What Is a Tall Tale?
About that 2,345,657-page dissertation I wrote last week: I knew writing tall tales would be tough, but I had no idea it would take me a half
hour. I needed to understand the characteristics of tall tales so I could write them quicker.
I therefore traveled 2 million miles on foot (that took a week to do) to speak with the how-to-write-a-tall-tale master. His fortress was guarded by an 8,000 lb. hamster who made me answer the following question: “What is a tall tale?”
“That’s why I’m here,” I replied. “I came to ask the master what the characteristics of a tall tale are.” The hamster swiped at me, missed and knocked a mountain over. I ran by and gained an audience with the master.
Here’s what he taught me:
- A tall tale involves exaggeration, often used for humorous purposes. Mark Twain used exaggeration effectively in many of his stories–“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” “The Invalid’s Story,” and “Punch Bros. Punch,” for example. Other writers who effectively use exaggeration, albeit not in a tall tale necessarily, include Charles Dickens (think Uriah Heep or Francis Micawber), and Garrison Keillor (Gary Keillor being a fabulous tale that comes to mind).
- First Person Narration: Tall tales are normally written in first person–that is, the narrator is an active participant in the tale. This lends the tale more “authenticity.”
- Some tall tales involve legendary figures. Paul Bunyan is the most famous American character.
- Some legendary figures are real people. There are more tall tales involving American baseball player Babe Ruth than could fill a book.
Lesson Plan: How to Write One
Teaching tall tales is simple. Instruct students to do the following:
- Choose an incident.
- List facts about the incident.
- Exaggerate the facts. For example, you could write about last Friday’s football game that your school won 21-10. I meant the football game we won 213-6. Don’t forget that star running back Timmy Tidewater felt sorry for the other team and scored a touchdown for them in the 4th quarter. Todd Wallenbacjerstynomerslimkadin passed for 8,000 yards, saved orphans from a burning building at halftime, and sold popcorn between the third and fourth quarters.
- Make sure it’s written in the first person.
This post is part of the series: Writing Lesson Plans
Teach writing with these writing lesson plans.