The summer after my freshman year (2017), my friends and I started to attend storytelling events in LA called Moth Story Slams. Since then, I have probably attended at least 10 shows, and they are still one of my favorite off-campus activities. During these shows, there are ten people chosen randomly (you can put your name into a bag if you want to be chosen), and each person tells a five minute story related to the topic of the night. Some of the topics I’ve seen at shows are Flawed, Culture Shock, Bold, and Bouncing Back. After each story is told, there are three judging teams from the audience that score the stories on a scale from 1-10 based on the delivery of the story, how well the story fit the theme, and whether or not they stayed within the 5 minute time limit. [A secret for you all: I’ve been on a judging team before, and the lowest score you can give somebody is actually a 7, and it is suggested that the first story doesn’t get a score above a 9.5… unless it was really really good] The highest scoring storyteller from the night then goes on to compete in the Grand Slam, which is another night of 10 stories told by winners of Story Slams.
One of my favorite things about these events is how you get to listen to and meet people with extremely different life paths. Yes, many people there are part of the entertainment industry, but I’ve heard stories from people who grew up living off their own land, people who spent a decade in prison, and people who traveled on the road with rockstars as photographers. Sometimes you will get into a conversation with the people you are sitting next to in the audience and learn about their life, too. Listening to peoples’ life experiences is not only entertaining, but it also is sometimes comforting to hear people explain that they didn’t figure things out until later in their life or have made big mistakes that they’ve learned from.After attending several story slams, I have started to understand what makes a good story – or, at least, the criteria to get a good score at a story slam. One aspect to a high scoring story is humor. This isn’t to say that serious stories can’t win, but humorous stories tend to score higher. That being said, you should not try a stand up routine as a story; the judging teams can easily spot when this happens, and it is not good. High scoring stories also tend to have a clear connection to the theme of the night. I’ve heard several stories that are slightly off from the theme, then the story teller spends the last 30 seconds of their story to try to explain the moral and how it connects to the theme. This is also not good. It makes the story feel like it was a random story that you just really wanted to share – and that’s not the point of the story slam.
Lastly, a good story fills the whole five minutes. I once heard a story about a mother who had challenges with her son going to college, but the story lasted only 2 minutes. She got a pity 7.3 average, I think. Don’t be like that mom, make sure your story has enough content to fill the whole time. Most people run into the challenge of their story being too long, which also hurts your score. Overall, the most important aspect to a high scoring story is authenticity. The audience can tell when a story seems artificial or exaggerated, so don’t do that.
To me, one of the biggest aspects of going to Moth shows is how much it makes you feel like an NPR-listening, dinner-partying adult. The average age is definitely over 30 years old. But, that’s part of the appeal to me: even though I might not completely fit in with the audience, it is such a drastic change from my environment on campus. It is an activity and setting that is fully outside of the 5C bubble, and sometimes that’s exactly what I need. So, if you ever feel like you’ve gotten stuck into your routine and environment, consider spending a night listening to ten stories from strangers — I’d probably be happy to join you.