For the Story Teller: Story Telling and Stories to Tell, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey is part of HackerNoon Books Series . You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Chapter XII - MAKING OVER STORIES
THE average story must be cut and fitted to meet the needs of the story teller who wants to make a direct and vivid appeal to her children. Writing a story for the printed page and preparing a story for children’s ears are two very different matters. In the former case, there is no time limit set upon the story; the reader may lay his story book down at will when he tires of the printed words, ready to take it up again when he has the inclination. In the latter case, we have to meet the mental and emotional needs of a group of children whose attention must be held by the compelling power of an orally delivered story. To meet these story needs as applied to oral delivery, a story has, ordinarily, to be made over before it is told. It must be made into a perfectly fitting garment for wrapping the child about with a clinging cloak of imagination, full of colorful words and truth. The story teller must do this story adapting herself. How can she bring it about in the quickest, most effectual way?
A large percentage of the stories printed for children are too long. The story that is too short and needs to be “padded” for telling is very rarely to be found. In the case of the Fables of Æsop and Bidpai the skeleton only of each story is given and here the problem of adapting for the story teller is to find a way of filling in each picture in order to make the story of the desired length.
But how shall we shorten the too-long story that we want children to hear because of its compelling theme and motif, but which is, very likely, two thousand or twenty-five hundred words long? This is the average difficulty that the story teller meets in connection with the average story. There is also the time problem to be taken into consideration, as well. While the story teller wants to spend as much time as necessary in the preparation of a story, this time ought to be reduced to a minimum. Is there a short cut to story adaptation and how may the story teller find it?
One may almost reduce a recipe for making over stories. It is possible to outline a pattern by means of which a printed story may be cut to fit the needs of a group of eager, restless, wriggling children. Having this recipe, this pattern, thoroughly in mind, a little practice in applying it to particular stories that need adapting will give the story teller power to apply it, quickly and effectually to any story with little loss of time. Its use will give the story teller an added power in her work. Knowing how to put stories in shape for telling will help her to hold the attention of any group of children.
The first step in our rule for adapting a story that is too long is to carefully read the story.
This seems too obvious a suggestion, almost, to put upon a printed page, but reading a story having in mind making it over means reading it to find out what happens in the story, what is its important action, who are its necessary characters, and what is the climax. This first reading of a story for adaptation means an analysis of the story plot. This kind of story reading may be developed so as to become the story teller’s habit in reading any story, but it is the necessary, preliminary step in all story adapting.
Our next step is to find the pictures in the story.
Suppose you were a stage manager with the problem of dramatizing this special story to meet the interests of an audience, how would you develop the different scenes in the story so as to make it into a play that holds interest? Suppose you are a film maker. What are the moving pictures in the story to be presented in their order of interest through the medium of your film? We have much to learn from the stage manager and the moving picture man. Their problems are identical with those of the story teller in that they must strip a story plot bare of details, unnecessary description and the opinions of the author. They must give an audience the naked story. This is all the audience wants. So it is with children. They demand story scenes, story pictures and nothing else.
The third and last step in story adaptation, is to prepare our story pictures for presentation to the children.
This step depends a good deal upon the children for whom you are preparing the story. If the children are foreign-born, you will need to put each story picture into a frame of very simple language. If yours are country children, you will need to put country images into the picture canvas. If they are city children, the canvas may need a few fire engines, parks and policemen to catch the children’s attention. These will be, of course, quite subsidiary to the real story interest which must be preserved at all events.
It depends, also, upon the person who wrote the story. If we are adapting Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens, Eugene Field or any other master story teller for the special needs of our story group, we must use the utmost care in keeping the form of the author and preserving his marvellous English. Too often the story teller ruins a story in attempting to “tell it down” to children. It is possible to shorten a good story and still keep it the author’s own. It depends, most of all, upon determining the elements of action, dialogue and description necessary to make the story picture a fixture in the child’s mind. Children want to know “what happens” in each scene of the story. This constitutes all their interest.
These, to sum up, are our steps in story adaptation:
Read the story, analytically.
Select its necessary scenes.
Reduce these scenes to elements of action.
We shall find it helpful to apply these separate steps to some one special story which we wish to present to children and which is too long for our use.
There is no more beautiful story in all literature than Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf.” It is full of the sensory appeal, the colorful word picturing, the imagery, the ethics which we look for in a perfect story, but as it stands in the best translation, it is almost three thousand words long and so hedged about with Andersen’s beautiful, but adult philosophy that it is quite beyond the comprehension of children. As a result, it is seldom told to children and is one of the least well-known of the author’s fairy tales. Let us see if we can put it in shape for telling without, in the slightest degree, hurting Andersen’s style.
We read the story analytically and find that it divides itself into four scenes, all of which are necessary to preserve the story interest. These are:
1. Inge’s sinning.
2. Inge’s descent to the abode of the Moor Woman.
3. Inge’s repentance and transformation into the bird.
4. The bird’s Christmas work and journey.
This analysis strips the story bare of detail. Each of these scenes, in the original story, is elaborated, split up into minor scenes, and they cover a very long period of time, which makes the story difficult for a child to understand. But if we keep carefully in mind these four separate pictures into which the story resolves itself and fill each picture with as little description as possible and only the essential action for carrying children by the quickest possible route to the climax, we find ourselves equipped with a new, shorter story, told in Andersen’s words and ready for retelling to our children.
It will be well to compare this adapted version of the story as it appears here with the original story to be found in any translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories to determine the omitted description, action and detail. The method of adapting this story is a model for other story adapting.
