Tag Archives: Storytelling

What a Day!

It’s not even ten am yet and already I have been hard at work on the computer, but am not yet dressed!

First thing–saw that Silver Birch has posted my poem What we took with us when we moved, as a part of their moving day series–warning, this one is sad.

Then, I opened my gmail account and there were the page proofs for Summer in a Bowl!!!!
Amazing work by the artist Rebecca Zeissler.
Countdown to publication day of September 30!!!!!!
You can order the book now , pre-order on THEAQLLC, Amazon and BN
Those who pre-order before the launch date of September 30 can email me a copy of the receipt and be in a drawing to win a copy (signed) of the first book in the series, WHOOSH!
There is a recipe in the back of this one and gardening tips

Never Done

A writer’s work is never done!

I am busy working on PR, blog hops etc for Summer in a Bowl and also at the same time working on poems, my usual quota of articles, and coordinating with my publisher on revisions in the texts of the NEXT TWO Rosa books–Rosa and the Red Apron and Rosa’s Shell


Heather Zeissler of THEAQLLC has been wonderful to work with.

If you want me to come to your school to talk about the process of writing picture books or  to talk to your group about how I got started writing picture books, just email me at joanleotta@atmc.net




Listen UP! Listen WELL!

Sorry I am one day late with this. We got back from Florida yesterday and with laundry et all, my blog post took a back seat. But I don’t want you to miss the wisdom of my guest blogger or wait another week for it, so….

I meant to be only one day late, but then got caught up with deciding how to change my blog. I think I am going to concentrate on the writing and performing and do the occasional Wednesday food blog still–I love writing about food!!!
The occasional book review will be posted on Tuesday or Thursday as before, but now I need to decide–Monday or Friday for the blog update?
Since I am so behind on my posting of Kim Ellis’ wisdom on listening for those of us who spew out words on stage or page, I am going ahead and sending it in today.
So, Listen up! Listen Well!

Who she is
My name is Kim Ellis. Hi. I live in Concord, NC and work as a billing clerk in Charlotte, NC. I am also a part-time professional actress on all levels, mostly improvisation and storytelling at different places. I occasionally perform in plays in and around the Charlotte and Concord area. I hope to re-hone my skills soon with theater and film through classes because I took a long break from it with improv.
My theatrical experience started early in junior high when I was in an 8th grade harvest festival at school. I was the mummy in this little mini horror play and my binding came undone. I was scaring people anyway and thought, “Hey, I like this.” I wasn’t in my first play until 10th grade, however and that was Agatha Christie’s “The Uninvited Guest”. I played what was originally a male role-Jan Warwick. The applause was addictive. I was hooked! I found I liked performing different personalities and it appealed to my schizophrenic nature. (Just kidding) I liked how I could bring a character to life from the playwright’s vision. I didn’t understand completely how this all worked but I knew performing gave me a rush I couldn’t get anywhere else.
How she started in Performing
I started performing for improv venues when I auditioned and landed a role as a street performer for the Carolina Renaissance Festival. What I like about improv is that you can play any character in the moment. Nothing is the same. It is different every performance. Now, in this case it was the same character but different things happened to this character every weekend day. Take my Apothecary for instance. She could be extracting a tooth from a royal guardsman one moment and the next running a debate with the patrons as to whether to leech a person or just merely remove a vexing organ from the body. When I was on stage with the Pink Turtles or the Chuckleheads, audience suggestion dictated how my character would speak, move and act with my scene partner. It is never boring. My training in improv can be traced to my 15 years with the festival and Scott Pacitti’s workshops for the Turtles and Chuckleheads. I have now taken quite a few of those characters and have them as storytelling characters. Improvisation has taught me how to incorporate voice, dialect and movement into my stories. It brings the character off the page or from my own created stories and makes them three dimensional.
Diving into story performance
I became a story performer when I was invited to attend the Charlotte Storyteller’s Guild Meeting. At the time I was already performing my unicorn character, Beatrice at Carolina Renaissance Festival. I started telling unicorn tales at the meetings and thought this would be something I would like to do and I could take the stories to the festival as a way for my unicorn character to expand and I had a little success with it.
I would say that storytelling and improvisation are similar due to the nature of being in the moment. A story can be embellished differently every time you tell it. You might find on a story you have told needs a different twist, a connection to another event and it presents itself in such a way where the audience feels they are right there in the moment-a moment in a story’s history is replayed as if it is happening for the first time. Improv Theater is much the same way. An example would be a character you play every chance you get like my Chinese cleaning lady. I would recall her for a scene in one show where she is the center of a huge murder investigation or in another show where she falls in love with the sanitation guy. It depends upon the improv scene and audience suggestion. You tell a story with your scene.
Listening, the importance of!
Listening is so important in improvisation. Listening is the key to moving a scene forward. It dictates what will happen in the scene from moment to moment. Not listening to your scene partner creates mistrust and can crash a scene in a blink of an eye. What if your scene partner throws you a nugget like a quirk they have and you miss it because you have your own agenda-oh no, you can’t speak now because what I have planned for us is sooo much better! No, it is usually not and you make yourself look stupid and selfish. Make your scene partner look good by listening and reacting to what they say is good improv.
I think listening is important in the world of storytelling. In listening we develop skill. We learn what works and what doesn’t by our exposure to other tellers. As far as an audience goes we need the feedback. Andy most recently told us it was laughter for him. It acknowledges for him that they are listening and he is doing his job in delivering the story to others. Some of that is stopping and listening for laughter, a grunt, a sigh, a comment, etc. that would indicate the audience is enjoying themselves and being entertained by your story.
I am fairly new to this art form and I hope to learn more. Definitely my theatrical experience has helped me with the confidence and skill in delivery that I need.
Contact information for Kim
Kim Ellis
719 Summerlake Dr. SW, Concord, NC 28025
My storytelling characters: Chin Tang Tang (stories from Chinese fortune cookie fortunes), Fiona the Wise(Irish folk tales, fairy tales, ghost tales, Celtic legend, Aesop’s fables), Beatrice the Unicorn(uses Fiona’s tales and some from Fairy, her homeland), Kiliope Kilpatrick (Captain Kiliope’s girl pirate adventures) and I tell my own stories about my family and growing up in SC.

