Telling a Jump Story - A Primer

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Whooooooo's got my golden arm...

Whooooooo's got my golden arm...

YOU! got my golden arm!

- The Golden Arm, Traditional

So, What is a Jump Story?

A Jump Story is exactly what you might expect in that, if it is properly told, it will cause you to jump - perhaps even out of your seat.

By the same token if you can tell one of these properly you can also warn your audience beforehand in very specific terms that you are about to tell a Jump Story and that they will jump at the end of it - and they will too. You are after a reflexive response and are exactly like the doctor who says, "I shall tap your knee just here, and that will cause you to kick. Ready?"


(tap)


KICK!

And why would you want to do this? Because it's great fun, of course. Here, then, is what you need to know.

The Hook

We want our listeners to buy into our story, hook, line and sinker and so we start with the hook. Consider the setting. Have you got a little campfire going? Then ghosts will do fine, or the boogeyman, or even the Hook Man1, speaking of hooks. Snakes are always a good bet too. The important thing is to just pick something and go with it.

It's at least equally important to know when to choose not to tell a jump story. Consider the setting. Do not try to tell a jump story during the day to a large group outdoors in the park when the wind is blowing and dogs are barking. A jump story absolutely requires quiet surroundings and a group small enough so that you can make the furthest away hear you clearly without straining your voice. It doesn't matter if it's day or night or if the setting is indoors or outdoors - only that you can use your voice to the fullest effect.

Ok, so back to the hook. Our example will be an encounter between Brer Possum and Brer Snake2 and we shall get to the point quickly and without shilly shallying.

Brer Possum was out walking along the road just enjoying the warmth and beauty of this magnificent day (or the gorgeous moon on this magnificent night, as the case may be). He was so caught up with his own thoughts that he walked right past a hole in the middle of the road. After only a few steps though he did stop and wondered aloud to himself, "What kind of possum am I? Walking right past a hole like that. Hmmmph. I wonder what's in that hole?" So he went back to look and there at the bottom was... Brer Snake! Brer Possum didn't wait around but took off running Boogedy! Boogedy! Boogedy! down the road.

Now then, it's important to fill the space between you and your listeners - and this can be accomplished either with words or with pauses between words. When starting out you want a nice easy patter but, in our example here, you will want to insert the first significant pause after Hmmmph and a slightly longer one after I wonder what's in that hole? Gestures are important too, so you might consider wriggling like you've just got a case of the willies after you utter the words Brer Snake!

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Have you got everyone's attention now? Good, then we want to start drawing them in. In this example we will draw them in a little closer each time as Brer Possum gets closer to Brer Snake. At least three repetitions are necessary. We don't know why. Its just always been.

First Repetition
Brer Possum didn't get very far when he heard, "Brer Possssummm. Oh, Brer Posssss-ummmmmm." It was Brer Snake, calling him, and so he walked back to the hole, and he looked in, and there was Brer Snake, looking back up at him. "Brer Possssum - I'm stuck in this hole and I can't get out. I'm so cold. Won't you help me get out of this hole?"

Brer Possum said, "Help you get out of that hole? You'll bite me if I do."

Brer Snake said, "Maybe I won't." (long pause) "Maybe I won't."

So, Brer Possum grabbed a long stick and pushed it into the hole so Brer Snake could climb up and out. He didn't wait around though but took off running Boogedy! Boogedy! Boogedy! down the road.

Now pay attention to your delivery - are you adding plenty of sibilance to Brer Snake's voice? Are you taking your time with Brer Snake's words? Because Brer Snake is in no hurry even if Brer Possum is.

Second Repetition
Brer Possum didn't get very far when he heard, "Brer Possssummm. Oh, Brer Posssss-ummmmmm." It was Brer Snake, calling him, and so he walked back to the hole, and he looked, and there was Brer Snake, still looking up at him. "Brer Possssum - I'm stuck in this hole and I can't get out and I'm so cold. Won't you lift me up out of this hole?"

Brer Possum said, "Lift you up out of that hole? You'll bite me sure if I do."

Brer Snake said, "Maybe I won't." (long pause) "Maybe I won't."

So, Brer Possum grabbed hold of the stick, got one end under Brer Snake and flung him up and out of the hole clear into the air, over his head and "Whump" into the ditch Brer Snake landed. Brer Possum didn't wait around but took off running Boogedy! Boogedy! Boogedy! down the road.

Naturally, we're all fretting and wondering why Brer Possum can't just leave Brer Snake alone and go on his merry way so we can all calm down. Don't you mind us though - you just keep it up.

Third Repetition
Brer Possum didn't get very far when he heard, "Brer Possssummm. Oh, Brer Posssss-ummmmmm." It was Brer Snake, calling, and so he walked back to where Brer Snake was, lying in the ditch, looking up at him. "Brer Possssum - I'm I'm sooo cold and I just can't get warm. Maybe if you put me in your pocket.... I just know I'd get warm then. Won't you put me in your pocket? Please?"

Brer Possum said, "Put you in my Pocket? Then You'll bite me for sure."

Brer Snake said, "Maybe I won't." (long pause) "Maybe I won't."

So, Brer Possum (shudder) picked up Brer Snake (extreme case of the willies), and put him in his pocket. (Lord have mercy!) As he resumed his walk down the road (with Brer Snake in his Pocket!) he began again enjoying the warmth and magnificence of the day and soon he forgot all about Brer Snake.

Come a Little Closer, Child

Forgot all about Brer Snake? Wake Up Brer Possum! Oh! Watch Out for...

Brer Snake... who did warm up.

Brer Snake... who stuck his head up out of Brer Possum's pocket.

Brer Snake... who started uncoiling himself - around Brer Possum's back.

Now, at this point you need to start slowly leaning forward towards your audience while using your arm and hand to imitate a snake moving about. Keep your voice soft, low and intense, but not quiet. You do want everyone to hear your every drawn out word.

Brer Snake... who kept uncoiling himself - around Brer Possum's neck.

Brer Snake... who kept uncoiling himself - until he was looking at Brer Possum - right - in - the - face.

Keep using your arm and hand - behind your back - behind your neck - and then hold your hand with the fingers and thumb all pressed together right up close to your face. You, my friend, are now looking directly at Brer Snake. Focus all of your attention on your hand and do not look at the audience. Trust that they will also be staring at your hand. Slowly - So Slowly - Lean forward just a little more. Quietly gather in a breath and prepare for...

The Jump

You can do it. Just stay focused. Keep your voice low but intense yet loud enough to be clearly heard right up until the jump - and then give it all you've got. Let the word, in this case "BIT", explode out of you.

And then... he BIT him!

Winding Down

Success! You've Done It! They Jumped! Almost immediately after, your listeners will start laughing and giggling with relief. Now is the time to help them calm down. Give them a moment and then continue.

Brer Possum said, "You Bit Me! After all I did for you! Why did you go and bite me?"

Brer Snake said, "You knew I was a snake when you put me in your pocket."

And you knew we were going to play a trick because we told you we would - so go pass it on.

1You know, the crazy man that lives in these very woods and has a hook for a hand and who likes to sneak up on little boys and little girls sitting around a campfire just like this one and... You get the idea.2This is an old chestnut and you can find many more examples at your library. Seriously, they have books full of stories there. Lots of them. Honest. Go see for yourself.

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