Storytelling: A Perfect Family Fun
The craft of storytelling: write your own story for a family gathering
Every family gathering is a great occasion for some fun. Listening fairy tales, fables, spooky stories, whatever... can be nice, but here is an even more original idea for all creative minds: let's write a story together with our kids. And because we will create it, we'll have complete control how spooky or cute it is!
I have already written a lens where you can read how to write a fairy tale from scratch and we'll use a part of this lens to make a cheat sheet for your convenience. Even better, I'll show you how to make the whole writing process easier with one simple trick which all professional writers use all the time.
You see, nobody, consciously or subconsciously, never writes from scratch. We all, intentionally or unintentionally, use other's ideas to create our own ones. To make it short: for our story writing project, we'll steal an idea!
(Image credit: Randolph Caldecott, source: Gutenberg.org, all images in this article are Public Domain)
How to repair a story
We'll choose an old, public domain story, which is improper for some reason, to make new, improved and more suitable one.
We'll opt for a fable, not a fairy tale because fables are so simple even adults can understand them.
Many of fairy tales and fables for children from previous centuries are not suitable for them anymore. Maybe they are sending wrong messages. Maybe they lost the touch with reality. Or maybe they are just too spooky.
So I'll take one old and famous fable and show you how I have adapted it for today's audience. I have intentionally chosen the fable almost everybody in the world is familiar with.
This way you will see how only minor changes, some brushing, and polishing, transform sn old and worn out story in something original and more appropriate.
So here it is:
The Ant and the Grasshopper
The Ant and the Grasshopper
We all know what happens in this story from Aesop's fables. Ant is working hard and Grasshopper is just partying. When the winter comes Ant is safe and Grasshopper is in trouble.
A perfect example of a great story with the wrong message. Well, Grasshopper should really think a bit about the future, but I (and according to numerous works by other authors many others) have a problem with the Ant.
She is just too cruel.
The original fable goes like this:
1. Heroes: Grasshopper, Ant (in some versions we have ants)
2. Setting: somewhere outside
3. Mission: Ant is accumulating seeds, Grasshopper is having fun
4. Reward: Ant survives winter, Grasshopper dies
5. Helper: none
6. Confrontation: Grasshopper asks Ant for help, Ant denies it
7. Happy ending: only for Ant
Did you know there are many competitions in storytelling out there?
Obviously, we have a lot of possibilities to repair this story and I'll show you how I did that on two occasions.
Both are already published and copyrighted!
First alternative to this story
1. I added another character: Spider, who owns an inn. This is great for kids, who will gladly add known or unknown character to the already known cast. Don't be surprised if they suggest a Superman to rescue Hansel and Gretel from the witch's hut.
2. I expanded setting. Readers should know more about the landscape where Ant and Grasshopper (and don't forget the Spider, now we have a Spider too) live. Kids will probably enjoy in drawing and coloring the scenes from beginning. You'll have an illustrated fable in no time.
3. I didn't change the basic plot. Ant is still working and Grasshopper is still enjoying. Kids will gladly add some fun and original details.
4. I made the mission more plastic and there is more action: because Ant is non-stop working, she asks the Grasshopper if he could transport her seeds to one of her friends (this friend is unimportant because Grasshopper fails to get there). This kind of thinking is great for kids. They love the change of location and they will probably produce at least ten fun reasons to do that.
5. I gave the role of a helper to Spider. This is a negative role. Grasshopper stops at his inn, drinks a lot of honey and looses all the seeds. But you and your children can add another character or even more characters with different roles. Remember: characters should be believable and they should actively participate in the story. Their presence should make an important impact on every other character (in our case: Ant and Grasshopper).
6. In confrontation, Grasshopper admits to the Ant he made a big mistake. Kids will gladly produce a detailed dialogue.
7. We don't really have a happy ending, but they both learned their lessons. Ant will not trust to the Grasshopper and Grasshopper will try to avoid the Spider.
You can use this (or any other story) to present your kids the lesson you want and your kids are ready to accept. But if the characters are believable and their actions are logic, there is no need for adding a moral. It will come out itself!
This was one of the first tales for kids I have written (more than two decades ago!) and although it was commercially pretty successful I wasn't really satisfied with it. It was too much of a fable and not enough a fairy tale to my taste.
So last year I gave another shot to the fable about the Grasshopper and the Ant ...
Second alternative to the story - This time I will not specifically write where kids can help, because you already know that
1. I added another characters: Spider, who's role is only minor one and many other animals with even less important roles. We'll meet them later.
2. I expanded setting with a tiny twist: this time Ant comes to Grasshopper. You see, she is concerned about her neighbor. We don't know if she came to her place to offer a help or to mock her misery, but we also can't accuse her of cruelty as we can in Aesop's version.
3. As you have already noticed, I didn't change the basic plot. I definitely want people to know where the idea came from and how I used it to make something new, useful and hopefully beautiful.
4. This time Ant is on the mission. As I said, we don't know why she came to the Grasshopper, but she is the one who goes out.
5. Now the Spider enters as a helper. He, not the Grasshopper, opened Grasshopper's door. That's it. I said it is a minor role. But Ant is shocked and listeners are all ears. This is what a storyteller wants. To be listened!
6. We don't have one on one confrontation here, instead of that Ant is confronted with great discovery: Grasshopper's home is really a concert hall where she performs her music to wide audience. She is not hungry at all. She is even selling tickets for her performances!
7. Happy ending for everybody: Grasshopper is still enjoying playing her music, all other animals are enjoying listening to her music.
And if you insist on the moral: Everybody has the right to find his or her own way to happiness!
Which of the 'repaired' version you liked better?
My final word
This is it. Everybody can do it. An opportunity like a Thanksgiving or a Halloween can be a perfect occasion to take a story you already know and 'repair' it just for fun or for some higher purpose. If you choose one old enough to be in public domain and if it turns out good, you can even publish it and earn money with it.
Just like my Grasshopper.
Earning a living can be (and it should be) fun.
And of course, you are not limited to do it only on special days and holidays. Every day is a good day for storytelling and you can do it as often as you want:)
Great resources for storytellers
For your convenience I have already made two great lists with fairy tales and fables on-line. There is enough ideas for hundreds of years. And if you want to explore many versions of well-known fairy tales, like Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and so on, you are welcome to check my other articles.
- Fairy Tales: list of free e-books and resources
Fairy tales are an indispensible part of kids' development. Here is the most comprehensive list of free resources available on-line. All stories are in public domain!
- Huge list of fables and resources related to them
Another growing project with list of thousands free fables, collections of fables from all over the world and a lot of interesting info about their authors and morals they try to promote.
- Aesop's Fables
Aesop's Fables is the biggest collection of fables ever. Although we have no proof if Aesop ever authored any oh 'his' stories, we can use them as an endless source of inspiration.
- How to write a fairy tale
Writing fairy tales is easy if you follow simple step-by-step plan. As internationally published author with numerous rewards I can tell you how to write a fairy tale, but an inspiration is up to you.
Blog, dedicated to vintage illustrations which already entered in public domain. Very useful for exploring the history of fables and fairy tales as well.