Path to Story, Chapter 37: Can You See What I Hear?

Have you ever told a story of a giant without making its loud stomping footsteps, or told one of a swarm of bees without making them buzz around? Or how about one of a snoring dragon without the resounding zzz’s? Sound is all around us, and maybe at times too much. From traffic in the air to traffic on the ground, beeping phones and computers, crying babies and snoring spouses, tv shows and movie screens, these are a few of my favorite things. However, telling a story without the accompanying sound effects can be rather bland. Actually, if I forget to add some, my kids will provide their own.

Sound effects were one of the first elements of storytelling that my kids mastered. When they were around 2, their favorite movie was Disney’s Robin Hood. So, like in the movie, I gave them each a birthday penny. Now, I wasn’t going to give my kids a real penny that they could swallow, but I would reach deep into my pocket to dig out an imaginary one. I would take this imaginary penny and place it in each of their hands. Personally, I had grown up with an older brother and a younger sister so I wasn’t new to how sibling’s interacted, but for my triplets, I was surprised at how quickly things escalated. For as soon as I dropped the imaginary penny into my daughter’s awaiting hand, my youngest son, much like the Sheriff of Nottingham, would take it from her.

Now in all things imaginary, there are rules. For example, if someone creates something like a tea party or a birthday penny, it doesn’t suddenly become a bird and fly away. My son, and especially my daughter, already understood this. He would walk up and take it by reaching out to her still open hand and then make a ‘take’ sound that resembled the cocking of a gun. My daughter understood what his devious sound effect meant. Her imaginary birthday penny was gone. The scream that erupted from her was as if a priceless prized possession was irrevocably stolen. I might have encouraged my son a little by my uncontrolled laughter.

Afterward, I would calm her down by somehow replacing her imaginary penny with a new one. One, I added, that couldn’t be stolen. Which is another rule of all things imaginary: ‘Whatever parents say can’t be undone.’ For kids, it’s much like saying, “Infinity ‘No-backs’”, which gives the claimant immediate authority, rights, privileges, and powers over whatever was said.

I know for many, a time of silence can be like answered prayer, but a story without any sound effects is like a toothless smile. Unless you are doing some kind of Charlie Chaplin tribute for ‘silent films’, of which they still had background music, try to employ a bit of effect devious or otherwise to help bring your story to life. Make that giant sound huge, the swarm of bees all around, or that snoring dragon getting the best-uninterrupted sleep you wish you could get, all with sound effects. Can you see what I hear?

Path to Story, Chapter 36: It’s Time for Scary Time

If you have kids who scream in fright over ants and flies, if they would rather stay inside because a bug is on the door, or if an insect has somehow found its way into your car and your kids are ready to abandon ship, then it might be time for a taste of some good ole fashioned scary. As I’ve heard before from many Dads that tell their kids, “I’ll give you something to ‘cry’ about.” Wait, wait, wait, this is supposed to be fun!

My kids were the ‘run from a gnat’ type. I’m not sure if this was my fault because I used to tease them when they were little by making mosquito sounds. Or maybe it was that time they were attacked by a swarm of hornets… yeah, probably that. Anyway, their panicked screams over a minuscule pest revealed to me that their ‘flight’ over ‘fight’ tendencies needed to be rearranged and to do that I chose to use Scary Time.

I wanted to show them that ‘fear’ was a trick of the mind based more on imagination than fact. So I became, for my kids, a maître d’ and used a ‘Vincent Price’ voice to guide them around a grand hall. I imagined myself escorting them around the building commenting on the draperies, the rugs, the books, etc. all with a creepy “anything-could-jump-out-at-you-at-any-moment’ voice. Then we got to the kitchen…

“Would you like to munch on a head……. of lettuce? Or perhaps you’d prefer to eat a baby……. carrot? If not, I’m sure I can cut out a kidney or two……. beans.” At this point, it didn’t take much to send them running for a pillow/blanket/stuffed animal to clutch for safety. What’s the point? Well, as the fear would build, I would stop and switch to a “Gomer Pyle” voice and then I’d go to my normal voice and ask them which was scarier and why. Slowly but surely I was able to shine a light on their shadowy fears and reveal that there was nothing there. Now they hunt down any bugs they find in the house with fervor. Sure, it’s been a while since the ‘Vincent voiced maître d’ days’, but I’d like to think I helped.

