Spontaneous Storytelling with Children, Part 3: On Receptive Children Spontaneous Storytelling with Children, Part 3: On Receptive Children

Editor’s note: Today, we conclude our four part series by Rhonda Ortiz. Find the first three parts here. LMH

What literary devices – good, bad, and otherwise – do we naturally gravitate toward in telling a spontaneous story?

Our creation of a story naturally gravitates toward the universal “rules” of satisfying stories:  A premise with a conflict, complicated, with a major reversal at the midpoint, rising to a climax before resolving.  In three acts.

Because they are spontaneous, our stories tend to draw on archetypes:  heroes and dragons, good fathers, evil stepmothers, and damsels in distress.  Unapologetically drawing on tropes makes spontaneous storytelling almost easy.

The real challenge, however, is learning to first say “no” to the characters – and, consequently, the child – before saying “yes.” 

During my recent storytelling with Clare and Kate, I learned that I had to play the devil’s advocate in order to advance the story.  You see, Princess Annabelle and Princess Judy have now fought many monsters, and (according to the girls) they now know to always have their backpacks ready.  The princesses would make the Boy Scouts proud: their backpacks have everything a princess-in-distress might want, including magic wands that can do anything.

No more walking into conflicts and booby-traps unawares.

Children want their heroes to succeed.  But easy solutions make for a story-less story. And so it was my job to make sure the princesses face adversity.  Burn their backpacks in the fiery breath of a dragon.  Lose their wands down a deep crevice at the bottom of the ocean.

Deus ex Wand-ica, begone!

When the adult storyteller provides conflict, complications, reversals, and suspense, the child has an opportunity to exercise his or her logic and reasoning powers to find solutions.  The story itself provides the incentive – children want resolution.  Success.  A happy ending.  But, when the adult allows them to find the solution themselves, they must stretch their minds and their imaginations in order to achieve that resolution.

I’m happy to let them stretch themselves this way.  And I’m happy that, in working on my own stories, I am similarly stretched.

“Real” or “make-believe,” stories and storytelling cultivate and challenge the imagination.  How shall we cultivate our children’s imaginations?  Harder yet, how shall we cultivate our own?

Copyright 2013 Rhonda Ortiz