Everyone bends their ear to a good story. Kids in particular will give you their full attention. Why? Maybe because kids have unusually powerful imaginations, and storytelling is the stuff of imagination. Or maybe because they know they’ll never hear the same story twice—the spoken words are always re-chosen, and particulars like pitch and emotion are always changing. Storytelling is live. It’s in the now. It’s a creative undertaking and let’s face it, kids are an easy audience when you have something creative to offer.
One advantage of inventing your own stories is that you gain the status of a story-teller—and that’s darn good standing to have in the eyes of a child. You can draw upon it at any time, whether you’re in the mood to pull up a few floor pillows and kick back, or whether you’re stuck in traffic trying to get out of town for the holidays. A good story-teller can turn busy bodies into listening ears.
There are endless ways to go about inventing stories. But just as Ariadne’s thread helped Theseus find his way through the labyrinth, having a good storytelling device will guide your storytelling efforts. Once you have a useful device, the story more or less tells itself. That’s the idea. That’s what you want.
There are lots of storytelling techniques that can ease the process of telling stories to kids. Let’s focus on one such device in this article:
Two examples of using repetition as a storytelling device are Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss, and Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman. In Green Eggs and Ham the story is driven by the same question being asked over and over, “Do you like green eggs and ham?” The question is merely applied in a slightly different context each time: how about in a box, with a fox, in the rain, on a train? etc. Tension and excitement build (what’s going to happen with this guy?) while the story tells itself. . .until some form of resolution is reached.
Repetition is also the storytelling device in Are You My Mother? The chic goes around asking same question, “Are You My Mother?” Here again, the question is merely applied in a slightly different context each time. In this case, the character is changed–kitten, hen, dog, cow, etc. Could it be any easier? Again, tension and excitement build (is this poor chic ever going to find its mother?) while the story tells itself . . . until some form of resolution is reached.
So, if you want to use repetition as a storytelling technique, one way to go about it is to:
- Think up a headstrong character with a fixed goal
- Place the character in an environment where repetition occurs
For example, there’s a boy, Kyle, who lived in a village at the base of a steep mountain. He really wanted to know how far you can see from the top of the mountain. He was always drawing pictures of the mountain-top, and talked about it all the time.
One day Kyle set out on a journey to find out how far you can see from the top of the mountain.
After a short while he came upon a lumberjack, who was busy chopping wood. He stopped and asked the lumberjack if he knew how far you can see from the top of the mountain. “No one knows,” he said. “A fierce lion lives near the top of the mountain, and no one goes up there.”
Kyle continued up the mountain.
Soon he came upon a goat herder, who was busy herding his goats. He stopped and asked the goat herder if he knew how far you can see from the top of the mountain. “No one knows,” he said. “A fierce lion lives near the top of the mountain, and no one goes up there.”
Kyle continued up the mountain. Etc.
Other examples of repetitious storytelling might include:
-A hunter who goes from village to village asking if anyone has seen the giant, three horned wild boar with the red spot on its left eye.
-A boy who tells his friends everyday after school, no, he can’t come over to play video games–he’s going out digging for fossils.
-A girl who. . .when asked, “What would you like for your birthday this year, dear?”. . .always answers, “A hippo, if you please, thank you very much.”
You see how a story can tell itself through repetition. You simply need a head-strong character with a fixed goal. Your greatest challenge will be to resolve the repetition with a suitable ending. Of course, you’ll have these things worked out before you tell the story. But no matter what you’ve worked out initially, you’ll find, over time, that the story will grow in richness and detail because you’ll become so familiar with the basic structure. The new details and variations that emerge (“Did I ever mention what Kyle had in his front left pocket?) are what keep the story so fun and interesting for kids.
Next time we’ll look at hyperbole as a storytelling technique.