Reel In Those Tall Tale Awards!
Simple ways to catch 'em by the tale.
Have you ever told a tall tale to an audience who looked back at you with the glassy-eyed stare associated with a school of dead fish? Well, try these tips for making your tall tales become so alive, your listeners will swallow them whole - hook, line and sinker.
1. THE LURE: A Colorful, Catchy Title. Tickle the audience's fancy by using titles that lend themselves to a good story. You can do this by using words like "How" or "Why" in your title. How it was invented, how it got its name, why something happens, why something is true - these are all good story starters.
Lure the audience from the beginning, when you are introduced, so they want to hear more. Here are some examples:
- How the Great Rift Valley Got Its Name
- How Bumblebees Got Their Stripes
- How Nils Olson Became a Legend
- How the West Was Won, and Why I Had to Give It Back
- Why Grits Caused the Confederacy to Fall
- Why Santa Never Flies Commercial
- The Real Reason Birds Fly South for the Winter
A catchy title captures the audience's curiosity. By assuming that they, like you, are curious to learn "the truth" behind your speech topic, all you have to do is answer the "how" or "why" to pull them into the story.
2. THE BAIT: Tasty Exaggeration. To make the audience bite, you must think bigger than life. Figure out what is reasonable, then go beyond that to stretch your small tale into a tall one. Here are some examples:
- If the Great Rift Valley was created by a tribe digging a grave, line up the gravediggers 'til they stretch for 200 miles. Then go one step further and picture them still digging today.
- Don't ask people to take your word for it. Invent facts and sources to substantiate or verify what you say. Tell them your tale was handed down from the Begats, generation from generation, 'til it was told by your grandfather to your father, and your father passed it down to you. Invent your own credibility.
- Don't keep anything its normal size; pretend you're from Texas and make it bigger and fiercer and grander. Describe adjectives in detail, by using ridiculous pictures: "It was so hot, two trees were fighting over a dog;" "It was so windy, the cows were plastered up against the barn until the wind changed;" or "The buffalo chips were so big, and the Kansas wind so strong, that when the gusts caught them, they blew around the world. Hence the phrase, "When the chips hit the fan." And "That's why all the UFO sightings were reported a hundred years later!"
3. THE HOOK: A Plot That's Easy to Swallow. Catch them by surprise. Reword the well-known moral of a story (Aesop's Fables) or famous quotation (Poor Richard's Almanac by Benjamin Franklin) until it resembles the original, but means something entirely different. One way is to change or transpose the first letters. For example:
- "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" becomes "People who live in glass houses shouldn't stow thrones."
- "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" becomes "Never hook a miffed horse in the mouth."
Another way is to just make the quote sound similar. For example:
- "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" becomes "Surly to bed and surly to rise, makes a man stealthy, Elsie surmised."
Once you have the new, distorted moral or quotation, go back and write a new story that fits it. This will become your plot.
4. THE NET: Scoop Them With a Memorable Last Line. You can do this two ways:
- Save your moral for the very last line as a "gotchya." For instance, consider concluding with "And the moral of the story is..."
- Repeat your "how" or "why" title: "And that's how the Great Rift Valley got its name."
So if you are fishing for compliments, remember to use your lure, bait, hook and net properly. And that's how to reel in those tall tale awards - hook, line and sinker.