An engaging tone of voice and powerful use of body language are key, but -- bottom line -- you have to make money to be considered a professional storyteller, according to members of the Andover Storytellers Guild.

"If you tell a story and get money for it, that's what it is," said guild member Jane Gossard. "You have to hustle. It's like any other art. It's like being a musician. It's a lot of work."

Started several years ago by a group of Andover women, members of the Andover Storytellers Guild have earned their keep at schools, churches, libraries and parties, entertaining crowds with well-told tales ranging from the true to the fantastic.

New members have come from as far away as Newburyport and Portsmouth, N.H., Gossard said, though right now the guild consists of six women from Andover. New members are always welcome, she said.

"When we get together, we tell stories," Gossard said. "We critique each other's work. We really help each other. We help each other get gigs."

The last time the Storytellers Guild members performed together was at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Dec. 2, where they shared their personal stories as part of the 13th annual Women's Spirituality Series.

Members are hoping to plan a future event that gets the audience more involved in the storytelling.

"It's truly an interaction between an audience and a teller," said Gossard. "It brings a story to mind. That's one of the wonderful things of a group. You feed off each other."

Gossard said she joined the guild after attending a weekly storytelling event in Cambridge with Andover resident Susan Lenoe, the "anchor of the group" and a veteran storyteller, according to Gossard.

After performing for the first time that evening, Gossard said she knew storytelling was for her.

"Storytellers are welcoming people. They're so warm and accepting," said Gossard. "That's what I learned that night. They're a real positive group of people."

Several years later, it was Gossard who helped hook the guild's newest member, Sandy Hitchins.

Hitchins saw Gossard perform at a previous Women's Spirituality Series event and afterward struck up a conversation with her. Not long after, she became a guild member herself.

"She was very welcoming," said Hitchins. "I still do not consider myself a professional storyteller, having made a total of $100 telling stories. ... I don't intend, really, making a living off it, but it's been wonderful, being a part of the group."

The most important aspect to a good story is movement, according to Hitchins.

"A change has to happen," Hitchins said. "You've got to have good characters and someone has to go through change. It has to pull you in."

Gossard agreed that dynamic elements are what draw people in when they listen to a story.

"A good story, typically, there's some sort of trouble," Gossard said. "That's what makes a good story: some kind of tension. There's an issue and then it gets resolved."

Whether it be a particular style of delivery, use of body language or different voices for different characters in a story, Gossard said all storytellers have their way of capturing an audience's attention.

To Hitchins, there's nothing like the feeling of pulling in people while telling a story.

"It's the best," she said. "It's very important for us to tell our stories."

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