By Anna Perdue
For The Tribune
If the thought of entertaining a couple hundred middle school kids in an auditorium, keeping them engaged and quiet is a kind of scary thing for you, well you’re not alone. But that was something Bil Lepp, a professional storyteller, did with ease when he visited Valley High School and spoke with the middle level students.
Without a lengthy pause Lepp, who is a professional storyteller and the five-time winner of the West Virginia Liar’s Contest, captured the crowd’s attention with his unique ability to paint pictures of his tall tales that engaged the listeners and convinced them that the outrageous details could be true, while knowing that they really weren’t. Lepp, who is a former columnist for The Fayette Tribune in Oak Hill, held their attention with tales of teenage antics that included deer masks and a 40-foot tongue.
After holding the attention of the crowd, students in each grade level were given the opportunity to have a writing workshop with Lepp who broke down his writing style and techniques. After having the students write the four parts of a story (idea, setting, character, and conflict), he explained “with that start stories can be written such as ‘The Hunger Games’ and the Harry Potter series. They each start with an idea.”
After the workshop, Alex Loeffler, a sixth grader, excitedly said the storyteller had given him all kinds of ideas. Abigail Taylor, also a sixth grader, commented on how fantastic Lepp was.
“He made it clearer for me to understand how to write better. He also made me think that it doesn’t have to be serious, it can be hilarious and make people laugh.” She went on to say she thinks she will be a better writer because of him.
A seventh grader, Cassidy Canterbury, explained, “He told us fictional stories and I believed them at first by the way he told them. He told them just like he was talking to us.” She laughed, adding that she thought he was a great speaker and had really influenced her to become a storyteller.
Lepp, who was born and raised in West Virginia, also told the students how he has been to over 39 states and presented in over 1000 schools, seeing himself as a representative of West Virginia. “If I go to another state and do my presentation, I want the people to say, ‘Well that Bil Lepp was a nice guy and probably so are you.’”
While Lepp explained that he wanted to be a writer since fourth grade, he didn’t start telling stories until 1990. With what became an annual event, he would compete in the West Virginia’s Liar Completion held as part of the Vandalia Gathering each year at the state capital. He went on to win the event five times and catapulted that talent into a career. Now he is able to make a living and share that talent with future writers.
He explained to the students that he has over 100 stories that he has written and spends around six months writing a story and another six months to make it ready to tell.
Lepp has written several books with a new children’s book coming out next year. He writes books and makes CDs and, according to his website, has performed on Comedy Central. For more information about the storyteller, go to www.leppstorytelling.com.
“I think the man that paid my school a visit was spectacular!” said Megan Smith, a six grader at VHS.
“My favorite story was where the man and his friend dressed up as deer and tied a mannequin in hunting gear to the hood of the friend’s truck and rode to town.”
Laughing, she added, “I hope that he will come back to our school. I also think he should keep writing stories.”
Smith also said she enjoyed the fact that he taught them how to write funny stories like his.