Every night John and I take turns inventing a story to tell the boys. Yes, one of us makes up a story every single night. Not our idea. Theirs. It’s much easier than it seems. Here’s what you do:
MENTAL PREPARATION: Get ready to make a string of snap decisions that have little or no basis in reality or logic. A story will emerge almost of its own accord. Stories will do that, and humans are hard-wired to tell them.
1. Choose a creature or object to be the main character. It could just be the first thing you think of. We have done stories about stones, forks, racecars, trucks, chameleons, and, in tonight’s case, a carrot.
2. Give it a name. Objects may and should be personified. Names are funnier when they are incongruous with the character’s size or nature in some way. Tonight’s name, “Dumpster Carrot,” contributed by Will, gave us the character’s identity and setting, as well as tantalizing superhero implications with a comic slant.
3. Choose a setting, any setting. Don’t think hard about it. All the better if your setting doesn’t make “sense,” because then your story line can focus on doing the backstory: How Dumpster Carrot get into the dumpster? How will he get out?
Now, if you aren’t too sleepy, your brain is kicking in to get your character (and yourself) out of this mess.
4. Your main character wants something, to go somewhere, to have a new friend, to learn why he or she is in this silly story, or whatever. Invest your character with motivation and a goal. Tonight’s carrot wanted to get out of the dumpster because he wasn’t rotten. He had been pushed into the trash by a thoughtless cat, no doubt a plump gray tabby now that I think about it.
5. To propel your story, you will probably need to add a secondary character who aids the main character, as well as some kind of barrier or obstacle or “enemy” that must be surmounted/outwitted/escaped. Tonight’s barrier was the trash bag he was in, then the high dumpster walls.
6. Get to the climax as quickly as you can, within reason. Increase the conflict, and then resolve it somehow, preferably through elements you’ve already introduced and not through some magic character that you’ve never mentioned before. It’s tempting to cheat when you have to pee and are desparate to end the story. Dumpster Carrot’s buddies in the trash bag, some rotten zucchinis and a razor blade, agreed that the carrot was too young to go to the landfill so the razor blade slit the bag and the adjoining trash bags, and rotten fruit and vegetables climbed out and make a big vegetation ladder for the carrot to climb up. Did you ever hear me claim that this was a good story?
7. Make a happy ending. The best endings for very small children are ones in which all the main characters go to sleep. But not like that creepy poppy field scene in The Wizard of Oz, normal going-to-bed sleep. We don’t do a whole of these any more, though. Dumpster Carrot really just wanted to go back to Ralph’s apartment and be cut up by Ralph and eaten. So he was, and everyone was happy. Don’t think too hard about this ending, OK?
8. Say “The End.” That’s “Thee End,” not “Thuh End.”