Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to Be a Storyteller Extraordinaire

Throughout history, storytellers have been recognized as guardians (and perhaps inventors) of history, verbal artists who capture our imaginations and allow us to explore new worlds and remember past ones.  Many of my happiest memories of childhood were of listening to my mother weave new stories.  We would all get so carried away that what was meant to be a short little bedtime tale to help us fall asleep often grew into an epic adventure that had our imaginations dreaming awake long after we went to bed.

I love sharing stories with my little ones, and listening to the hilarious tales that they come up with.  Stories are not just for bedtime, you know.  They are a perfect way to handle rainy afternoons, waiting in line, discipline issues and more.  I am tremendously thankful for the rich heritage I have in storytellers.  I want to share with you some of the things that they have taught me.  You can be a storyteller extraordinaire!

1. Set the stage.  Pick a stormy afternoon, and create a pillow pile or a fort or another cozy place with plenty of blankets and pillows.  Drink hot chocolate from thermoses, eat nachos or popcorn or another yummy snack (this also gives you a brief second to occupy your mouth when your mind is frantically trying to think of what should come next in the story). 

2. Create the characters.  They can range from animals, to mythical creatures, to family members or your favorite TV characters and any combination you can imagine.  Our kidlets love stories featuring Spiderman, Spongebob, Ipis and Upis (a fish and a bird that Carlos made up) all saving the day together.  I like creating characters based on my kids using their middle names.  It is close enough that the kids relate to them and feel specially included, but not so exact that it limits the storyline.  Ariana noted several months ago that there really needed to be some sort of conflict in the story to make it interesting.  If you aren't into bad guys, make sure that there is a challenge of some type.

3. Plagiarize Plan the plot.   I think that the difficulty most of us have with story telling is coming up with new storylines on our feet over and over.  When I am especially tired, forming coherent sentences about anything is challenging, let alone trying to invent a whole new world of wonders.  These are some of my favorite tried- and-true kid-pleasers:

* Family history.  It is always more fun when you know the people in real life.  Share stories about their grandparents.  Tell about funny events from your childhood.  If your own childhood doesn't have too many happy memories, make up stories about what you wish it was like. Share stories about when you met their dad.  Wedding stories.  Birth stories.  Tell all about when they were babies. Bonus:  you can illustrate with pics!

Image credit: wertheim on Flickr
* Exotic locales.  I loved the old Disney movie, In Search of the Castaways, (based on the book by Jules Verne) because of the constant change of location.  It went from Europe to ships to the Andes to glaciers to jungles to deserts to living in a baobab tree to Maori islands and more.  Your story can go to any time (past, present, future) and anywhere (deserts, caves, oceans, islands, Mayan pyramids, jungles, outer space, African safaris...)

* Borrow from the classics.  Create your own version of Swiss Family Robinson, The Chornicles of Narnia, Dr. Doolittle, Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, A Little Princess, Robin Hood, Little House on the Prairie, or any other story you loved as a child.

* Super adventures.  Give your characters super powers--flying, invisibility, teleportation, telepathy, x-ray vision, super strength, and all the Marvel/ DC comic stand-bys.  Like Alice, let them shrink or grow into giants.  

Image credit: mrtruffle on Flickr
* Be silly.  Any chance that you get to work in some goofiness is good, and never underestimate the power of food (swimming pools full of hot fudge or spaghetti sauce) and gross-out stuff (boogers, snot, poop, vomit, mud, slime) and gross-out food (stinky cheese, moldy meat, unlikely combinations such as liver-flavored bubble gum, and pickles [Joelito's most hated food]). 

4.  Invite collaboration.  If you ever get stuck, ask them what they think is going to happen next, and go with it.  Or take turns telling the story.  Keep in mind that the whole point is to have fun, not to write a serious novel.  Don't worry about plot derailments or anything that might mess up your story--just embrace the fun and nonsense.  (Yeah, I know that this shouldn't even need to be said, but I also know how perfectionist parents can get really into something and lose sight of what is important and try to control all the details). 

There is a reason why civilizations throughout the world honor those who share stories.  Whether they are based in fact or wild imagination, they are ways to knits hearts together in shared adventures and transmit Truth.  Find some time today to tell an extraordinary story with your children!


Rae said...

i love this! i love stories and my son and i have lots of fun telling each other stories.

Amy said...

I would love to be able to tell stories to my son, but I always find it really difficult. He is only 6 months, so he doesn't care if they don't make sense, but I do! These tips sound really useful.
And maybe it will be a bit easier when he is a bit older and can help!

melissa joanne said...

What wonderful storytelling tips, Dulce. Thank you! I used to walk around with tiny, newborn night owl Annabelle telling her stories about how her daddy and I met and so on until she went to sleep. Of course I was boring her on purpose then! These ideas will help me to tell similar stories without putting her to sleep ;)

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much! <3 I think it is awesome that you are using stories even when they are babies!

dulce de leche said...

Either blogger ate my comment, or I poster it in the wrong post. :shifty eyes. Anyway, thank you so much! I think it is wonderful that you are sharing stories with your little ones. <3

Kelly said...

This is awesome Dulce! :)

I always get a bit jealous of my husband because he is so good at coming up with stories...I just wonder - how does he do it??

Now I feel much more prepared... :D

dulce de leche said...

:) Thanks, Kelly! My husband also seems to do it much more effortlessly than I. Thankfully, the kidlets aren't too critical and allow me plenty of practice. :)