When our kids were young, the PRH was in charge for training people in his profession for the whole of the lower South Island. Whenever we could, we’d all go along – so we had lots of long car trips, and I evolved a number of ways to keep the mob entertained on the way.
Several of these involved telling storytelling, and some I still play with the grandchildren today. They are great ways to develop the story telling muscles.
One of our favourites was the build-a-story. In build-a-story, someone starts telling a story, and stops after a paragraph or two. The next person carries on, often taking the story in a completely different direction. I found that when you’re building stories with children, it’s important not to let them name a character after themselves, since a sibling will ensure that character is eaten by a dragon or dissolved in acid at the first possible opportunity, and it all ends in tears.
On the other hand, they quickly learn that what goes round comes round. Any destruction will soon be paid in kind, with interest!
We loved this game. The first person ends their few paragraphs with something disastrous, and the words ‘but fortunately…’
The next person picks up the tale with whatever miraculous intervention saved the day, but ends their part with ‘but unfortunately…’
Or you can mix it up and let each storyteller decide whether they’re going to pass on a happy or an unhappy happenstance.
When the children were tired and likely to fight over story directions, I would tell the stories. But each child could choose one, two, or three objects to have in the story (the more tired I was, the fewer objects). I still do this with the grandchildren. There are rules. I don’t tell stories about other people’s characters (from books, films, or tv). And they can choose nouns, not verbs. That is, they can tell me the objects or people, but I decide what happens to them.
It can be a challenge to weave a story that has a vase, a unicorn, an alien in a spacehelmet, a spiral-bound notebook, a poodle, and a hot-air balloon. But oh the fun!
The letter game
I’ve played the letter game (by email) with two of the older grandchildren. The person who starts invents two characters, a locality, and a reason why the two characters have to write to one another instead of meeting or phoning. This all goes into the first letter. It’s impossible to plan much further than that, since the second person will take the story wherever they want it to go.