Bedtime Stories

“Once upon a time … um … damn!”

Why can’t I tell bedtime stories?

The most dreaded words I hear at night are “tell me a story.” I’m not a father yet, though I very much want to be. My wife grew up with her father making up the most wild and fantastic tales, and she thinks I should know how to spin a good yarn. She’s testing me. Currently my success rate is zero. The best I am able to accomplish is boring her to sleep by talking about computers, sci-fi, or anime, etc.

“You’re a writer. How come you can’t tell a good bedtime story?”

I’m not sure, but I have a few thoughts.

I’m a better writer than a talker (even though I talk A LOT)! Writing helps me to organize my thoughts and to construct a narrative, whether its a short-story, novel, or even these blog posts. At work I prefer to write an e-mail rather than speaking on the phone because I feel I am able to communicate information more clearly in that medium. There is a comfortable connection in my brain between what I’m thinking, and the words that appear on my computer screen. Some writers are able to dictate their work out loud. This just seems crazy to me.

It’s not for lack of ideas. At my peak I can put out nearly 2000 words an hour (~ three-single spaced pages). Obviously not every word is perfect, but that’s what revision is four. (This last error was deliberate. When I write quickly I tend to use homonyms incorrectly as my Dad takes special glee in pointing out!) I’ve taught myself to “punch the keys damnit” and write drafts without a censor, but I haven’t been able to do the same thing out loud.

Ironically I think it’s the censor that is my biggest problem. Like any male, I say a lot of things that probably should have gone through a filter first and either been edited or omitted. This filter, often inactive, kicks into high gear when I’m trying to tell a story. Ideas don’t flow, and many are rejected before I get any words out. I could make the excuse that it’s the subject matter, I don’t write about princesses and unicorns after all, but as my friend Brian likes to say, “fantasy is just sci-fi with magic”. I should be able to figure something out.

I think practice is the only way I’m going to get better, just like how it took months to build up to 2000 words an hour. But, there’s another idea that’s kicking around in my head since my drive in today. My parents read to me from a very young age. I could write a kids book! Maybe not for general consumption, but for my future kids. This might be a bit of a cop out, but I want do be the kind of dad who can tell stories to his kids, even if he has to write it down first.

Did your parents read to you as a child or did they make stories up?


Filed under Writing Goals

6 responses to “Bedtime Stories

  1. I have exactly this same problem – I can’t tell stories on the fly. Even when I sit down to think of one, it takes me a while to come up with the meat of it. Written storytelling does *not* necessarily translate into oral storytelling.

  2. Chuck Conover

    “This might be a bit of a cop out, but I want do be the kind of dad who can tell stories to his kids, even if he has to write it down first.” Period.

    You had me till your last unrequired question. I call this type of writting a slice-of-life story. I liked this one. Edit out the last sentence and you’ve got a winner!

    (My parents read to me.)

    • My bad Chuck. I put this under the category of short story since it involves telling stories of a short nature. This post is not fiction, sadly this is all true. It’s a slice of my life. The question is merely to spark conversation from the masses (i.e. you).

  3. My parents read to me — I don’t recall my parents making up any stories at all. And I have to admit, I’m not great at making up stories on the fly. So let me clue you in on a little secret when it comes to telling bedtime stories to kids.

    Once they’re about 2, they can make up their own darn stories.


    It’s just a matter of providing structure, and letting them fill in the blanks. And structure is the same regardless of whether you’re writing or talking. You have the intro, the problem, an attempt at resolution that fails, a moment when everything seems lost, a final attempt that succeeds, and the resoilution (everyone lives happily ever after). My storytelling often sounds like this, with my 4 year old filling in the gaps:

    Once upon a time there was a _____ named _____. He was feeling very sad because _____. More than anything, he wanted to _____. One day he was _____ when _____. So he _____. But that didn’t work. Then he felt even more _____. So he decided to _____. But then _____ and he said, “_____.” So he _____. And this time, _____! He never _____ again. And he lived happily ever after.

    Or, in full:

    Once upon a time there was a robot named Randall. He was feeling very sad because all of his friends could dance, but he didn’t know how. More than anything, he wanted to be a great dancer, and win the robot dancing competition. One day he was out walking when he saw a sign for dance lessons. So he started going to them every day. But that didn’t work. Then he felt even more sad. So he decided to stop dancing forever and ever. But then he felt even more sad and he said, “It doesn’t matter if I don’t dance the best, the most important thing is that I have fun.” So he went back to the dance school. And this time, he concentrated on having a good time instead of being the best dancer! He never wished he was a better dancer again. And he lived happily ever after.

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