Pretend Story

Wee Dave and Wee-er Dave love stories. I’ve found the Junior Partner sitting quietly by herself “reading” a book any number of times in the last several weeks, her Number One Buddy is constantly making up backgrounds for the creations he build. And I can hold them both rapt for easily an hour just by talking. Which is where this arrives at the MGC. For the past several weeks, I’ve been telling the Pretend Story at bedtime. (I’ll work up a better title for it when we’re done.)

For those of you feeling stuck at any point, and who have the opportunity to do so, may I recommend telling an extemporaneous story to small children? I’m finding it incredibly useful in developing the sort of mental agility necessary to deal with my worlds and character (the dirty so-n-sos) as well as giving me experience in a completely different way of writing than what I’m used to.

Let me break this down a bit. My children are pretty clever, and scary sharp for their ages. So I can tell slightly more advanced stories than I might otherwise be able to tell a four year old and a three year old. Death is something we can discuss, albeit perhaps not terribly meaningfully. But you have to start somewhere. Also, I’m able to slip in all sorts of interesting bits and pieces of lore related to Fantasyland, and hide inside it tidbits of history. And suggest certain philosophical standpoints which I suspect will be more conducive to my children’s growth and development than what they may otherwise encounter.

Plus, it’s fun. For those who’ve engaged in drama at any level, to include things like public speaking (Toastmasters, forex) to stand-up, to improv, to more formal theater or dance situations, you understand the thrill of having an audience. And the fear. Are you going to screw up? (The answer is: YES. It’s just a matter of when. For example, I introduced a character last night, and didn’t have a name ready. Still don’t. I need to resolve that.) How bad will it be? Can it be retconned (totally possible: “he’s called X, rather than Y”) or are you going to have to work around the flaw (also YES)?

Let me repeat that: you’re going to screw up, just like when writing it all down. But the effect is more immediate. You’ll feel it, the pressure to just make a decision just to be able to make progress. The secret there? Fix it in post, which is to say, in the next installment, whenever that is. The advantage of storytelling with a young audience? They’re not that picky. They don’t mind power creep, they’ll allow you to change things (certain things. Sometimes. Other times you’ll get a chorus of “Daddy! That’s not what you said!” Or I do, at least) and they’re genuinely interested in what’s going to happen to the characters next. It’s a great gateway drug. I’m planning to get mine into reading, and then table top gaming. Plus, it’s family time. We’re heading to the mountains this weekend, and will have a couple hours in the car. I fully expect to be hoarse when we arrive. Should be fun.

The best part? I’m working the old creative muscles, and developing new skills that I can apply to my other writing. And I’m writing this all down as we go, so I’ve got the outline for a fun YA fantasy story (lower end of the age spectrum, I expect. Or possibly Middle Grade). And that in itself is a stretching of my writing skills, as it’s most definitely NOT how I usually write. Putting in a detailed outline of a serially told story is kinda weird for me. I usually maintain a rough mental outline, and follow the characters. This feels kinda backwards, especially since the text version is going to have some changes. So there you go. Stretch your creative muscles. Build new habits. Tell stories to appreciative children.


  1. Children are perhaps the most difficult audience: they have not yet learned the polite lie. So they will tell you when you mess something up. And they will not pull their punches. It’s what makes them so intimidating – and so wonderful – to work with.

    1. There’s also the easily freaked out side, though.

      I’ve heard of a child who was terrified by Disney’s Snow White, wouldn’t let her father finish it without promising that it had a happy ending, and had a nightmare the night after.

      1. Disney shows gave me nightmares. Any kid who was lost, ever, gave me nightmares. I probably didn’t see Snow White (who is lost and running through scary woods) until I was over that, but Wizard of Oz, Land of the Lost, and Puff ‘n Stuff.

        And I had to be taken out of theater when Linus lost his blanket.

  2. I always loved making up stories for kids – in one way, they were so gullible! And to come up with a comforting story on the fly … like the one I told my 3-year old daughter when she lost her grip on the helium-filled balloon, and she was in tears as she watched it sail away into the sky.
    I created the concept of the Mystical Isle of the Balloons, which was a fog-shrouded islet in the Far Pacific, which was the natural home of all balloons, and to which they were always wanting to escape. All lost balloons would gravitate to the Mystical Isle where they all lived, gamboling happily among the gentle breezes and tropical undergrowth … and they would even send out secret squads to rescue the remains of popped balloons in wastebaskets around the world…
    Romance on short notice, as Saki observed – ought to be all of our specialty.

  3. problem is, they might vaguely remember one of these stories, and ask you what book it was from in 20 years…

    1. In which case I’ll point them at the book shelf. “Find it, kid. Been a lot of words under the bridge since those.” Seriously, though, I’m debating giving them author credit on the later ones, when they start steering the characters.

  4. This sounds awesome, and I will be sharing it with DH posthaste. 😀 I tend to lock up in improv, but he’s been GMing since forever.

    1. That’s the other side of this particular coin. I’m looking to get back into tabletop gaming in the short term, but I haven’t run a game in more than a decade. This is stretching those muscles. It’s not comfortable, but one of the things I want to leave them is a willingness to risk and fail. So I’m managing all of that with this one activity.

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