Storytelling Panel Coming Up at BlogHer Food

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I’m preparing for my Friday panel for BlogHer Food on storytelling. As food writers, we are all storytellers, even though we can’t exactly say how we do it.

So I turned to some experts to tell me: What, exactly, constitutes storytelling?

“Storytelling passes on the essence of who we are,” say members of the National Storytelling Association. “Stories are a prime vehicle for assessing and interpreting events, experiences, and concepts from minor moments of daily life to the grand nature of the human condition. It is an intrinsic and basic form of human communication. More than any other form of communication, the telling of stories is an integral and essential part of the human experience.”

Whoa, sounds like this definition was made for blogging.

Michael Procopio of Food for the Thoughtless

Now, what makes a good storyteller? I think it’s someone who can elicit emotion: you feel sad, uplifted, or inspired upon reading a good story. Someone who makes you laugh or think. Someone who knows how to draw characters and situations so well that you feel like you’re watching a movie because their images are so visual. Someone who knows how to write a beginning, middle and end, with a crisis thrown in for a story arc.

BlogHer Food judges selected these two storytellers for the panel, with me as moderator: are Michael Procopio, author of the blog Food for the Thoughtless; and Rebecca Crump of Ezra Pound Cake. While their styles are different, they’re both wicked funny.

Procopio writes long posts about his life and incorporates recipes at the end. He complains about how, upon serving hot cheese to a customer at the Greek restaurant where he works, the man asked him to set the cheese on fire. Then adds a recipe for making hot Greek cheese (sans flames). He riffs on the Liberace cookbook, upon hearing that the Las Vegas Liberace museum is closing, in a post titled Liberace’s Sticky Buns.

Rebecca Crump of Ezra Pound Cake

Crump’s pieces  look like straight recipe posts, but  when you read them you realize she is no ordinary food blogger. There’s a wink-wink element to her posts. Not everyone can pull off such lines as, “This pie is naughty. The kind that will spank you without using a switch.”  Or she ends a recipe for pumpkin streusel muffins with “So if you want something more like a pumpkin-flavored Hostess Cup Cake, double the cream cheese filling, and send me one.”

How do you know when you’ve read a great story? Are you captured by it, held hostage to the end? Who is a great storyteller, and why?

p.s. If you’re attending BlogHer Food, I hope you’ll say hello.


    • diannejacob says

      Me too. Yes, we’ll learn both from each other and from the audience. That is the BlogHer way.

  1. says

    In addition to what you’ve listed and what Lou Ann listed, I’d say that I also know that I’ve read a great food story when I feel like the writer remembers that I wasn’t there with them to experience their experience, so they write in a way that makes me feel like I was there with them.

    It’s something I continue to work on. I feel like I can be too deliberate at time, i.e. sometimes I fall on poor devices such as phrases like, “Imagine that….” It’s a bad habit.

    • diannejacob says

      Definitely you have to know how to make readers feel like they’re there with you. I really don’t like food writing where it’s all about what “I” did and you feel like you’re watching rather than participating.

  2. says

    Oh, I hope I can score a last-minute ticket to Blogher Food, so I can hear you and this panel!

    I know I have been captured by a writer when the author’s fascination with a topic (especially one I normally wouldn’t gravitate toward) somehow becomes infectious.

    For example, the chapter in Bourdain’s new book Medium Raw in which he shadows the master fish butcher at Le Bernadin. I didn’t think I could be so fascinated by cleaning and prepping fish! Oh but I was…and Bourdain is sensitive (in a sledgehammer-blunt sort of way) to the economy of restaurants and the socio-economic gap between the restuarant’s employees and the restaurant’s customers, picking up on exactly what would shock me….that he has never eaten most of the restaurant’s dishes!

    • diannejacob says

      Yes! I find this happening to me too. One time I was 8 pages into an Atlantic Monthly piece on electricity and what happens to cows who live under the currents when I realized — wait a minute, I had no intention of reading this piece. Good example.

  3. says

    Good stories are the key to ‘hooking’ your reader–they reach the heart rather than the mind. So often we writers begin by approaching a reader’s mind instead, but if the heart doesn’t get involved soon, the reader will drift away.
    Have a great time at BlogHerFood, Dianne–I bet you’ll go home full of great new ideas!

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Dorothy. That’s a good point, perhaps tied to what I mentioned about getting readers emotionally involved.

  4. says

    I was at a discussion of creative non-fiction last night and story telling was a huge topic. Though the panel wasn’t about food, I think the questions are the same — how can we make people want to keep reading? Try the recipe? Eat at the restaurant? But just as important is self editing and tempering your writing so that there’s no emotional overkill. It’s an art!

    • diannejacob says

      Yep, keeping people engaged is critical to storytelling. Its’ in the way you foreshadow, build suspense, use transitions.

  5. Karen says

    Dianne – I was watching the livestream this afternoon and you all were absolutely terrific! So much good information in one session – not to mention the humor and insight! Thank you from all of us in the virtual audience!!