Another day is coming to a close. The kids hug mom and jump in the bed ready for a night of happy dreams. After I tuck them in and kiss their heads, the familiar request spouts in unison from their mouths, "Story!" In my benevolent mood, I acquiesce to their request.
I have repeated this routine countless times. However, I have never repeated a story. Every night I make up a new story, from scratch, on the spot, as I go. Some have been engrossing and surprising, and others have fallen flat. The content is not what I want to focus on, but rather the process.
By committing to tell a story without a guideline or a starting point, I am using the "jump in and see where it leads" form of writing rather than the "outline, summarize, and then write" approach. It requires thinking quickly on your feet and using intuition and free-form creativity to get you from a beginning to an end in your story. It may seem like an innocent parental duty that people execute all around the globe, but it can be much more.
It can be a teaching ground for learning craft.
Perhaps you are strong in the outlining method of novel writing, but you struggle with bringing spontaneity to your story as you write. Telling improvised stories will stretch you to be creative, think outside the box, and not have time to worry that it does not make sense. Once you say it, you then have the obligation to make it work in the story and you will be surprised at the creative ways you make your twists and turns work.
Another good side-effect is the collection of story ideas that you produce. I have several ideas for books and short stories that have been birthed from story time with my two girls. One of them I think has real promise for a series. And there is no guarantee that I ever would have found the idea without the constraints of story time.
If you do not have kids, borrow some. I know most parents will be glad to loan them out for a while. Seriously, nieces and nephews or kids in your neighbors work just as well. Story time can happen any time of the day, not just at bed time. And if your subject matter is adult material, tell stories to your friends.
There are many ways to hone your craft that require reading, study, and intense focus. I think you deserve a break from all the hard work. Remember how to have fun with your stories, and continue learning about craft in the process.
J Hugh Thomas is a database developer and a programmer who is writing his first novel. Read his blog http://onwritingmyfirstnovel.blogspot.com to see all of his writer's resources and free advice.
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