It’s all about having fun with your family and calming their fears over bugs/whatever helps to keep everyone sane-ish. Give a gentle bit of scary a try. You might enjoy yourself. For as Vincent Price famously said,

“It’s as much fun to scare as to be scared.”

Mwhahahahahahaha……

Path to Story, Chapter 35: Blanket of Mystery

“Guys, guess what I have… It’s the Blanket of Mystery!!! What’s behind it? I don’t know, it’s a mystery.”

If you’ve exhausted all of your books and even the Gospel Preacher- from chapter 2, has retired; if you’re poor as dirt, along with most of the world, and you want to protect your children from the hopelessness of poverty; if you know there’s more to life than what you know and want to tap in and awaken excitement, curiosity, and wonder in your kids, then give mystery a try.

If you want, all you need is a blanket or a cloth/shirt/something, but even if you don’t, you can use your hand. The point is, like a magician, to block your kids’ view. You can build up the excitement with your voice being in awe like the first snowfall of Winter and announce it like Show-and-Tell at school. How you intro this time can make it a great experience even if you have nothing behind whatever you’re using to hide it. The point is the mystery.

I did this when my kids were little and it worked to pass the time any time. At a Doctor’s office, waiting in line for something, or gathering your kid’s attention for whatever, using mystery can help time fly. If you have nothing behind it, like I sometimes did because I preferred the challenge, then make up clues. Be like, “What?! Where did it go?” Then get them to look around. Kids want to help. If they find some random treasure like a button or even carpet lint, add it into your story, “I’ve seen this before…”

Using the Blanket of Mystery is a great way to bring excitement and fun to family time. What is behind it for your family? I don’t know, it’s a mystery!

Path to Story, Chapter 34: A Place to Start

It’s been about 9 months since I last wrote on this. So this baby is due. I didn’t plan it this way, and since most babies rarely are, let alone triplets, it seemed appropriate to chronicle the weakest part of my storytelling- beginnings.

As I’ve already said, ‘Once upon a time’, works almost all of the time to begin whatever you want. Over the years the beginning I most commonly use is a lazy version of it: ‘Once there was a _____’, then fill in the blank. I have found I am more of a short-order-cook type of storyteller. I work best before meals, during trips, and explaining things from Spiritfire to homework. Oh, and survival-type situations. But just as babies need to grow, so does my storytelling.

When I can, I look to the Bible, and of course, its beginning is the actual beginning. It may not really work to do that if you want to eat a warm meal, or when attempting to answer a quick question, etc., but it led me to a direct and easy way to find an intro: the 5 Ws. Answering or even asking who, what, when, where, and why, can give a variety of beginnings to the tales we tell.

An example of a ‘who’ beginning would be to focus on a character, like one of the prophets or like Paul the Apostle’s letters. ‘What’ could be about an important scene like a war that may shape what you want to tell. ‘When’ could be a timeline focus like the book of Genesis or Esther. ‘Where’ would focus on the location/setting. And asking ‘why’ could be for a mystery. You might not want to answer these questions right away and let them breathe for a while first like for a mystery unless you want to give misleading information. I will try to get into this later along with a chapter about something I’ve botched repeatedly- telling scary stories to my kids.

In the end, I hope your beginnings are better than mine and can get your kids’ attention faster than a jumping grasshopper. I know I need to keep mine active like with a jolt similar to accidentally touching an electric fence. This can be accomplished with different vocal dynamics.

So whether you are shouting or whispering out your newborn story, may your intros invite all who hear upon a grand adventure. And like with babies, this life can be dreadful boring without one.

Path to Story, Chapter 33: Revenge of the Story

I started writing this blog with no agenda except for fun for parents and their kids. From morning times to family road trips, I wanted to give families an idea of how to enjoy life together, but now it’s about to get ‘real’. What happens when your kids start to annoy you beyond anyone’s endurance? When, “Mom-mom-mom-mom-mom” becomes an alarm clock-like water torture?

