Attention Parents...

How to Make Your Own Storystarter

Jumpstart Something More Than Storytime


Parents make the best storytellers...and storystarters!

by Cheryl Chitayat, Psy.D

Spice up your child’s bedtime routine with the help of an original, made-up Storystarter and there’s a good chance you’ll leave feeling like you’re the best living thing ever to walk on this earth! WAIT! In reality, you may not even come close to being the greatest storyteller around (and on some level your kid may even know you’re not). But, as a seasoned Child Psychologist and a parent myself, I can assure you that original storytelling is worth trying. You’ll become the greatest storyteller around because your child will feel like you’re the greatest PARENT ever.

Here’s the deal – the real untold story – storytelling with our children is not actually about the story. It’s about the RELATIONSHIP! This is true for all parent-child, parent-children, and family storytelling. Even “ordinary” anecdotes qualify. This is also so when you read to your child, no question. Through the power of using your imaginations together, you and your child are bound to exchange a dose of connection, or what I consider “magic”. You may jumpstart an important verbal conversation. Yes, you’re supporting language development and literacy, the acquisition of knowledge and thinking skills, but your child gets even more from the storytelling when you are a part of it. (S)he gets YOU.

The telling of original stories is a traditional pastime for important reasons other than the fact that it is both portable and economical. The original story is a special form of giving and sharing. You enter sacred territory with your child when you risk telling an original story. After all, this is a story made specifically FOR HIM or HER. It’s a one-of-a-kind. It wouldn’t be the same with anyone else.

What Cheryl isn't telling you

In partnership with her storytelling pal, Dafna Soltes Stein, Cheryl created Pass Around The Magic, a card deck FULL of Storystarters. Click to read the review.

“I CAN”T DO THAT,” you say.

SURE, you can...

Meet the "make-your-own" Storystarter

Firstly, a Storystarter is as its name implies: it begins the story. With just a few lines, you can “open” a story and then take it somewhere. The trick is to figure out a beginning strategy.

I LIKE TO THINK OF A STORYSTARTER AS A SEED.

When a parent “plants” a Storystarter seed with their child, more than a story grows!

Storystarters

Fairy tales often begin with the classic phrase, “Once upon a time...” No question about it, there’s a place for such a beginning line. What parent hasn’t relied on this “old faithful” as a method for getting a story off the ground? In fact, the typical parent sets this opening as their default, simply because it’s a strategy they can remember and it works consistently.

There are other known types of beginning phrases for storytelling you can experiment with. Read some of the categories listed below. Try on any of the sample phrases and see what pops into your mind’s eye. If you find one that hooks you, try continuing the phrase, or be inspired to construct one of your own to begin.

Certain Time, Certain Place… Beginnings:*

  • It was a gray winter’s day on the farm…
  • Every morning the milkman entered the village asking, “How are the children?”…
  • The year was 2099, and in a galaxy far beyond the reaches of our universe…

Long, Long Ago… Beginnings:

  • Back in the days when the animals could talk…
  • A great while ago, explorers sailed the seven seas in search of…
  • Long ago, by where the first railroad was built, there was a golden stream…

In the Beginning… Beginnings:

  • In the beginning, there was only the earth, the sky and the sea…
  • Before there was a before…
  • In the beginning, the world was full of chaos, with…

Once Upon a… Beginnings:

  • Once, on the far side of yesterday…
  • Nobody but the old storytellers remember that once upon a time, so long ago…
  • Once, the sky was filled with thundering airplanes…

A Story’s coming… Beginnings:

  • If only I could remember how it all began…
  • It all started one day when…
  • The trumpets sounded loudly, the time had come…

Truth of Story… Beginnings:

  • Can you believe it, I was just buying myself a soda when…
  • “I never thought I’d tell you this,” the boy’s friend said…
  • As true as the grass is green and my Mama loves my Papa…

Nonsense… Beginnings:

  • Apple pies were falling from the sky, and the hillside turned into cotton candy…
  • Did you hear how the purple dog-cat escaped from the zoo, and was last seen chasing someone’s pet…
  • Her hair was a mile long and so strong that she was sometimes asked to...

*Copyright 2007 Cheryl Chitayat and Dafna Soltes Stein

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have learned an important strategy for starting a made-up story!

HOW TO BUILD A STORYSTARTER

Note: It’s okay to lift or modify a phrase that already exists elsewhere – your story will still be original. You can find great Storystarters on the Internet using “Story Starters” as your keywords.

  1. Start with an opening phrase. It may help to pick from the “types” already mentioned.
  2. Be sure to identify the following story elements within the first three lines of your Storystarter (who, what, when, where):
    • At least one main character
    • A clear problem or conflict (whether external i.e. the threat of fire, or internal i.e. the threat of loneliness)
    • The time period (past, present or future)
    • The setting (visualized place)
  3. Use descriptive language.
  4. Add supporting details that can be used later.
  5. Leave room to elaborate; you have yet to tell the full STORY! Develop your story using the “how’s and why’s.
  6. Keep in mind that it’s best to make your story go through some hoops before it gets to any resolution. It’s more interesting and exciting that way!

HERE WE GO:

Using a “Certain Time, Certain Place… Storystarter”

“Every morning the milkman entered the village asking, “How are the Children?...”

…and every morning he got the same answer. Today, with his fresh milk, he went first to the bakery. “How are the children?” he asked. “There are no children here anymore, old man, don’t you remember?” said the baker. The milkman left the bakery, disappointed. His next stop was at the… NOW YOU CONTINUE THE STORY…

Admit it. You probably have the rest of that sentence already on your tongue, ready to spill! See, you can improvise. Original storytelling is well within your reach as a parent!

GIVE THE MADE-UP STORY A TRY

In my experience, it’s almost guaranteed that your kid will love an improvisational made-up story. In fact, children are usually better at this stuff than we adults. They are typically eager to create and they still know how to be flexible.

Building or borrowing a Storystarter can give any typical parent both the structure and the direction with which to tell a made-up story. Get started, and you may be lucky enough to have a child who wants to jump right in and help make the story. Let him help. It’ll be a better story, even if the story itself becomes an “objective” mess!

Whatever the story itself is about, whether it is fully logical, whether it completely understandable, all of this doesn’t really matter in the end. What does matter is that you and your child have a good time with it. Remember that storytelling with your child is really more about the relationship than the story. Try planting a Storystarter seed with your child and watch more than the story grow. There’s a good likelihood that such an experience will get stored away as one of those special memories that lasts forever.

- Dr. Cheryl Chitayat
Questions? Email me.

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Great info!