I can’t claim to be a master storyteller. I don’t have any formal training. That said, Malcolm Gladwell says in his book, Outliers, that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field, so I have to think I’m getting close.
Over the past year, one of the most common requests I hear from my almost three-year-old daughter is “tell me a story about Baa.” Her stuffed sheep, Baa, is both a bedtime companion and a stand-in for herself in any outlandish, imaginary situation. It’s usually the first request I hear when we get into the car to drive anywhere, or at a restaurant when we’re waiting for our food. I love that she’s interested in stories, but I have to admit that despite personally being an avid reader of fiction, coming up with a constant stream of ideas is tough. I want to share some of the techniques that have worked for me.
Plagiarize. I know, I know, it sounds bad, but if I can shoehorn Baa into an existing story framework, I know I’m on solid ground. Baa has filled in for Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, both Beauty and separately the Beast, and many others, mostly shamelessly stolen from Disney since I happen to know all of those stories well. Interestingly enough, my daughter doesn’t mind at all if she already knows the plot from the original and likes the idea of Baa heroically joining the cast.
Frame a story around a moral. Most of the things we try to teach our children can be boiled down into a simple lesson. Ideas like “be kind to others,” “everyone makes mistakes,” “it’s okay to be yourself” are pretty universal, and it’s easy to come up with a simple framework that enforces that lesson. Heck, I’ve even had Baa state the lesson he learned at the end in case it got lost in my rambling. Not only does a moral give me something to talk about, but hopefully some of these lessons are sinking in.
Describe things your child has or will experience. To hear me tell it, Baa spends a lot of his time going to the playground by our house. He happily goes to nursery school twice a week (coincidentally on the same days my daughter goes). He bravely tries new foods and certainly doesn’t spit them out on the table even if he doesn’t like them. I think my daughter likes that she can envision what’s happening since these sorts of events are commonplace in her life. Even things that she hasn’t done yet but knows she will shortly (like using the potty when we starting that training process) make for great stories since it gives her a chance to imagine them from a safe distance.
Begin with a crazy situation, and try to talk your way out of it. I consider this the last refuge if I’ve burned through all my ideas, which is probably why I’m not a novelist. They tend to start with sentences like, “One day, Baa woke up and looked out his window only to realize that his house was on the moon!” Then I just try to string words together until I land on something that may hang together like a plot. On good days, I luckily happen upon a moral lesson or plot twist that seems to fit, and I can shape the whole thing into a coherent whole. On less good days, I just ramble and ramble until I lose any thread of a plot and Baa usually just ends up going to bed after saying “Boy, what a crazy day!”
There are so many novels that started as bedtime stories told to the author’s children like Babar, Watership Down, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Winnie-the-Pooh to pick just a few. I’m pretty sure you won’t be seeing The Adventures of Baa at your local bookstore anytime soon. However, as long as my daughter is happy to listen, I’m happy to regale her with tales of her heroic sheep.
Head to the Family Room
This post was syndicated with permission to BonBon Break Media, LLC.