The other night, my wife and I attempted to have a conversation at the dinner table. As the first words escaped my wife’s lips, one of our adorable children thought it a perfect time to voice a request. Maybe it was because it was the first time we had seen each other that day and really hadn’t gotten a chance to talk, maybe it was the way my child said, “Mom” every half second, maybe it was my blood pressure, maybe- I think you get the point, I had to make it stop before any facial tic set in. It was then that I had an idea: Give them a taste through story of what they are doing before mommy and daddy have to get sent to the looney-bin.

Meet Robbie the Robot! I made up this character with an annoying robot voice that would say the same thing over and over:

“I am Robbie Robot and I clap like this. I am Robbie Robot and I still clap like this.”

He’d say that till his batteries ran out. Then a guy would come and replace them which started Robbie up again. Now you may be asking yourself, “How is this any better?” Well if you heard my kids’ reaction, you’d get it. After a few rounds with Robbie, I introduced a guy who couldn’t take it anymore. I had him remove the batteries and hide them far away. My kids cheered, till a lightning storm came which struck Robbie and started him up again.

They got the point and let my wife and I talk. Yes, I could’ve just yelled at them, and I also know the Bible says ‘Vengeance is the Lord’s’, Romans 12:19, but sometimes giving them a taste of their own medicine is just what the doctor ordered. Besides, having a conversation after a victory like that is much easier than attempting one right after you’ve lost your cool.

Most parents know kids need to learn what appropriate behavior is and that the majority of those lessons aren’t intuitive. May this chapter reveal a more peaceful approach to engage our precious little children as they develop a greater understanding of how annoying they can be. Yelling for the most part only teaches fear, and it has its place in emergencies, but story has a way to help kids understand the ‘why’.

Next time your kids knowingly or unknowingly drive you to the brink, consider story, let it guide you to safer shores. For whenever parents are in trouble, and where ever children push too far, Robbie the Robot is ready to rescue! He will always still clap like this…

Path to Story, Chapter 32: Endings Again

Endings can be elusive. Maybe you’ve run out of time, or perhaps your story has too many loose ends and you just can’t find a conclusion, or maybe you’ve become attached to your story and you’re just not ready to let it go, endings can be like the carrot on the end of a stick and you find yourself doomed to keep walking never able to enjoy it.

My previous attempt to discuss endings was tragic and almost half-hearted, which usually makes for terrible endings let alone shallow posts. I couldn’t stop writing and then posted it before I really recognized what I did. I actually lost some sleep over it. There is so much more to think about in regards to creating an appropriate ending for our tales. Answering questions like, ‘what is the point?’ or ‘why are you even talking?’ can make us feel naked when we don’t have an answer.

Again I’ll point to religion to help flush the concept out: Jesus forever changed our ending by giving us salvation. Because of the love that was shown us on the cross, we have the hope of a better ending than eternal suffering. With Him, our conclusion is eternal life in His presence of love. Revelation chapter 21 gives us a great picture of the ending God has in store for those who believe.

Verse 3-4: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Now that’s an ending worth believing in! Because of it people through the ages have endured much suffering, pain, and persecution.

Now to a much lesser degree, and in an attempt to address the issues mentioned in the intro of this post- in the stories I make up for my kids the standard ending I employ is that of good triumphing over evil. Again I would point to Jesus as the anchor for this approach. It gives hope and courage when the brokenness of this world rises up. There is something about the order of it that connects with us deeply.

Running out of time can make for some hilarious last minute decisions, but as long as I stick to the ‘good triumphs over evil’ order, my kids are happy. If not, like when I just kill everyone, they’ll again let me know by shouting, “NOOOOOOOO!!” When the issue is loose ends, it’s a good opportunity to employ chapters. Tying each one can be its own chapter. But if you’ve become attached to your story, then it’s time to write it down. It’ll be the next bestseller!

Yes, endings can be elusive like that carrot, and sometimes you have to ignore it and eat grass instead. Unless your kids are shouting at you to change your ending, I’d say you’re good. Don’t let any failures stop you, let them teach you. When we do that, we equip our children in how to deal with and learn from their own failures, and that right there is a pretty awesome ending.

Path to Story, Chapter 31: Endings

I know I haven’t specifically mentioned beginnings or plot twists, but for some reason, it seems appropriate to me to talk about endings first. For any readers who can’t handle the disorder, use the famous “Once upon a time…” phrase for your beginnings. It’s genius and can fit any direction you may want to go with the stories you tell your kids.

