by Helen McKay

Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition are the three great ‘R’s of storytelling.

If you want to make a great connection with your audience — whether you are telling for children or adults — get them interacting in a story that has rhyme and a strong, driving rhythm, incorporated into the body of the story. Audiences love to be involved in the storytelling.

We, humans, are naturally hard wired for rhythm and our ears are attuned for rhyming phrases. Think of the advertising jingles that stay in your memory. They work, because they incorporate rhyme, rhythm and are given frequent repetition. The advertising agencies know that.

When these techniques are repeated throughout a story, our audience is almost automatically geared with the responses. If your story does not have this special feature, build one in to it. At every place where story transitions occur, help the audience interact with a repetitive rhyming chorus. This helps create the glue to keep your audience connected.

When developing a new story, work out where the story moves on to the next phase. Make a break at that point, with a short, rhythmic, rhyming couplet, which repeats throughout the story. This will allow the audience to catch up and be ready to move on to the next stage. You may change a word or two at the end of the final chorus, so the audience is made aware the story is finished.

Before starting a story, when you are performing, spend a few moments training your audience in the responses and make sure they understand, where you want them to join in. Give them a physical cue.

Use a simple device to establish the rhythm. It could be a drum, maracas, or wooden clapping sticks – Diane Ferlatte used her staff, beating on my breadboard – wonderful sound . I sometimes use a rainstick. Then begin the story. The more the audience interact, the more they will enjoy the story experience.

Berice and I use this these techniques frequently, always with our introductory story, to make that special connection we call entrainment — the special meeting of minds. If you are doing a longish story session, sprinkle a couple more interactive stories throughout your program, to keep your audience entrained.

Seattle storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald, offers many stories in her books, using both rhyme and rhythm: ‘The Storyteller’s Startup Book’ and ‘Twenty Tellable Tales’, to name just two of many. The stories in these books are written for storytellers to use.

Some of her books are available in Libraries, or can be borrowed in from the NSW State Library. They may also be purchased from the Internet, from Barker and Noble and Amazon Books, if you cannot get them from your usual bookseller. I recommend you read and use them.

Berice and I have used some of these stories with both adult and child audiences with equal success. They enjoy the experience of playing with words. The three R’s make those stories successful.

Those who saw Diane Ferlatte’s performances, would have experienced her use of all three techniques in her stories. She took simple stories like the Aesop’s Tales and worked with them, incorporating rhyme, rhythm and frequent repetition, into her performance. Those stories were a great listening and performing experience for her audiences. Their connection was complete and the experience dynamic!

Give these techniques a try. I believe that if you look at your stories and incorporate Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition, as part of your storytelling and weave those stories into your portfolio, you cannot help but be successful in your storytelling.

By Helen F. McKay ©