Teaching myself to tell tales

One of the joys of having a young baby, I’m finding, is reading. I wasn’t expecting reading to come to us so early, it was my mum who suggested it when Rufus was only three or four months old. He loves us reading to him; the shapes, the colours, the closeness, the sound of our voices, the turning of pages, the taste of the corner of each page as he takes a pensive suckle before it
goes past. I’ve recently started to wonder if I can make stories up for him. I remember at OFFF in Lisbon, Joshua Davis was talking about creativity and how he made up stories to order for his daughter every bedtime. I’d like to give it a go, and I thought
writing about it would give me a chance to think it through and some motivation to continue.

It’s scary, as any author or creator will tell you, at the start of a made up story. At the start of a made up bedtime story, you’ve not got a blank sheet of paper, you’ve got a yawning chasm
of time and the expectant and ready to be bored face of a child. So I think I need to work out some initial structures and rules to work within, at least while I start out. Here’s what I’m thinking…
Rufus has toys, so they should be in the stories. I figure this is probably how Winnie the Pooh might have started out. I think the child should be the wise, strong one, and the toy characters are loyal, possibly
bumbling and good hearted companions. Toys can have characteristics which assist the child character, and grant them powers, for example Baba Ghanoush the elephant (Rufus’ elephant is called Baba Ghanoush, Baba Ghanoush’s theme song is his name repeated to the tune of the Addams Family) gives the child the ability to ride up high and reach with his trunk, the monkey allows him to scamper through the trees. The animals can also give plot momentum by precipitating events, with the monkey getting into mischievous trouble &c. I’ve also come back across the “fortunately,
unfortunately” story structure, which I remember from creative writing exercises at school. Fortunately/Unfortunately is a great device for introducing plot impetus, so “…fortunately Rufus and Baba Ghanoush landed in the river with a mighty splash, unfortunately they were swept into a deep dark tunnel, and carried deep underground, fortunately Baba Ghanoush lifted Rufus onto his
back with his trunk and paddled happily along while Rufus gazed around at the dripping tunnel walls, unfortunately there was…”. I love the “best beloved” repetitions in Kipling’s Just So Stories, and the general dum-de-dum patter of the composition. I’m on the lookout for more devices and springboards, rhythms and structures, let me know if you have any.

2 thoughts on “Teaching myself to tell tales”

  1. The feeling that my theatre lifestyle should give some insight into this came to nothing. I did however realise that the story I engage with every day might have some advice for you. It seems to me that The Archers has two lessons:

    The importance of voices and accents. All characters should try to have distinct regional/international accents as well as high pitched, gruff, ponderous or hysterical vocal personalities.

    Mundanity. I’d be prepared to bet that excitement is overrated. If the Geordie monkey and the French bear fancy a trip to the park or have to tidy up the house I reckon that would be as exciting as being swept over a waterfall.

    On a related note, repetition might also be key. How are you going to end up getting requests for his favourite story otherwise?

  2. I’ve thought exactly the same but with a very specific focus on what I want the stories to do.

    Stories, I think, can teach children critical thought – how to look at the world and question it. This is important I think in helping kids grow up to have good judgement skills so they can make wise decisions based on their own critical analysis of what their told, and what they see around them.

    The best example I’ve seen of this is Scooby Doo. How to emulate that for kids the age of our two might be tricky!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *