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Struggling with telling stories- help!

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

I want to be able to tell my kids stories but I struggle so much with it.  I HATE when ds asks me to tell him a story and I wish I didn't.  It's just so hard for me- I feel like he is asking me to speak in a foreign language.  I feel like my brain just doesn't work the way it needs to to be able to make up stories.  I feel so saddened by this.


Sometimes I make an attempt to tell a story but often I get so stumped part way through.  I tried telling a story about how ds found a secret passageway in our basement and it took him to a land where all the people were tiny and everything in it was so small and as ds walked into the land, he became as small as the people there.  And then for the life of me, I couldn't think of what could possibly happen next.  I tried describing what everything was made of (ie. houses were out of tooth picks) but then I couldn't think of any creative things to describe what anything else was made of and I couldn't even think of something that could happen to ds while he was there.  This happens all the time where I get stumped and can't finish the story.  I ended up pausing the story and never getting back to it.


A handful of times I have gotten to that magical place where the story tells itself and I have told ds a story that flowed and that I didn't get stuck on but this is so rare (ds is almost 6, and it hasn't happened very often in nearly 6 years :( )


Sometimes ds will be having a hard time with something and I will think how it would be so wonderful if I could help him through the struggle by telling him a story.  But often, I just can't even frame the exact issue well enough in my mind to come up with a story and then I don't know what exactly it is that he needs to hear.  For example, if he is fighting a lot with his 2 year old brother, I think how I would love to tell him a story that could help but I don't always know the underlying issue that is causing the tension between the two of them and so I am lost as to what I would say in a story that could help him.  Is he jealous of his brother because he maybe feels he gets more time with mom or dad, just enjoying the powerful feeling that can come when you tease someone smaller, is it that he just doesn't always know how to handle conflict when it arises between them, and the list goes on.  And then for the life of me I can't think up a story.  Or I think maybe it would be fun for him to hear about a story where the main character has a pesky little brother.  But that is where the ideas stop.  I can't think of how to come up with such a story.  My mind is always blank.


At bedtime when ds asks for a story, I often tell him I will in 5 minutes because I need to think of one first.  This annoys him because he often falls asleep waiting.  And then I spent the 5 minutes racking my brain trying to come up with a story.  It is so painful!


Any suggestions on how I can overcome these issues with story telling?  How can I learn to tell stories and get to a point where the stories just come and develop a life of their own.  I feel like a lot of my issue is that I am not creative at all.  Ok, maybe I am, but I think it has been so terribly squashed/damaged by all my time spent in public schools.  I have struggled most of my life to feel creative.  There isn't a single area in my life where I exercise creativity.  I don't craft/make things, for example. And I feel that my lack of creativity really affects me when I try to tell a story.  I get stumped, not because I worry that the ideas that come to me will sound silly but because I will literally have NO ideas at all come to me.  Any ideas on how to unlock the creative side that must be buried somewhere deep in me?

Edited by bright_eyes - 5/20/12 at 10:42pm
post #2 of 9

I'm terrible with story telling and it really bugs me as well!  The times I was most successful was when I already had a base to start that I was familiar with.  For instance,  I recently made up a little story about 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain'.  It was pretty easy to expand upon this very simple idea and add in all sorts of details.  All kinds of things can happen to a bear climbing up a mountain :)  BUT...I knew the ending already, so it was easier to fill in the middle since I knew where the story was going. 


This reminds me of my husband who is terrible about public speaking if you put him on the spot (he's very introverted).  But if you tell him ahead of time that he needs to give a talk, he gives an excellent presentation.  It sounds like we're both more along these lines.  Sometime when you have a little time, brainstorm and write down some ideas for the beginning/end of a story and possibly the middle, and you might find the pressure off of you, as you've already put some thought into it (even just a minute) and have a couple of ideas to choose from.  I think going with time-tested ideas is a good way to start (favorite books) and then make them your own - what would happen in a a sequel?  I think we're expecting too much from ourselves, as story-telling is a skill and we probably both just need some good pointers, a little prep, and lots of practice.