The girl’s name was Inge; she was a poor child, but proud and presumptuous.
With years she grew worse rather than better.
She was sent into the country, in service, in the house of a rich people who kept her as their own child, and dressed her in corresponding style. She looked well, and her presumption increased.
“I’ll make you a present of a great wheaten loaf that you may give to them; they will certainly be glad to see you again.”
And Inge put on her best clothes, and her new shoes, and drew her skirts around her, and set out, stepping very carefully that she might be clean and neat about the feet; and there was no harm in that. But when she came to the place where the footway led across the moor, and where there were mud and puddles, she threw the loaf into the mud, and trod upon it to pass over without wetting her feet.
But as she stood there with one foot upon the loaf and the other uplifted to step farther, the loaf sank with her, deeper and deeper, till she disappeared altogether, and only a great puddle, from which the bubbles rose, remained where she had been.
Whither did Inge go? She sank into the moor ground, and went down to the Moor Woman, who is always brewing there. The Moor Woman is cousin to the Elf Maidens, who are well enough known, of whom songs are sung, and whose pictures are painted; but concerning the Moor Woman it is only known that when the meadows steam in summer-time, it is because she is brewing. Into the Moor Woman’s place did Inge sink down; and no one can endure that place long. A box of mud is a palace compared with the Moor Woman’s brewery. Every barrel there has an odor that almost takes away one’s senses; and the barrels stand close to each other; and wherever there is a little opening among them, through which one might push one’s way, the passage becomes impracticable from the number of damp toads and fat snakes who sit out their time there. Among this company did Inge fall! and she shuddered and became stark and stiff.
She continued fastened to the loaf and the loaf drew her down as an amber button draws a fragment of straw.
That was a never ending antechamber where Inge found herself. There was a whole crowd of sinful people there, too. Great, fat, waddling spiders spun webs of a thousand years over the people’s feet, webs that cut like wire and bound them like bronze fetters. Inge felt a terrible pain while she had to stand there as a statue, for she was tied fast to the loaf. Her clothes had been soiled with mud in coming down to the Moor Woman’s place; a snake was fastened in her hair and out of each fold in her muddy frock a great toad looked forth, croaking.
The worst of all was the terrible hunger that tormented her. But could she not stoop and break off a piece of the loaf on which she stood? No, her back was too stiff, her hands and arms were benumbed, and her whole body was like a pillar of stone; only she was able to turn her eyes in her head, to turn them quite round, so that she could see backwards.
“If this lasts much longer,” she said, “I shall not be able to bear it.”
But she had to bear it, and it lasted on and on.
Her mother and all on earth knew of the sin she had committed; knew that she had trodden upon the loaf, and had sunk and disappeared; for the cowherd had seen it from the hill beside the moor.
And then she heard how her story was told to the little children, and the little ones said that she was so naughty and ugly that she must be well punished.
But one day when Inge was very hungry, she heard her name mentioned and her story was told to an innocent child. The little girl burst into tears at the tale of the haughty, vain Inge.
“But will Inge never come up here again?” asked the little girl.
And the reply was, “She will never come up again.”
“Yes, then she might come,” was the reply, and the words penetrated to Inge’s heart and did her good, and a tear of penitence dropped down on the loaf.
Again time went on—a long, bitter time, but at last Inge heard some one call her name and she saw two bright stars that seemed gleaming above her. The little girl who had been sorry for Inge was now an old woman and had gone to Heaven. She was calling to Inge. She was still sorry for her.
And a wonderful thing happened. A beam of light shot radiantly down into the depths of the Moor Woman’s place with all the force of the sunbeam which melts the snow man the boys have built. More quickly than the snowflake turns to water, the stony form of Inge was changed to mist, and a little bird soared with the speed of lightning upward into the world of men. But the bird was timid and shy towards all things around; he was ashamed of himself, ashamed to encounter any living thing, and hurriedly sought to conceal himself in a dark hole in an old crumbling wall; there he sat cowering, trembling through his whole frame.
Then, presently, it was the blessed Christmas time. The peasant who dwelt near set up a pole by the old wall with some ears of corn bound to the top, that the birds of heaven might have a good meal, and rejoice in the happy, blessed time.
And on Christmas morning the sun arose and shone upon the ears of corn, which were surrounded by a number of twittering birds. Then out of the hole in the wall streamed forth the voice of another bird, and the bird soared forth from his hiding-place; and in heaven it was well known what bird this was.
It was a hard winter. The ponds were covered with ice, and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air were stinted for food. Our little bird soared away over the high road, and in the ruts of the sledges he found here and there a grain of corn, and at the halting-places some crumbs. Of these he ate only a few, but he called all the other hungry sparrows around him, that they, too, might have some food. He flew into the towns, and looked round about; and wherever a kind hand had strewn bread on the window-sill for the birds, he only ate a single crumb himself, and gave all the rest to the other birds.
In the course of the winter, the bird had collected so many bread-crumbs, and given them to the other birds, that they equalled the weight of the loaf on which Inge had trod to keep her shoes clean; and when the last bread-crumb had been found and given, the gray wings of the bird became white, and spread far out.
“Yonder is a sea-swallow, flying away across the water,” said the children, when they saw the white bird. Now it dived into the sea, and now it rose again into the clear sunlight. It gleamed white; but no one could tell whither it went, though some asserted that it flew straight into the sun.
Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen.
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Bailey, Carolyn Sherwin. 2018. For the Story Teller: Story Telling and Stories to Tell. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58107/58107-h/58107-h.htm#Page_231
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