Learn from a Master!

I follow several people who are masters of my two crafts (writing and story performing). From time to time, I am particularly blessed by advice they offer and I want to share it with you, my followers, as well as introducing you to these Masters of the craft. Often what they say is useful for both writing and performing! Not so strange that those would be the posts that resonate most deeply with me. This one comes just as I am struggling with the structure for my fourth book in the Legacy of Honor series.

Enjoy these words of advice today from Doug Lipman whose website is full of good things. He is a major talent and  exceedingly generous in sharing them on his website and in allowing me to share this with you today. Thank you, Doug.

I encourage all of  you to sign up for his newsletter and follow him where you can–two links are right here


I copied the material (with his permission) directly from the newsletter with all of his links intact, I hope . Please notice the copyright on his newsletter and do not repost without his permission.


Plot Confusion?

As a long-time professional storyteller, I have led workshops in many elements of storytelling, including character and place. But I have never led a workshop in plot.

Why not plot? The simple truth is that I’ve never been able to make sense of it. In particular, the various theories of plot have seemed interesting—but neither convincing nor especially useful.

Aristotle’s idea of “beginning, middle and end,” for example, makes a kind of intuitive sense, but it also seems to apply equally well to a doctor’s appointment and to washing a load of laundry.

Well, In Theory…

Then there are the theories like “the hero’s journey” and Freytag’s “exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement.” These seem closer to my sense of the word “plot,” but also seem specific to certain kinds of stories.

For example, it’s hard to apply this kind of theory to any very brief stories. But doesn’t a 3-minute story have a plot, too? Yes, you can force the brief story into the theory, but that doesn’t mean the theory can help you shape the story.

As a result, in my absence of a general understanding of “plot,” I have mostly kept silent about it. Until recently.

Now I have had a flash of insight that shone through the mists of my plot confusion. Perhaps it will help you, too.

What Do You Mean By Plot?

The flash of insight came after a coaching client, Sharon Livingston, recommended a particular book on plot. A short way into the book, I discovered that the author’s concept of “plot” was broader than mine.

Suddenly, I saw part of my problem with plot: there are, in fact, three main meanings—or levels—referred to by the word “plot.” Separating them, at last, has opened the gates to increased clarity. (In this article, I’ll focus on these three levels of plot. Elswehere, I’ll talk more about how the three levels relate—and how to build and shape each level.)

Plot Level #1: Chronology

The first level of plot can be called “chronology”: what happens, in what order. This is something like what novelist E.M. Forster calls “story.” In a simple story, the chronology might include something like this:

  1. The queen announces to the world that she seeks a husband.
  2. Numerous suitors apply.
  3. The queen chooses a suitor.
  4. The suitor marries the queen, becoming king.

