Telling Stories

One of the things I really love seeing develop in my son is his storytelling. He’s got an imagination that is taking wings right now and he spends a great deal of time either ‘reading’ the books that he knows and loves or else making up stories with his toys.

He seems to understand that stories need protagonists, antagonists, conflict and resolution. He even understands that characters need distinctive voices – he varies his voice to suit the character he is pretending to be. From some of my reading, there are adults who don’t understand that yet! (I am, of course, desperately hoping that I don’t fall into that category. We’ll see.)

What I really hope for is that he doesn’t lose that love of stories, that soaring imagination, as he gets older. Storytelling is a hugely important part of a person’s life. It helps you escape your day-t0-day life, it helps you work through problems and experiences, it helps you explore language and emotions in a safe way. It’s the reason I want to write for children, after all; to tell them stories and hope that I can help them do all of those things for a short time.

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of humanity, as far as I can see. And it’s as important now as it has ever been. Whether it’s the Young Adult books that may, or may not, be dark and dismal and depressing (cue *eye roll*) or fairytales, or repulsive yet engaging little boys or a child’s first introduction to picture book stories, the best stories engage children totally for a short time and take them somewhere else. It doesn’t matter what their own experiences are, when they are engrossed in a story; the bad experiences fade and the good experiences are put aside to go into this new and imaginary world where they are in control.

Stories are a great leveller, too. There’s a huge gulf between a child from a wealthy family who goes on holiday, has good quality clothing, the latest toys and a child from a poor family who may never have left their home town, who feels the embarrassment of shabby clothing next to their friends, who has few toys. In their imaginations though, there are no such barriers. And stories are free – to read at at the library or to make up at home. You don’t need to be a great writer to engage a child happily for a long time with this happened and then this happened, just playacting with a few toys.

It’s for reasons like this, among many others, that we should be encouraging our children to make up stories, to act out, role play, dress up, dream, imagine, escape. Then one day, when life gets a bit too much as it has a tendency to do, they can flee into their own world for a while, working through their problems or escaping from them.

The Joy of Titles

I would love to be able to offer a really useful, insightful post here on how to craft a fantastic title for a piece of writing. Any piece, be it poem, story, novel, article, blog post, etc.

There are two reasons why I’m not. Firstly, there are lots of helpful how-to books, articles and blog posts out there which offer advice on all aspects of writing, including titles. I don’t want to be another one in the crowd. That’s my ‘save-face’ story anyway. The other, and slightly more pertinent reason, is that I am absolutely terrible at it.

So this is more a tale of woe and a call for people to comment with their own title failures so I don’t feel quite as utterly useless.

I’ve read a good bit of the helpful advice mentioned above, and to be honest it hasn’t really helped so far. I’m hoping that this is because I am taking on other lessons and techniques and my brain is resisting being overloaded. In which case the trick to crafting titles will click in in its own good time. The alternative is that there is a special knack to titles which you’ve either got or not. In which case, I’m doomed.

My main problem is short story titles. I have started entering a monthly short story competition, which always gives a set theme. This is great, it provides structure and a springboard, especially good for beginners like me. The problem is, being on a theme, there feels more pressure to provide a stand-out title. After all, they will be receiving hundreds of entries, all on the same topic, and they have to start a cull somewhere. Assuming I manage to get through the “Oh-dear-me-this-person-has-sent-it-in-on-pink-paper-with-a-flower-border” stage, and the this “this-person-can’t-even-spell-their-own-name” stage, I then have to make it through the “oh-dear-Lord-couldn’t-they-think-of-a-better-title-than-that-have-they-no-imagination” stage. And I have visions of my masterpieces, which would otherwise unfailingly win first prize, falling through the filter right there.

I have tried using a phrase from the story, or twisting a phrase from the story. This seems to give me the result I’m happiest with, but it’s not the witty/ironic/highly intelligent/achingly beautiful thing I’m looking for.

So my next mission, in my journey to become Millionaire Writer, is to crack titles. I will leave no stone unturned. I will experiment, play with words, seek divine guidance, etc, until I am the Mistress of Titles and you are all begging me for help and inspiration.

In the meantime though, I have a story with a not-bad title to print and post.