Children’s Bedtime Stories–Making up a good one every night

At some point, every young child gets tired of the same canned bedtime stories and says to the parent “Make up one for me.” For some parents, the mind goes blank. There is no story to be had, or a weak variation of a familiar one comes out.

There is no time at this point in life to study the fine points of storytelling. But still, the child can have a good story and it can be great fun to make them up. It is a lot easier a few points are kept in mind. The first plots will take a few days to get into, but after that, the stories have a life of their own, to the delight of both child and parent.

Outline Example—Wikulus the rabbit


There was a young rabbit named Wikulus who lived with his mother. Whenever Wikulus found a four leaf clover, he could make a wish to visit anywhere in the world and he would be immediately transported there for the afternoon. A subplot is the initial search for the four-leaf clover so that the main adventure can begin.


This type of opening leads to many possibilities for different stories. As examples:


Wikulus may visit Santa Claus on a seasonal basis and find that Santa is well behind in toy production. How to help.


He may visit the desert, find out about the conditions there, and not have sufficient supplies.


The young rabbit may go to Africa and be introduced to other animals with different skills, some friendly, others unfriendly.


These are starting points for the complication of the plot and later resolution.


By the end of the day, Wikulus is home, and of course, his mother does not believe his adventures really happened.


The Key Points


For the first few nights, try different characters. For younger children (2-4), different animals (who, of course can speak) are a good start. Each character should be given a distinctive name, often chosen together with the child. The first character may not catch on, but pretty soon, the child will make a connection and a favorite star will be born.

Another theme variation that is popular is to give normally inanimate objects, the ability to play tricks on people. For example, cars that take control and choose the destination, wall pint that changes color, tables that shake things off. The stories center on the comical reactions of the adults. What could be more delightful than seeing an adult being fooled by an inanimate object.

For older children, people have a more prominent role, particularly from olden times.

After one main character has been established, add at least two or three additional regular or rotating characters. These extra guys provide flexibility and range of interactions needed for a wide variety of plots. Since the same characters can be used for a number of stories, the child is familiar with them and you can put your energy into making an engaging story.


Nothing like it! Just a few elements of magic add a good twist. Not too much though. The magic property can be used to get into predicaments. The character has to resolve them by his own ingenuity. Even a child is not satisfied when the character is suddenly beamed out of trouble.


Plot—This is the most fun!


Once the story is begun, there is no stopping to “figure out the next part”. Make it up as you tell it out loud. It is a reality show for both the child and the parent. The real time aspect adds energy and interest for everyone.

As the first half of the story is being told, add layer upon layer to the difficulty that the main character encounters. This adds excitement. The real key for the storyteller is that the difficulty is added as fast as it comes to mind—there is no known way for the character to resolve it. At the end of this section of plot development, the storyteller should have no idea how the character is going to settle this one.

Now for the best part–As the plot moves toward resolution, the storyteller has his work cut out. As the story is told out loud, you must also figure out a way to get the character out of the predicament. This approach really energizes the storyteller and this energy is picked up by the child. If the child seeks assurance that it will end OK, be sure to give it so he can enjoy the excitement more fully. Then figure out how to make it end OK—no need to stop to figure it out, this is stream of consciousness telling.

Plot Conclusion

Each story has to be complete,, beginning, middle and end, in one telling. No cliff hangers like on television. The purpose is to entertain and then go to sleep, so that all of the energy of the story has to be dissipated.

Give it a try. Parents using these tips have been amazed and pleased at their own creativity!





3 Responses to Children’s Bedtime Stories–Making up a good one every night

  1. Amine Samra says:

    I really enjoyed this article, I have been telling stories to my 3 years and 5 years old boys for 2 years now.
    The tips you introduced have helped me change few things, but I was wondering: is bringing the boys themselves in the story has a bad effect on them ?

  2. My experience has been to have characters just a little older than the children. They generally identify with them and it gives more directions that the story can go. On occasion, they may ask to be included in the story. Well, the story is for their enjoyment, so I put them in. Another post that may be of interest is “Chasing a ball into the street” also in the parenting category.

  3. Randolph Carter says:

    I only wish ours were at bedtime. My son loves to hear me make up stories while we’re in the car (and I’m driving). I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear “Daddy, can you tell me a story about me and you?” Sometimes I don’t mind telling a story, but other times my mind is a million miles away and nothing seems to flow. I really enjoy telling my son stories when it “clicks”, but more often than not it seems like work and I simply run out of ideas. Your post here has given me some wonderful ideas. Thank you. Recently when telling stories I’ve begun soliciting input from him and that has worked to add some spontaneity and spark to the narrative.

    I would very much like to nurture his interest in hearing stories and I hope one day telling them as well.


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