For plot-twists think of the opposite ends of a magnet and their reaction to another magnet. Flip whatever you are doing and go an opposite route. If your story is focused on the dragon who has been terrorizing the town as the bad guy, flip it to the mouse who lives in the dragon’s cave and is the real instigator. Of course, if you do this all the time it loses its twist effect.

Endings are an interesting thing to think about. Like when we consider taking a vacation, we are already at our favorite destination in our minds. We may not even want to think about the journey or the process it took to get there. So skip it! We are at the spot you set out for, what does it look like? Why did you come? What was the point? These kinds of questions can lead to various stories, but what do you want your kids to walk away with? Like a special Christmas present your story bought and wrapped for them, is it ‘character’, ‘integrity’, or my personal favorite, ‘discernment’?

Sometimes I occasionally give a quick false ending to get my kids’ attention or to get them to behave if they’ve started acting up. For example, I’ll wrap up a story with: “Then everybody died.” Done, quick and simple. My kids so far have responded with a unanimous, “NOOOOOOO!!” Then you are in a position to ransom the story and make your parental demands. I’m just being funny when I do this and they know it, but it works!

So endings have multiple uses depending on ‘why’ you started and ‘where’ you are going with it. I was just reminded to think about where I want to be in 5 years by a job search engine. Where do you want to be by the end of your story? I look for Jesus to be at the end of my life’s story welcoming me home.

Whatever they end up being, make your endings something worth your kids’ attention.

Path to Story, Chapter 30: Make the Mundane Adventurous

Homework can be tiresome, and Mathematics can be at the top of the charts of being tasteless and boring. In Chapter 14, I tried to describe how ‘changing the story’ can change a simple assignment of drawing rectangles into a desperate attempt to save kittens. This time however it was no easy assignment. I’ve tried to explain to my kids that every video game is based on math: A bad guy has 50 points and you have a gun that shoots 10, how many shots does it take to beat him? They understood, but staring at a sheet of equations seems far removed from a screenshot of their favorite game.

Fractions were the subject of the day, and learning how to add them was the assignment. I tried teaching them the concepts, but I only got blank stares, and blank stares have again become a sign to me to ‘change the story’.

My daughter occasionally talks about wanting to become a detective so I used that as the backdrop. My kids became the agents of the Triplet Detective Agency! The first job was to find the lowest common denominator or LCD. Determining it was the clue that busted the case wide open. They have already learned their multiples, so locating the lowest one shared by the denominators was usually pretty quick. It was like finding the culprits’ fingerprints and tracking them down to their home/hideout.

Converting the first fraction to the LCD was like entering the front door, but the perp was running out the back! Quickly converting the other/remaining fraction/s captured him. However, if you’ve ever seen Scooby-Doo you know that a case was never solved unless they checked to see if the villain was wearing a mask. After adding the fractions, the question of, “Can you reduce it?” gave a good tug to make sure. And after everything was verified it was time for the catch-phrase, “Take ‘em away boys!” My kids would then make the siren sound and move on to the next case.

Long division was another one I employed story to explain. It was military combat based with a headquarters (quotient) that gave orders to the troops (divisor) who moved out to defeat the enemy (dividend). Yes, I probably taught it incorrectly, but my kids got the right answers! And when it came time to work on fractions, they’d cheer and get right to it.

I know I’m just beginning to explore what can be accomplished through story. Its use isn’t limited to authors, teachers, or preachers; parents also have this tool and can utilize it to create almost whatever they want for their families. It can make even the mundane adventurous.

Path to Story Ch. 29: Belief and Doubt, the Origins of Storytelling

As time progresses and your proficiency at storytelling improves, you may wonder how this profession began. How is it so powerful? Why do the hearts of mankind become so engrossed in what is beyond our senses? More along the lines of dreams, stories can persuade and inform as well as deceive. So what is the essence of where imagination and emotion collide with our sense of reason? How is storytelling even possible?

Storytelling is religion, and at the core of each of the major religions of the world lies a story that tells why we are here and what this life is for. Most of them are stories that recognize this life and world are broken and point to a salvation that is earned by good works. Christianity stands as the only story where Someone else earned our salvation for us and offers it to those who believe.

