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“How to Tell a Story?” a Book by Mark Twain Essay


Twain distinguishes between a humorous and a comic story in an attempt to explain the factors that should be considered when telling a story. According to his book “How to write a story,” he cites out the points necessary for making your audience laugh their breath away. There are many kinds of stories, but for him, he chooses to base on the humorous and comic stories saying first and foremost that they are different in the sense that the former is American, whereas the later is English. Twain talks much about the humorous story making it sound like the best kind of story.

For instance, he says that the humorous story applies simplicity in its narration that the storyteller tells the story in a simple and innocent way that tends to amuse the listeners without even having to pinpoint the point of laughter directly. It might be longer than a comic story but meanders around the main point gently in an artistic manner that at the end of it all, the listeners are able to get amused by listening to paragraphs full of jargon just to make the audience understand the nub in his story.

The humorous story that employs the style of tonal variation quickly catches the attention of the listeners, making them realize a funny thing in the speaker’s story before the speaker realizes it deserves applause. Thus, the factor of being natural when telling a story is clearly brought out. This helps in getting your audience to build up attention because they know you are naturally funny and can never predict what you will say next. The story should be told in a manner that the point comes last, but still along the way the listeners are to burst into laughter without waiting for the ending. It should not be a matter whereby you get the storyteller going around his audience seeking applause by repeating the same point severally for the readers to understand.

Another crucial factor is the ability to slur a point (Wachtell, 190). That is, a storyteller should be able to speak in-distinctively about the main point so that the listeners don’t easily tell what the teller wants to say before he even says it. Pointing out or rather saying your lines in easily understandable language makes your story bogus because the listener does not have the difficulty of trying to figure out what you are saying, thus making it less funny. For a story to be funny then, one must involve the audience in the creation of a mental picture of what is being said so that they get amused after knowing the real meaning of the tellers’ words. In simple terms, the teller should employ a variety of stylistic devices in his narration that will help him to communicate the message clearly.

The ability to employ suspense as a type of narrative technique makes one’s story humorous. This happens when you are telling a story, and there is something that you would like your audience not to figure out so quickly, you pause and later continue giving out the idea they were frantically guessing as to if you really didn’t know it. This makes the listeners burst out in laughter because they have actually figured out the wrong idea. Sometimes it might be embarrassing to them, but just the idea of knowing the answer leads them to cry out of joy! Thus, having a pause that should not be too short or too long finally gives out an impressive response, but at the same juncture, a pause that is too long might withdraw the interest and curiosity in your listeners because they will definitely know that a surprise is coming.

When narrating a story, the narrator should try to break the monotony of the prose narration, and this might be done by chipping in a studied phrase or a line identified with a certain well-known narrator author (Gray 12). This makes the listeners not only limit their thoughts in terms of content but to also think outside the box by comparing and contrasting ideas. This also illustrates the fact that the storyteller is well versed with content, and especially when the illustration is amusing, the listeners will remove a yelp that might even make them jump out of their shoes. One of the functions of a narrative/story is to entertain, thus apart from performing the other functions like educating, it should be the audience having the urge to listen to another story told by the same narrator.

Though Twain tends to explain the above factors as essential in the narration of a story, we see him making errors in the excerpt from laughing it. Basing on the movie adaptation of 2002, we see Twain when invited as the main inspirational speaker during the Bryn Mawr college graduation ceremony; he employs exaggeration just to explain his experiences in the West. This is contrary to what he preaches because exaggeration is something that the narrator should avoid; instead, he must remain natural by clearly demonstrating their ideas.

Works Cited

Gray, Richard. A History of American Literature. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.

Wachtell, Cynthia. War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature. New York: LSU Press, 2010. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""How to Tell a Story?" a Book by Mark Twain." June 5, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-to-tell-a-story-a-book-by-mark-twain/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"How to Tell a Story?" a Book by Mark Twain'. 5 June.

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