It’s been several years since I’ve composed a bedtime story for my kids, but when I did, my stories featured an older sister and a younger brother, a seaside village like the dozens we visited when living in England, and a magical dolphin. While the plots varied, the characters did not and my children could always count on a Tommy and Lisa adventure to send them off to sleep with the soothing sounds of the ocean and a playful dolphin in their minds. Maybe one day they’ll tell Tommy and Lisa tales to their children.
I recently wrote about Betty White and her connection with sleepbetter.org, and a survey by IPSOS, as part of the Bedtime Stories Project – an effort to celebrate bedtime stories. So, keeping with that theme, if you want tips on creating some engaging bedtime stories, read this very helpful article from author Hillary Homzie.
To jumpstart the story storytelling process, below are five tips that I use when I pen a new tale.
(1) Choose a subject that you’re passionate about. Find a topic on which you have a lot to say, something that fascinates you, tickles your funny bone or even upsets you.
For example, you could pick something as ordinary as laundry. Why? Well, let’s pretend that you hate folding laundry. Of all the tasks in the world, folding laundry is the most onerous.
(2) Ask what if? Brainstorm several what “if scenarios” and see what happens.
What if you have a mother mouse who decides to stop folding laundry? By day she’s a mouse policewoman protecting the village from an ornery cat with kittens, and she’s exhausted when she gets home from work. What would happen to her mouse house? Would laundry fill the bedrooms, the kitchen, out the windows and into the clouds where it reaches a giant cat’s kingdom?
(3) Create a problem and solve it. Take your what if situation and discover the inherent problem it produces. Why is it urgent that your character to solve this problem?
What if the mouse follows the heap of laundry and has a run in with the giant cat, which ensues into a high speed chase because the cat is hungry for mouse pie?
The key is to pick one problem and stick with it.
(4) Escalate the problem. Make your problem worse – either through character or plot development.
If the laundry starts as a small pile, it should evolve into a pile as tall as the leaning Tower of Pisa, which then spills out the window and stops traffic. Or, if your escalation is character driven, then maybe the daughter mouse is the sort who wears the same dress every day – pink with a fancy polka dot bow – but can’t find it because the laundry hasn’t been done, forcing her to be flexible, reach outside her comfort zone and pick a new outfit to help her mom fight the ornery cat.
(5) Create a satisfying, yet surprising conclusion. Pick an ending, and then twist it by asking, what if this happened instead? Keep spinning the ending until you find a new and different conclusion. Make sure this ending is a logical conclusion to the start of your story.
What if the mouse escaped from the giant cat’s house and had a new appreciation for folding laundry? Okay, that feels sort of pedestrian. What if, instead, they learn that the giant cat is a princess who doesn’t have a dress for the royal ball, and the mouse offers to sew the pieces of laundry together to create a patchwork dress? I think we can take this further. What if, instead of a dress, the mouse created a patchwork quilt for the baby kittens, who are making the mother cat grumpy due to lack of sleep? The quilt keeps the kittens warm, stops their loud mewling, puts the mother cat in a better mood and relaxes the mouse village. Our mother mouse learns her lesson and regularly folds the laundry. That’s it!
The idea is to have fun. When you start with a subject that engages you, the process should be joyful, cathartic, even. And you don’t need to feel compelled to tell fantastical stories, or anthropomorphic stories. But you can, if you want to. You can tell sports stories, stories about construction workers, really anything, as long as you care about it.
Hillary Homzie, Associate Visiting Professor, Hollins University Graduate Program in Children’s Writing and Literature, is the author of Things are Gonna’ Get Ugly (S&S Aladdin Mix), Alien Clones from Outer Space series (S&S Aladdin) and the forthcoming The Hot List (S&S Aladdin Mix).