THANK YOU for posting this question.  Now to go take my own advice....  joy.gif


post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your reply!  I agree about we probably are expecting too much of ourselves because it is not an easy skill if it doesn't come naturally. 


It's funny because I have no stage fright and if I have to give a talk, I would rather go up without anything written and not too much preparation because then I can just go up and talk from the heart and let it all flow.  It just seems hard for me to get to that point when it comes to making up stories.  Whenever I've given a talk, it is about a topic I am familiar with and so it's easy but when I am trying to come up with something brand new, I just can't thing of what to say.


I bought this pack of story starter card because I thought they would really help but they are TERRIBLE!  They are more like questions.  "If you could come up with a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?"  And I am supposed to come up with a story about that?!!!  I wish I could have read what was on the cards first.  The sample question on the back of the pack was good (can't remember it now) so I thought they would all be good, but only a handful are.  But even then, I will like the idea and start a story and then get stumped.


I keep thinking what a great idea it would be if someone could come up with some better story starters for me.  Maybe a bit more detailed and then I could have a frame work to start with and practice with.  I like your idea of starting with stories I already know and then expanding on them, adding my own touches, or making a sequel.  I'm still a little nervous about that because I when I retell stories I do know to my son (goldilocks, elves and the shoe maker, etc) they are always the bare bones version- I can never think of any little extra details to make the story better or more entertaining.  Maybe I just haven't tried the right story yet.


One day I read that it is good to stop and look around your environment when you are stuck or in need of an idea.  One day while my kids and I were waiting in our car for dh they wanted a story and I looked out the window and saw a puddle and told them this fun little story about them splashing in a puddle and they loved it.  But at night, in the dark when they want a story, there isn't much too get inspiration from.  Anyway, I thought that maybe getting a few more pointers, like the one about using your environment, would also help.


I wonder if part of it is that I am a more scientific/analytical thinker.  I think I probably think too much about it and over analyze things.  I am way more left brain than right brained.  I wonder how to develop more right brain, creative thinking.

post #4 of 9

I have always been a storyteller, a writer, and a poet, but I would get stumped when my own kids asked for a story, every single time.  I was really frustrated.


For my first daughter, eventually I figured out that I could just tell a classic story and let it change if it needed to.  For many years, most of the stories I told her were variations on Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Brementown Musicians.  Often the ending would just be a little more fleshed out (Goldilocks always returned to the Three Bears house to apologize and fix everything she broke,LOL).  Or I would change the names to be members of our family, or make the location someplace familiar.  I used to feel guilty that my children never got an "original" story, but they never seemed to mind, and it really reduced my anxiety level. 


By the time my youngest was 4 years old, I was able to tell a truly original story, and that felt awesome.  But it took me more than 10 years of retelling classic stories before I could do that.

post #5 of 9

I am a professional storyteller but I also told stories to my own children when they were young and fighting sleep or wondering if the shadows on the wall might stay away from them.
The following might help you in telling stories at home or to children anywhere.
More reflections on storytelling are to be found on my website, if it helps.
A new post is uploaded on Fridays.
Keep telling.

Telling stories is a different skill to creating stories.
Many wonderful storytellers interpret other people's received stories and add their own creativity in telling.
Others prefer to reflect their own observations of life and story.
Family setting tellers often struggle to tell stories at bedtime to their charges.
A simple way to respond is this.
Take a fable from Aesop's long list, free online, and reflect a little on the story; all have a point to make that is worth considering.
Aesop's fables are short and easily memorised. Once absorbed, they give confidence to the teller, for now a tried and tested story is known.

