The 3 E’s of Storytelling for Kids

The 3 E’s of storytelling for Kids|

My son is very excited about school lately, despite its virtual nature. Heck, I’m very excited about his school lately. Why you ask? His teacher very kindly suggested my book for their “reading together” book this term.

Qualifier, for those who have read my first book – I provided suggestion notes on paragraphs to skip over, Alien A La Carte originally being written for a slightly more mature audience. The teacher followed them, well, not quite the way I expected.

With virtual school and virtual work co-existing in our house on the same table in the same room, I can’t help but overhear parts of my book being read out loud to the class, occasionally breaking into what ever meeting I might be in. It’s both scary and educational – for me!

I hear every mistake I wrote, every place that had language stronger than I realized, the teacher very deftly adjusting the reading to eliminate cuss words and strong language. Themes that I initially suggested as too strong for the class are read out, while others are skipped, and it has made me realize that much as we want to shelter our children from real life, we can’t always achieve that, nor should we want to. So too, what we might thin offensive may not be and vice versa. It has also made me realize how much more I could do to flesh out my characters. The kids discussion after the reading is always entertaining, and full of imagination, with the kind of enthusiasm that I feel has been missing lately; possibly the reason why I am procrastinating.

So, I put myself out of my comfort zone and offered to do a reading for the class. Chicken that I am, I am reading the end of the book, but I also have a storytelling 101 session with them – no small task. This forces me to really think about the best way to distill down what story telling is.

Storytelling for Kids

If you look on the web, you will find “the 4 P’s“, “the 5 W’s” and “the 7 Elements“. Better people than I have written entire dissertations on just what storytelling is, after all Amazon is rife with books on writing. But I have only 10 minutes to explain storytelling to a young audience. So I want to start with just three elements, a storytelling 101 for kids, and I don’t mean “the beginning, the middle and the end”. Now, I don’t want to dumb it down either; these kids know more about grammar in grade 5 than I knew in Grade 9, so I’m going to use their language.

  1. Character, a Who or a What (as my son would say, a person, place or thing – the noun of the story).
  2. Setting – Where, When
  3. Plot – How, Why

I could go with “the 5 Ws and a H”! Doesn’t that just trip off the tongue? I really would like them to remember what I share with them. So I’m thinking an acronym. Something simple like Cat or Dog, that when they think back they will recall easily. After all, I’m going to be sharing a story about how to tell a story, and having something simple to remember will help.

I gave some thought to CAT: Character, Act (Plot) and Thereabouts (where) but it doesn’t work for me and I would not expect it to work for them. If I swallow a thesaurus, I might come up with some suitable synonyms. Last time I tried that I became lost in a miasma of exciting new words that I could use in my next book, completely forgetting what I was doing.

Then I tried word association – and ended up 7 degrees from Kevin Bacon!

The 3 E’s of Storytelling

I broke my plan down again to dive back into exactly what a story is. Clarity with flexibility is needed – the character doesn’t have to be a person, indeed in many children’s storybooks the main character is not human, and often not even alive. An Entity then.

I want to tell the children about something that they can relate to. The environment is very much a part of their every day discussions, the environment is a character in their own life story. They know it is more than just a where, or a what, it’s a temperature, it’s a taste – it’s something they can describe easily, and it’s what a “place” should be, more than just a where, the whole Environment is needed.

Then comes the most difficult element to distill down into one word. The plot, the function of the story, the flow, the motive, the why and the how, the doing part, the verbs and the emotions. We are more goal oriented than ever. We strive for our goals, we are victorious when we achieve them, we laugh and we cry. We are devastated if we don’t make them. A goal is the aim of a soccer match or a hockey game, that single moment distills all the play before hand into a moment at the end that is triumphant or crushing. A Goal is something we can perceive, even if we don’t quite know what it is yet.

In the excitement of having my 3 elements of story telling spell a word, “EEG”, I miss the obvious error, and have to kick myself!

But that gives me an EEGcellent idea… Now, not only do I have an acronym, I have a teaching pun. There is nothing that kids like more than correcting their teacher… and a deliberate spelling mistake might be just the thing that gets them remembering. Or maybe not. My enthusiasm may carry me away, but as a writer, I should probably use the correct spelling.

Hmmm! Do I change the “Entity”, or the “Environment”? But they fit so well. And “Goal” was inspired… but just like when we write a story and we are encouraged to “kill our darlings”, I must either give up one of these words, or give up my idea to have a perfect acronym. Where is that thesaurus again…?

I wonder… thinking about the “goal” of story telling itself: The purpose of a story is to play with your readers feelings, to lift them up, to take them on a roller coaster ride, to dash them on the rocks of love lost or unfair fate, and then depending on the author, to lift them back up again to finish on a high.

So, its about emotion. Creating something that creates Emotion. And there we have it. The 3 Elements of storytelling are the 3 E‘s of storytelling. The clue was in the title all along!

  1. Entity: Person, place or thing, the subject of the story,
  2. Environment: The “where”, a description of location,
  3. Emotion: The plot, the motive, the driver for us to read the book, the verbs and adjectives that make us feel.

Now, this is an oversimplification of the writing rules to be sure, but at this age, words mean different things to each child, and these words mean as much as they need to. But I’m ready for whatever these kids bring–and I can still use my EEExcellent pun!