I'm going to tell you how to make up stories for your kids, grandkids, etc., that they'll love and will forever etch out your place in their lives. In addition, these stories will put ‘em to sleep at bedtime, and keep them as quiet as a Packard straight-eight when in the car.
I don't have an English Degree... never wrote a novel. My skills in this department were initially garnered from my Dad who told me similar bedtime stories when I was a kid, permanently damaging my mind, no doubt. I then honed this creative cutting edge with stories for my own three kids. Now I’ve extended into grandkids, nieces and nephews… even other people’s kids, so watch out.
This is a recipe, or a template, not a fill in the blank. You have to make up the characters, plot, dialog, etc. It requires little or no skill, effort, imagination or intelligence… perfect for the average, worn out, nearly brain-dead working parent.
1. The characters
First and foremost, the characters are your kids. If you have two or more kids, they still need all to be in the story. It’s no harder for the most part.
Second, each kid has an animal friend. My own kids had Morris and Nadine D’Taquinbunee (Rabbits of French extraction), Paul and Pauly Possum, Randy The Squirrel… grandson Cooper’s best friend is Alan the Alligator. They all live in the neighborhood and go to the same schools.
Third, they meet others, most often elves or other animals. They are usually a little skeptical of these new acquaintances, but always make friends.
2. The Setting
It always starts in the morning at home. Main character decides to go to animal friend’s house to cook up some activity. The story may leave the home setting – if they do leave, then the more insanely removed from home, the better. One of my kids Morris and Nadine stories always started with a ride on a green Honda motorcycle to a little grassy spot where Morris and Nadine liked to hang out. Cooper and Alan the Alligator often travel on flying jet skis to underwater locales, other planets, etc. However the plots are always equally mundane. The Story ALWAYS ends with the kids saying goodbye to their animal friend, and always involve eating dinner, getting ready for bed and going to sleep. The stories don’t end (like “they lived happily ever after”), they just go to sleep and wake up the next day, in the next story.
3. The Plot
As mentioned in #2, mundane is perfectly fine. They may go to the bakery to get a donut, look for colored rocks, learn a dance, make up a song (I’ll have a future note on writing songs for your kids), build a fort… or any of the things your kids have actually done that day. In one of my recent stories for grandson, Mason, we went to Allen Field House at KU, just as we had actually done that day… but in the story, they asked him (and his animal friend, Ollie the Otter – he likes otters) to play on the team to take an injured players place. Of course, then they came home, ate dinner and went to sleep.
4. Don’t be bound to outcome
Probably, you won’t even have to make up much of the plot… your kids will continually chime in with, “…and then they…”. Just go with it… repeat what they said and add another line like “…and you know what they saw?” They’ll probably tell you. It’s not Steinbeck.
For some reason, animal friends in my stories often have alliterative names (Alan the Alligator, Ollie the Otter) and the kids seem to like that. However, the elves and development characters usually have more forgettable (you don’t have to remember them from story to story), but ridiculous names. Elves might be “Pffflllght” (Bronx cheer), Poohpocklenut, Ba-dip-ba-dip-ba-dip-Bill, or Jeeeeeeeeeeyum (say ALL the long e’s.) It makes ‘em laugh.
Nothin’ scary -- at least not really scary. The ghosts turn out to be friendly; monsters invite them home for Chinese checkers, etc.
Nobody gets hurt unless it’s a scrape on the knee that your main character actually received that day… you get the picture.
Nobody gets lost, at least not that they can’t find their way out of easily.
Don’t moralize… you can work some good behavior into the plot, but these stories should be fun. They’ll spot the propaganda (besides the eating dinner and going to bed at the end of the story.)
Kids also like continuity. The characters can remember things they did in other stories, meet some of the same characters, visit the same places, or draw on their experience from other stories. Repetition makes your job easier, and they’ll help you because they’ll remember every tiny detail!
8. Finally, some hints for props
My kids like motorcycles, bicycles that turned into jets, bicycles that turned into horses (particularly magic, talking horses), skateboards that turned into space ships. They also always like finding hidden things, no matter how mundane, although these everyday items often turn out to be magic.
Also, the kids like having things from their real, everyday life thrown in randomly. Like, Mason’s shirt gets wet swimming with Ollie Otter, so he puts on the new shirt his mom bought him that day.
The perk for you, the parent, is that telling stories to (with) your kids will make you closer… and they’ll like you a little more. Make your bedtime stories a little more boring and the kids will go right to sleep… make the car stories longer… you’ll have the quietest ride of your life. Good luck.