Telling is easier.
Tell that story as it is, for its worth, or, with the listeners' names imposed on the main characters.
Or, tell it through the listener as observer who saw the story happen and has returned to tell it to others.
Tell different.

post #6 of 9

You know...sometimes the best stories to tell (especially at bedtime!!!) are the ones that actually happen!!  I still often tell this story to my children: 

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Meryl.  One morning she woke up and looked around.  It was a very hot day outside and the sun was shining so bright!!  She wiped the sleep from her eyes and tried to sit up.  Oh, the sleep was still in her arms and her legs!!  She thought to herself, "Hmmm.  Maybe I can stretch the sleep out of my arms and legs!!!"  So, first she stretched her left arm, and then she stretched her right arm.  Wow!!  That felt much better.  But still she couldn't sit up.  Maybe if she stretched her legs, she could sit up better!!  So then she stretched her right leg all the way down to the tips of her toes.  Then she stretched her left leg the exact same way.  Then she stretched both legs together.  Then she tried to get up...and this time it worked!!!  

If you can't guess, Meryl is my six-year-old daughter and this is what I imagine in my mind it is like for her waking up every morning.  Sometimes I will use another name in place of hers, but usually I use her name and most of the time I just start by describing a piece of her day.  Sometimes I describe a little girl walking into a kindergarten classroom and not knowing what to play (my daughter always says, on our way to school, "Mommy, I don't know who to play with today!!!") and I describe every detail, every movement she makes, every thought she might have.....and that is enough of a story.  

My daughter loves the "waking up" story and is willing to hear it again and again every single night.  I change the weather to suit the season and the story is never the same; sometimes she just pops out of bed and we make it to the breakfast table and maybe even out the door to school or to the playground.  But whatever the story is, it is not novel...it is something that happens EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I am not creative at the end of the night...I can barely keep my eyes open.  But I love being able to spend the last few minutes of the day with my children pretending that I am them.  When I pretend that I am them, I do it the way that I would live if I were 11, or 9, or 6 again...but with my advanced mommy brains.  I play through moments of their day with my abilities, and I put those thoughts into them before they go to sleep.  It is a pleasure for me and they love it too.  

Good luck!!!

post #7 of 9

One more really good suggestion is to tell the story very slowly and quietly.  If you talk in a slow, soothing, and very deliberate voice, they will quiet down and listen.  If you can tell it sitting up in a chair, you are more likely to stay awake until they are asleep ;)



post #8 of 9
Why not ask your chil(ren) to help with the story when you get stuck? You'd probably be surprised by what is suggested. A word of warning -- you may create a writer by doing that. I did.
post #9 of 9

That is a great idea, pek64!  My two boys have become writers too and I think part of it has to do with the bedtime stories.  Their father is a philosophy professor and writer and he is away from home for stretches during the summer and also sometimes during the winter.  He also works very long hours.  My boys have to write to him a letter every day (by hand) to tell him what they did...now we have large folders of letters which my husband just scanned into the computer a few months ago.  They are like a diary of their lives but written to their father.  That, in addition to the simple bedtime stories that we tell them over and over have become a constant narrative of our lives.  My 9-year-old son described a missed-catch in the outfield the other day at baseball camp: "I reached my glove into the sunlight hoping that my estamation [sic] was correct.  Then I felt my hand bend backwards as the ball grazed the top of my glove.  The ball was behind me and I had to chase it.  Two runs scored and I think I'll bring my sunglasses tomorrow."  We both love the letters so deeply!!  I treasure the young storytellers that bloom in my midst.

What a fun idea it is to have them help with the story.  My boys are 16 months apart and share a room, so I think I have never thought of it because of my fear that things would start pooping, farting, exploding, crashing, or spontaneously combusting...  And then all of the too-tired little-boy laughter that would follow would never help get them to sleep!!!  Perhaps I could try it anew, now that they're slightly more mature..........

Or maybe I'll just start a new tradition with my 6-year-old daughter who isn't quite so fascinated by fire and toilets, and who has her own bedroom ;)  
Thanks for the inspiration!!!



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