The origins of storytelling told to us in the Bible hail all the way back to the Beginning. In the early chapters of Genesis, we witness a cosmological war between two storytellers that forever changed the fate of mankind and the entire world.  The First Storyteller told stories that created life and brought peace that was fulfilled in intimacy with the first audience of earth, man. His story required only one thing from that audience: obedience, and for a time there was peace.

Rebellion came in the form of a serpent who told a different tale with a different purpose than that of life and peace. A toxic and flaccid storyteller, the Serpent told one that promised much but gave nothing. The Serpent’s story spoke doubt into the minds of man and stole that peace, breaking the order God had made. By giving rise to doubt, it revealed the only weakness we ever had, and now we deal with those competing stories every day.

Looking at the history of storytellers throughout the Bible can be pretty depressing.  The first storytellers of man used story to try to hide from responsibility.  We were already trying to create with our words a reality that would shield us from wrath.  I include the rest of us with them because we inherited from them the rewards of such a story, and like them, we all have listened to that life stealing story of the Serpent.

However, the First Storyteller was not finished with His tale, and it was through this weakness that the depths of His love came to light. For the love of God spoke of another story, a story that reached further in and revealed that though the Serpent’s story exposed our weakness, God’s love through His Son Jesus used it to bring an even greater and eternal life for those who believe. Through Jesus, we have a story of divine love that redeems us and gives us the best of all endings.

Belief and Doubt still stand as the two opposing forces of mankind. They provide the essence and create the landscape where imagination and emotion collide with reason. As you create stories for your children there is no better backdrop than the rescue story of Christ. It gives hope and value to this life that forever lifts us from the consequences of the tale of the Serpent.

 

Path to Story, Chapter 28: Mix It Up

If you are running out of ideas for your stories, and you need to be reminded of all the possibilities storytelling provides, or if you want to challenge yourself to see if you can handle multiple characters and their voices, try mixing it up.

Today I mixed up a lot of characters my kids love in a story during lunch. Sometimes it isn’t really that important for the story to make any sense, leave that for the pro’s. My aim was just plain fun.

Hulk, Yoda, C-3PO, R2D2, and Shifu were the cast. It got really silly between Hulk and Yoda, because Hulk kept referring to Yoda as Baby Hulk, and kept laughing every time Yoda tried to say, “A baby Hulk I am not!” Hulk would respond, “But you green! Baby Hulk talk funny!”

At first, I tried to work with the Star Wars universe, and had the Emperor show up and scare everyone with lightning, but “Hulk smash!” sent him flying. Then, because of such a crazy cast, I couldn’t get the idea of a carnival out of my head, so… C-3PO and R2 picked up on strange radio transmissions and found out about an evil clown syndicate attempting to take over the world with a golden cotton candy machine that had mind controlling powers. How does it control minds? An ingredient in the candy, “bad sugar”, stimulates the brain to be hypnotized by a certain frequency employed by the leader through a loudspeaker. Are there gigantic holes in this story? Absolutely. For fun stories, sometimes it’s good to not take yourself so seriously.

It was ridiculously hilarious even to me to picture them all together. Shifu and Yoda made a team as they infiltrated the carnival to get more intel on the evil clown syndicate. Shifu got picked up by a little girl because she thought he was a cute prize from the carnival. Upon seeing Yoda however, the little girl screamed dropped Shifu and ran. Meanwhile, C-3PO kept trying to advise Hulk, much like he tried with Chewie once. I actually didn’t get much farther than that because lunch was done. We had too much fun with Hulk and Yoda interacting to pay mind to much else. Boba Fett and Batman showed up for a brief cameo and we were done. So I incorporated chapters, one for lunch and one for dinner.

During dinner, I only had to say something about Hulk and Yoda and my kids cheered, got right to their seats, and were quiet. The power of story is unparalleled.

Speaking of power, I want to eventually talk about endings, but I’ll save that for a future post. I already tried that a little in this one but had to edit it. I try to limit these to one main idea at a time so as to make it easier to follow.

Mixing up a story keeps everything fresh, like Star Wars & Cinderella in Chapter 9. It also breaks down any limits to imagination, much like the movie, “Toy Story” that used the narrative of many different toys to tell a new one. So go ahead and mix it up. Set your kids’ imagination free!