Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Storytelling lessons from my 4 year old

Ellie is 4 years old, and she's starting to tell coherent stories that she makes up on her own. We play a lot of pretend. I'm usually some superhero and she's a princess. Now, that princess usually has some kind of super power, so she's somewhat a princess in name only. But it's fun.

That playing pretend and storytelling is starting to bleed over into our night time routine, and it's actually teaching me a bit about my own storytelling. A good thing. Not going to complain, even if it was a bit unexpected.

A couple of examples:

I was putting her to bed one night in the last month or so, and she asked for a story. Like I mentioned, she's getting into superheroes. She's not a DC or Marvel girl. If they have a cape or a mask or a cool uniform then she's in. She really seems to like Captain America.

So, this night she asked me to tell her how he was born. So I tell her an abbreviated version of the origin story. Steve Rodgers. Scrawny kid in Brooklyn. Experiments. Boom. Captain America. It was a bit more dawn out than that, and in the middle of it she stopped me and said "Dad, this is boring. Add Elsa and Anna." So, I did.

Then the other night we are sitting in her room, and she tells me that she's going to tell me a story. It involves princesses (her and her sister) and a castle that I made up a couple of years ago. There's a tall tower, a windy staircase, and any time I tell her these stories their mom is making breakfast in the kitchen.

So, her story starts with the princesses waking up and going downstairs for breakfast. Then in the middle of breakfast the evil witch comes and turns her mom into a monster, dad into Captain America, but he's trapped in a closet. She and her sister both get changed into something else that's slipped my mind at the moment. But it was crazy. It made no sense, but she got so into the telling of it that I got wrapped up in the moment. It didn't matter that the logic didn't work. She was excited about it, and I wanted to hear what was next.

Now, here's the lesson, and this for me as much as anyone else.

Get out of your head when you tell stories. Let the story go where it wants to go.

Too often I'll have an idea and then hesitate when it comes time to write it down, either while outlining or drafting. I shouldn't do that. I should let the story go where it wants to go. Let my mind take it to places that may not make a whole lot of sense, because that's where the passion is. That's often where I do my best writing. It's when I've found the flow of the story, and I'm letting it wash around me, not bothering with thoughts of "Does this make sense?"

My favorite reading experiences are the ones where you can feel the author's passion for that particular tale. Yes, we all love our books or stories, but you can tell as a reader (at least I think you can) when a writer telling the story with passion. At least I feel like you can. There's more to the reading experience than just getting things from Point A to Point B. I really believe that passion comes from being fully in the story and letting it go where it wants to go.

Now, you can't necessarily make illogical jumps or ignore natural laws. But other than that, don't let those ideas that seem too weird or too unexpected die on your mental vine. Put them down. Let them run. See where they take you. You can always call them back in the editing process if you find they didn't work.

So, that's it. Storytelling lessons that I learned from my 4 year old. Hope it was helpful for you. It was for me.

Thanks, Ellie. Daddy loves you.