The Chronology doesn’t include why things happen or what they mean to the characters or to the storyteller. It doesn’t allow for flashbacks and the like. It consists of only two kinds of information:

  • The events;
  • The order in which the events happen.

Simply said, the Chronology is a list of events, put into chronological order.

Obvious—Or Not?

In most stories, the list of what happens is evident to all, as is the order in which things happen. In such cases, there is no controversy about a story’s chronology. In fact, multiple versions of a story—each with a sharply different central meaning—might even share a common chronology.

Still, the choice of which events you include in your story is always an artistic choice. It’s probably true that the queen chose a herald to carry her announcement from town to town on horseback, for example, but the storyteller must make an artistic decision about whether her choice of herald—or the herald’s method of transportation—matters.

Plot Level #2: Causality

The second level of plot adds the element of causal connections: what causes the events to happen? How does one event lead to the next? More broadly, once the causal relationships between events are agreed on, what is the significance of the sequence of events? In other words, what do these events mean?

This is the level that E.M. Forster calls “plot,” as in his famous dictum:

“The king died and the queen died” is story. “The king died and the queen died of grief” is plot.

So Forster calls my Chronology level “story” and my Causality level “plot.” Elizabeth Ellis, on the other hand, in her excellent book From Plot to Narrative, calls the Chronology level “plot” and the Causality level “narrative.” Confused yet?

Causes and Meanings

In the case of an actual king and queen, for instance, historians (not to mention historical novelists) might not all agree about why the queen died. Was it because she was consumed with guilt for killing the king? Or was she subtly poisoned by the same third party who had poisoned the king? Or was she so relieved to be free from the king’s harsh domination that she went on a binge of eating and merry-making that led directly to her death?

Until the storyteller has come to a personal understanding of the causal connections between the story’s events, it’s not possible to create meaning for the story. Is the story about the effects of grief? About guilt? About possible responses to liberation from constraints?

The meaning assigned to events, therefore, builds on the teller’s understanding of the chain of causation. Further, if you change your understanding of the chain of causation, the meaning will likely also change. For this reason, I include both “causal connections” and “meaning” in this second level of plot.

Plot Level #3: Presentation

The third level of plot adds the order in which the story is told. No matter which events you include in your story and what causal connections and meaning you give to those events, you still have many options for the order in which you will tell them.

For instance, you could tell the queen’s story beginning with her decision to seek a suitor, then continue to proceed in chronological order. Alternatively, you could start with the queen’s death and then fill in the previous events. Almost every mystery story holds back at least some of the key events until late in the presentation of the story.

This third level, which also includes important devices like point of view, sensory descrptions and much more, is what Ronald B. Tobias calls “plot”. Forster doesn’t seem to have a name for this. Others just lump this with the second level.

Plot Finally Stops Thickening

Once we can clarify which of these three levels we mean when we say “plot,” then we can finally begin clear and helpful discussions about each level.

To aid in those ongoing discussions, I suggest that we not redefine, yet again, the familiar terms “plot,” “narrative,” and “story.”

Instead, let’s just divide “plot” into three strands, give those strands helpful terms (I nominate “Chronology,” “Causality” and “Presentation” but welcome other suggestions), and then begin to ask the important, practical questions we need answered:

  • What matters about each level?
  • How can the work at each level be improved?
  • How do decisions at one level affect decisions at another?
  • How can the levels work together to engage our listeners in any desired way?

Those are questions for later articles—questions that can only be answered well when our basic “plot confusion” has been cleared up.

Yours in storytelling,








Story Dynamics: One Story Lights Another


Story Dynamics

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Marshfield, MA  02050

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Storytelling coach Doug Lipman is the creator of the acclaimed Storytelling Workshop in a Box — the one-of-a-kind, 37-lesson, comprehensive, audio-plus-print storytelling workshop that comes to you!

If you liked this newsletter, you’ll love this step-by-step course, guaranteed to be the most complete and enjoyable guide to telling meaningful, commanding stories. Read more and hear an audio sample.

Doug also offers free articles and other resources to help you master storytelling, become a transformative artist, and integrate storytelling into your work life – including how to market your telling by creating a supportive community around you. Learn more now .


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Buy This Book–story performers, librarians, teachers

Review of Margaret Reed MacDonald’s New Book–by Joan Leotta

Teaching with Story

Classroom Connections to Storytelling
by Margaret Read MacDonald

Jennifer MacDonald Whitman

Nathaniel Forrest Whitman

August House $24.95



You can judge this book by its cover because it delivers exactly what it promises and the names on the cover provide a pedigree of storytelling that is beyond compare and lives up to its reputation within the covers of this slim volume.


