Challenge sequence tellings: a case-study analysis of storytelling

Access full-text files




Jobe, Theodore James

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Previous approaches to the analysis of stories and storytelling have frequently focused attention on the analysis of a single idealized, teller-centered monologuestyle storytelling event consistent with what stories are believed to be and the functions they serve. More recent approaches to the analysis of stories and storytelling have revealed a more complex understanding of the form and function of storytelling (Ervin-Tripp & Küntay, 1997; Mandelbaum, 1987; Norrick, 2000; Ochs, 1997). Rather than the canonical teller-dominated, monologic storytelling event consistent with popular notions of the “raconteur” frequently treated as a form of performance, the stories told on a daily basis are frequently interactive events, produced by both the teller and the recipient, that fulfill noteworthy social functions beyond providing a potential source of entertainment. Stories may assume a wide variety of organizations outside of teller-directed storytelling events, in which participants play distinct roles and execute specific socio-interactional acts. Finally, new developments in the analysis of storytelling demonstrate that stories are not exclusively linguistic acts. This study follows these developments in the analysis of storytelling with a case-study analysis of two distinct storytelling events in which the tellers uniquely begin their tellings by challenging the recipient in the form of a riddle to guess the story’s central event. A detailed discussion reveals how the two storytelling events are actually produced in both their linguistic and extra-linguistic dimensions to contribute to the story’s production and message. This analysis contributes to the field of oral narrative analysis by illustrating another interactive form of storytelling – the “challenge sequence telling,” – in the growing catalogue of storytelling organizations. Challenge sequence tellings support narrative evaluative functions as an evaluative focalization mechanism that highlights the importance of the story’s central narrative event while characterizing this event as surprising. Challenge sequence tellings also support the telling’s social dimension by contributing to the participants’ formation of rapport by directly implicating the story recipient in the production of the story in a form of talk consistent with gossip.