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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Storyteller's Perspective: 5 Things You Can Ask a Storyteller, and 5 Things You Shouldn't

When people ask me "So, what do you do for a living?" and I answer "I'm a storyteller," there is a whole scale of reactions that can be expected from any given conversation partner, ranging from awkward confused silence all the way to "That is SO COOL!" Like many other people with unusual jobs, us storytellers also hear many comments and questions repeated over and over again, and while some of them are endearing and intelligent, others kind of grate on our nerves. In order to make everyone feel better, here are some things you should and should not say next time you meet someone who identifies as a storyteller:

Negative Top 5: Na-ah you did NOT!

1. Can you actually make money with that?
Apart from being a rude question to ask anyone in any field, it is also kind of ignorant. If I'm a professional storyteller, I am obviously making money from it. How much is none of your business.

2. So you are a politician? Ha-ha-ha!
Ha. Ha. Ha.
No, my stories are good.

3. Wow, you must be a very good liar.
Again, rude! Calling anyone a liar is not a good start for a conversation. Also, stories are by far not the same as lies. I believe in every story I choose to tell.
(And, for the record, I am a terrible, terrible liar)

4. So, what books do you read from?
Wanna see a storyteller fume? This is the question that'll do it. Even some people who have seen me tell on stage, and without a book in sight, congratulated me after for "reading" great stories. No, we don't read. We tell. By heart.

5. Can you do some stories for us for free?
Sure, can you clean my house for free? How about doing my taxes for free? Storytelling is a profession and a performing art form. If you wouldn't ask a musician or a stand-up comedian to perform for free, don't ask a storyteller either. And if you would, shame on you.

Positive Top 5: That's a great question!

1. What kinds of stories do you tell?
We love stories and we love talking about them! Also, by asking you avoid making assumptions about what we do as a storyteller. Also, note that "tell" is better than "read."

2. Are you performing in the area?
As performers, we are likely to travel a lot for gigs. If you are really interested, feel free to ask where our next show will be, and maybe you'll hear something cool!

3. Do you know any good stories about...?
Yes. Yes we do. And if not, we love to look for them. Ask about something you are interested in, and let us help you track down the tales you need!

4. What kinds of audiences do you work with?
Instead of asking flat-out if we would do your daughter's birthday party for free, find out what we like to work with. Some storytellers happily tell to anyone between the ages of 0 and 100, while others prefer a specific group such as elementary schools, teenagers (my personal favorite), or museum visitors.

5. That sound cool! Where can I find out more about it?
Storytelling events and organizations are all over the place. It is likely that there is one in your neighborhood too! And if not, there are multiple online communities. If you really want to find out more about what storytellers do, don't be shy to ask!

Generally, storytellers love talking about stories, and love talking about what we do. No one goes into storytelling for riches and fame - we do it as a passion. If you know the right questions to ask, you will learn about great things!

You can find Csenge (@TarkabarkaHolgy) at
The Multicolored Diary - Adventures in Storytelling
MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...


  1. Hi Csenge .. what a wonderful way of describing how people react .. and it's so often the way in so many things ... those that can see and understand, and those that can't ... and those that want to learn more and engage ... it sounds as though you totally engage with people and with life ... cheers Hilary

  2. What a great job. Good post also. I did not realize that Story teller was a job. wow.

    1. Thank you! Now you know :) We tend to be overlooked because we are often disguised by secondary jobs such as librarian, teacher, or in my case, PhD student :D

  3. We have an annual story telling festival here. Its 3 days of story telling in a few different tent areas (depending on age/interests) Its a really big deal and super cool. I think you have an awesome job.

    1. Oh cool! Which festival is it? :) I have been to Jonesborough a number of times :)

  4. Great list! The money question always baffles me. I get it as an author, along with asking how many books I've sold. I don't ask lawyers how much money they make and how many cases they've won.

    1. Very true! Although if someone is really obnoxious about it, it is usually fun to turn the question back on them. "Yes, I can make a living from it! By the way, how much do you make?" :D

  5. Terrific informative post on a passion and occupation I'm not familiar with. I will search my locale; it would be so interesting to experience this form of artistry.

    1. Storytelling events are always a lot of fun, even if someone only wants to listen :) Let me know if you need help with your research!

  6. People are often ignorant and don't even realize how moronic and insulting their questions are. I usually get questions related to my name. The most often is "What nationality are you?" Have I answered Martian...Yup I have:) I always say I am a proud Canadian but my first name is German (I also heard it is Celtic and Viking which I love). The most ignorant I got have been :What kind of name is that?" "Did your mother like you when she named you?" "Why didn't you change it?" The sad thing is one will always run into these types of people it is all in how we react to it and I choose to make it known clearly and then shrug it off. My father was a great story teller and, when i was young, I always told him "I wonder if you could ever get paid to tell your stories." It is a true art form that the average person doesn't realize what goes into being a great story teller. One really has to engage the people to want to listen-that is one of the most difficult things to do. Listening is hard to find in a person so I commend you on your profession

    1. I have a storyteller friend called Birgit, she's from Austria :)
      Also, every time I tell an American that I'm from Hungary, 99 times out of 100 their first reaction will be "So, you are hungry, right?" I got into the habit of saying "That will be one cent. I decided I WILL have a cent every time someone says that." :D

  7. I think storytelling is one of the most fascinating 'job' anyone can do. Such a pity in my country (Italy) only very few remains. But I Always hope the profession will florish again. And it's true, there are many that do it for passion and don't even call themselves storytellers, because they do it on side of a day job.

    1. Oh, I know tons of young Italian storytellers! And at least two international festivals :) They just started in the past few years, but they are amazing. Raccontamiunastoria in Rome is one that I have been to, and I had a great time! :)


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