every detail. Get to the mountain quick before you lose everyone’s attention is a good rule to live by. Myself included.

The Spoiled Milk

It’s been said that if a person doesn’t accept Christ by the time he or she is twelve years old (plus or minus a few years), the chance that they will come to faith later is very small. Walsh shows this to be untrue by looking through Acts and showing how all of the (main) conversions were adults. He tells about how he realized that age twelve is the approximate age that stories stop being told in church.

There may be some truth to this, but I wish Walsh would have elaborated more on what he meant by sermons as stories instead of lectures. Much of the Bible is narrative, but what about the epistles? The psalms? The proverbs? Parts of the prophets? I’m not saying this is impossible to do, but a few examples would have greatly helped. Also, how does a pastor teach sanctification and justification in the form of a story? Would I really want to or be able to tell an hour long story as a sermon? Walsh does a good job explaining how to tell a story, but what about the Bible stories?

I can’t be too negative. His links (mentioned above) do help give a summary idea of narratives and letters in OT and NT. While, as a pastor, you may not have much help from this if you preach through the Bible a chapter a week (a la Calvary Chapel), but if you need a story-form summary of the epistles and topics, these links are good to go. 

Recommended?

Many of us would love to hold the attention of a crowd, a classroom, or just a group of our friends by telling them a great story. We’ve all been there, having to stand in front of a crowd and give our thoughts on a topic, or an experience we had (i.e. from our missions trip), or have just tried to tell a funny story to people, and we hate every minute of it. 

Written by a person who started out as a stutterer, John Walsh is a Christian who has the Christian audience in mind, but his book can be valuable to anyone who stands in front of audiences of 5 people or 1,000 people.  

Learn it well, then teach it well.  If you’ve been looking for a book like this, and you’d love to work with the exercises at the end of the sections, then you should look into getting this book. 

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition (December 13, 2013)
  • Amazon
  • Reading Level: Teens on up

[A big thanks to Rachel at Moody Bible Institute and NetGalley for this free copy. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy].

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