Practice adapting a story to fit your young listener. One way of doing this is to take an ordinary storybook tale and read it to a child. Observe the verbal and nonverbal cues of how well the story matches the listener.
Retell the story to the child, this time adapting the main character to match the listener's age, gender, or interests. For example, if telling the Three Little Pigs story to a child who enjoys riding a bike, the pigs could bicycle from house to house rather than run. Observe what differences this may make to your listener.
5. Make the Story Real
The popular children's fiction writer of such loved tales as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), and The Twits, Roald Dahl wrote a lesser-known short story entitled "Lucky Break." In it he described how he came to be a professional writer when, while at school, a career in that area seemed as far away as the planet of Pluto. When he was 14, his school report for English Composition declared him "incapable of marshalling his thoughts on paper." A year later his English master saw no improvement: "A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malcon-structed. He reminds me of a camel." By the time he was 16 his report recorded, "This boy is an indolent and illiterate member of the class" (Dahl, 2001, p. 180).
Consequently, writing—and even tertiary studies—was not even a consideration for Dahl, who worked for a petroleum company in East Africa before joining the Royal Air Force when World War II broke out. After he was shot down, sustaining head injuries and subsequent migraines, his flying career ended and he was sent to be an assistant air attaché in Washington, D.C., where he unexpectedly met C. S. Forester, the creator of Horatio Hornblower and other nautical tales. Forester asked Dahl to jot down notes about his flying experiences that Forester would then write up as an article for the Saturday Evening Post. "Let me have plenty of detail," said the master. "That's what counts in our business, tiny little details, like you had a broken shoelace on your left shoe, or a fly settled on the rim of your glass at lunch, or the man you were talking to had a broken front tooth" (Dahl, 2001, p. 190). Dahl followed Forester's advice and the article was published under Dahl's name without Forester's altering a single word—and one of the twentieth century's greatest writers was born. As Forester said, detail is what gives a story reality.
Aesop's fable The Hare and the Tortoise has a simple story line: The hare and the tortoise have a race and the tortoise wins. But what a boring, uninteresting, and meaningless story it becomes if told so succinctly. How much more engaging and meaningful the story is when you add detail, like this: One day, the tall, proud Hare was teasing and mocking the old Tortoise for being so slow and cumbersome on his feet. "If that's what you think," responded the Tortoise, "I challenge you to a race. In fact, I bet you a crisp, new bank note that I win." The Hare threw back his furry head and laughed out loud. "OK, slowpoke." At the starter's command, the Hare was first to sprint from the line scratched with a stick in the dry earth. Soon the Tortoise was so far behind as to be out of sight. "This is a piece of cake," the Hare thought to himself. "I have time for a rest and can still beat the old Tortoise." With that he lay down on the cool, soft grass under a gnarled, spreading tree and soon fell asleep. Meanwhile the Tortoise plodded by methodically, careful not to disturb the sleeping Hare. When the Hare awakened, he made a quick, breathless dash to the finish but was too late. The slow and steady Tortoise had already won the race.
The more detail you add, the more real the story can be for you and your young listener. Descriptive words, adjectives that tap into the senses, and the use of dialogue all add to the reality, as do the tone, the mood, and the emotion of the story. To help include these it is useful to use your senses, envisioning and communicating to your listener the subtleties of light, color, shades, and shapes that help define and enhance awareness of the visual sense. Describe the sounds and all the varieties of auditory experience. Be aware of the smells, aromas, and fragrances that are part of the tale. Include tactile sensations—not only what the characters of the story touch, but how they are touched by the breath of a breeze, or the warmth of the sun. Where appropriate, bring into the story sensations of taste, for all of these senses add to the story's reality, facilitating your own visualization of the story, and, consequently, your ability to communicate those images that best involve your listener.
Instead ofjust giving the facts of the story, the addition of detail helps communicate the experience of the story. By visualizing it yourself, you permit the listener to participate more meaningfully in the experience and the message inherent in that experience.
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