Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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How to Tell a Better Story

Boyan - Nicholas Roerich |


Humans are story-telling animals. We live and die by our stories, and most of us tell them every day.

(“When I was down at the store today....”)

Here's how to do it better.


One story at a time, please.

A good story has a single trajectory. The sad fact is that most of us are only half listening to one another at any given moment, so as soon as you start in with the digressions, your listeners have already lost the momentum of the narrative, and you've blunted your story's edge.

Spare us the back-story.

With stories, it's always tempting to want to start at the beginning. Don't. The creation of the universe is not a good place to start your story about what happened at the ritual last night. Give your listeners only the information that they need to have in order to get the point of what you're telling them.

Keep the detail relevant.

If it really doesn't matter that she's wearing a blue coat rather than a red one, don't mention it.

Keep it short and toward.

If you've been talking for more than five minutes, I can guarantee you that nobody is listening to you any more. Deliver, or shut the eff up.

Be specific.

Which of these two phrases tells you more? Which makes the man in question sound more desirable?

a. “A really cute guy.”

b. “A guy with a butt like two halves of a white pumpkin, and cheekbones you could cut your hand on.”

Don't be the hero of all your own stories.

He's a good friend, whom I love well. But, dear gods, he's always the hero of all his own stories. After a while, quite frankly, I get tired of hearing about how wonderful he is and, by implication, what a clown I must be by comparison because I am most decidedly not the hero of everything that I do.

Build to a specific point.

The whole story should be leading us somewhere. Telling a good story is a matter of building tension, which is finally released at the climax.

A good story is like good sex.

Like good sex, a good story is something that people do together, not what someone does to someone else.

Don't be a perpetrator. Involve your listener.

Don't be a bore.

A bore is someone who would tell the same story, in the same way, to anyone.

In order to be interesting, you need to hold your listener's attention, and you do this by engaging them personally. Tailor your story to your audience.


Follow these guidelines faithfully, and you will find that people will both hear, and remember, what you tell them.

Do it well enough, and you may even hear them retelling your stories themselves.

For a teller of tales, there's no higher praise.






Nicholas Roerich, Boyán (1910)

Boyan was the legendary bard of North Slavic lore.





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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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