Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to tell a scary "jump tale"

Scary stories are a perennial favorite with kids, and when told well can be a great addition to a campfire storytelling session or sleepover. One style of scary story is the “jump tale,” a story designed to make the audience leap in surprise. Sometimes the jump finishes the story, sometimes the story continues after the jump. The Golden Arm and Johnny’s Liver are a couple of examples of this style of story. Here are a few tips for telling jump tales:

1. Be careful telling jump tales to very young children. Nothing puts a damper on a storytelling session faster than child who has been scared into a crying jag. If you notice a child who may be too scared by the jump, you may need to tone the story down and make the jump less dramatic.

2. Use this style of story sparingly, one or possibly two per storytelling session. If you rely heavily on jump tales, you risk boring the audience.

3. Don’t tell the audience in advance that you are telling a jump tale. If you let them know, they’ll be ready and won’t be surprised.

4. Build the suspense in the story before you get to the jump. Draw the listeners in as if you were reeling in a fish.

5. Just before the jump, slow down. Get quiet. The listeners will lean in to hear you.

6. Right before the jump, pause for a couple of beats, and then make the jump quick and loud.

7. Some jump tales require you to reach suddenly for one of the listeners at the jump. You may need to move closer to that listener for the full effect. Be sure it’s a listener who will enjoy being the center of attention for a moment. (I prefer not to do this kind of jump tale.)

8. Usually the audience laughs in relief after the jump. Allow a few seconds for this laughter. If the story continues, pick up the telling again after these few seconds. If you wait too long, the audience will start talking to each other about how funny it was that they jumped and they’ll lose the thread of the story.

9. Have fun!


Tim said...

Back in 1999 at the National Storytelling Conference at University of San Diego, I went to see Roberto Carlos Ramos' workshop on "Storytelling as a Tool in the Education of Marginalized Children." Did you catch that workshop? Since Ramos is from Brazil, he only spoke Portuguese. Livia de Almeida translated into English. Even with the language barrier, he could make us jump. He even warned us that he had a "four jump" tale, and even with that warning, the audience certainly did jump all four times. Sometimes knowing there's a jump coming is part of the fun... and our highly developed forebrains are still subject to the ol' mammalian startle reflex.

PriscillaHowe said...

I wish I'd been at that workshop! You're right, sometimes people do still jump when they know it's coming. I'd forgotten another example: when I tell "Rapunzel," I have a jump that comes three times and the audience seems to love it each of the three times. I'll think about this some more.