I could use dozens of adjectives to describe how this book will enrich your storytelling in the classroom (or as a professional, your ability to craft programs and grant requests that will cleave to current core content requirements. But basically there is not much more to say than the simple statement that this book does it all, does it well, and teaches what it does by example within the book and by example in its very writing.


Margaret Read MacDonald is one of the premiere folklorists and storytellers of our time. She is equally at home on stage and with her pen, She shares her story finds and technique tips generously. Her coauthors in this book are a testament to that skill and her example. Jennifer is her daughter and Nathanial, her son-in-law. Both of them are teachers. So, MacDonald brings her years of experience as a librarian, writer and teller on stage and in classrooms and joins it with two teachers whose love of story and sharing story come from her example. They contribute their expertise in the daily life of a classroom and curriculum. The combination is electrifying. I found myself wanting to underline every other sentence. It’s a book to read, to mark for future references, to enjoy.


The structure of the book, as well, teaches, It starts with a story–Grandfather Bear is Hungry, and uses the thread of that story’s lessons throughout the book’s chapters on Community, Character, , Communication , Curriculum and Cultural Development, and beyond. In addition, she gives us other stories to share and teaches how we can find our own stories to share. This is a book that belongs in the hands and heart of everyone who loves a good story–parents, teachers, librarians, professional story performers. Have I left anyone out? If so, loan your copy of the book to them. They will enjoy it too.

Please check out my author page:

Book Review–A book to lead you in new directions–voiceover

Voice Acting for Dummies

by David and Stephanie Ciccarelli

Paperback $24.99 list,  $16.81 on Amazon and $13.99 on Kindle

Many story performers think about doing voice-over. It seems like a natural. doesn’t it? We make our living by using our voices, so do they (voice-over artists). We work from stories, they work from scripts. Oops. Maybe not so similar here. We work on stage with a live audience and interact with the audience often. They work alone in a studio (except for the technical folks). Very different.

Our work is not dependent on the technology. Theirs is all about technology plus voice talent, each making the other better, each contributing almost equally to the quality of the finished product. Yikes!  For two years I’ve followed an outstanding Voiceover professional group on FB– vox.  Canadian spouses, David and  Stephanie Ciccerelli are the owner and voiceover mavens who operate a blog and FB page as well as a voiceover business. Their FB site is a forum about issues in recording, opportunities for work, every and any issue you can think of that might arise in the field of voiceover. 

Stephanie’s personal almost-daily shout-out to the community, to make us feel like we, her subscribers are a part of a community, not simply a loose conglomeration of job seekers, is her almost daily , “What are you eating for dinner tonight? And then she tells us what she is making for her family. Of course, being Italian-American myself, I strongly relate to this approach to inclusion.

It was no surprise to me after following them for two years, that the “Dummies” franchise reached out to them to write the book on Voiceover. They graciously sent me, a silent and non voice-over member of their community, to review. I ,looked at it from the perspective of someone who may want to start in this profession, without taking a $300-500 weekend course in it. (Many friends have told me that such courses are really just a way to make connections, too quick to learn the basics of a new profession even for those of us who use our voices in work all the time.)

My conclusions is that if you are considering the voiceover career track,(pun intended, voiceover folks!) then buy this book! Stephanie and David bring common sense and comprehensive information to the task of helping others learn  how to do the thing that they excel in–step by step. They are as comprehensive in technique as they are in technology. So many little tips and references besides! Technology will inevitably need a  “catch up”, but the information they provide will give a base from which you can ask questions to see if the newer equipment is what you want or if older models will serve your needs for start-up. If you are considering the voice-over business at all, start with this book–at around $25 (less on Amazon), it’s a bargain and a marvelous one at that!



Come to the Chapin Museum for Chinese New Year stories. Have a new group of tales  to tell this year–interactive, lots of fun. Year of the snake!

My performance is at noon, Sat Feb 9

If you are in Myrtle Beach, it’s free and there are lots of other activities too.

So Much to DO!

It seems that my blog schedule is not getting off to a good start–Have a review of an article to do for Carmen, one to write for the SUn News and the handouts to craft for the seminar on story performance I am giving this weekend at Wildacres.

Please be patient with me.


My aim is to blog once weekly with something from me and something that will be of value to others.