5 Tips for Telling a Bedtime Story

Recent studies link electronic screen time to sleeplessness in children—and we all know how vital rest is for young bodies (and their parents’ sanity). Minnesota playwright and teacher John Olive’s new book, Tell Me a Story in the Dark, is a how-to guide that includes great tips for preparing your bedtime tale before settling in. 

”‹1. Don’t memorize “Citing memorized text simply will not cut the bedtime mustard,” Olive writes. He believes the best storytelling is spontaneous while following prepared ideas.  

2. Create a set of story points Prepare what Olive describes as “a list of things that you’re pretty sure will happen in tonight’s story.” His examples include crocodiles, a bed flying into the sky, and a girl who dances because she’s so happy—elements you can weave together as you go along. 

3. The senses are the source for details Describe what the world in your story looks like (whether familiar or fantastical), what it sounds like (“Screaming monkeys? Hooting birds?”), and smells like (“Woodsmoke?”). Stories evoke worlds from descriptions that youngsters can use to conjure something “real” in their imaginations. 

4. Use dialogue to describe “Remember the old creative writing saw: Show, don’t tell,” recommends Olive. Your characters should describe what’s going on in their own words—and one of the most effective story techniques is having a character speaking to him or herself. 

5. Follow the rule of threes Think of your story like a play in three acts: establish conflict in the first, intensify the situation in the second, then resolve it in the third. Stories love threes, Olive points out: Jack climbs the beanstalk thrice, Dorothy taps the ruby slippers together three times. “There are three blind mice, three bears, three Stooges, three Musketeers,” he writes.