Professional Biblical Storyteller Dennis Dewey Shares His Secrets

Dennis Dewey, biblical storyteller, explains in full how he learns entire books of the Bible by heart.

Dennis Dewey has been learning and telling huge chunks of the Bible for decades. How has he learned entire books of the Bible, plus large parts of many more?

Now you can find out. He explains his entire method in an excellent, lengthy article.

Read the full article: “Tools for Telling the Stories of Scripture by Heart” (PDF)

Learning From Storytellers

As you read, you’ll find that his approach has much in common with the methods I share in my book, Christmas by Heart. Over the years, I’ve discovered some of these methods from other sources, but I’ve also picked up many useful tips from the Network of Biblical Storytellers, to which Dewey belongs.

These storytellers are some of the few people I know who are learning long texts by heart in English.

The difference, though, is that Dewey and other storytellers have an ultimate focus on performance, on sharing this story with an audience.

This is exciting, and soon I hope to tell biblical stories myself. But most people would be quite happy just learning these stories. And it turns out that simply learning the texts is much easier and simpler than also preparing them for performance.

Still, storytellers have plenty to teach us. You won’t need do the steps related to storytelling … but you may find yourself trying more of these steps than you think.

Summary of Dewey’s Method for Learning Scripture Stories by Heart

Here’s a quick summary of his main steps. But you should read the full article.

  • Pray. The entire process becomes a prayer.

  • Read the text out loud. Read an entire chapter or episode at a time.

  • See what is already there. Close your eyes and think about the gist and structure of the story. What do you remember without effort?

  • Write out the story, breaking it into a “script”. This is very similar to my use of Bible rhythms, but read how he does it to see the important differences.

  • Synaesthesia: Stanislavsky Meets St. Ignatius. Dewey describes how he enters more deeply into the text.

  • Imagine the Storytelling Space. Here Dewey mentions Simonides, the famous Greek inventor of the “loci method” of memory palaces. However, Dewey does not stock an imaginary room full of mnemonics. Not exactly.

    Instead, he places himself in the “space” of the story. When Jesus is tempted in the desert for forty days, Dewey sees Satan on the left, and a calendar with “40 days” on the right. Then the wild beasts come, replaced by the comforting angels.

    It’s an interesting hybrid of traditional memory palaces and simply imagining a story.

  • Move with the story. Here we definitely get into storytelling technique. A storyteller needs to move! And yet, these movements could also make solitary learning much easier (and more alive).

  • Review. Even with all these techniques, Dewey still calls repetition “indispensable”.

In the rest of the article, Dewey shares more about how different biblical storytelling is from the usual, dry “reading”. He also compares biblical storytelling to jazz (you’ll have to read why yourself).

Finally, he suggests practicing to people, not your wall. Good advice, even for solitary learners. I’ve said my stories for my kids countless times.

Differences in My Approach

How does my approach in Christmas by Heart differ from Dewey’s approach? The biggest differences would be:

  • My use of Bible rhythms, although Dewey takes a very similar approach in breaking up the text.

  • My emphasis on seeing the verse clearly and learning it perfectly. I discovered a radical improvement in my ability to learn verses when I deliberately trained my visual and aural attention.

  • This training is slow, using a “cumulative method”. You begin by learning only one verse per day – because you’re also learning how to learn. As you improve, you can learn more verses per day.

  • This means that, at least at the beginning, I only build the entire story slowly, day by day. Dewey begins with the entire story at once, starting with the gist, and gradually clarifying it as he learns the entire piece.

  • For longer texts, I might make a simple “memory palace” to help me keep the stories in order. For instance, John chapter 2 would have only two prompts: one for the wedding feast at Cana, and one for the cleansing of the Temple. These are the main stories in that chapter.

However, you might not always need a palace. I’d be curious to hear more about how Dewey avoids getting lost in a long book.

  • Finally, I think you need a definite review schedule to keep these stories renewed and fresh. For your first few stories, marking the calendar should be fine. With longer texts, you might need to use spaced repetition for the various chapters or episodes.

Now read his article for yourself, and see what you think!