The Magic of Making Stories:

Basic plots you can use

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Basic plots you can use

When my boys were little, they loved to play with action figures. They often asked me to join in. I tried. But it seemed like most of their interaction went like this:

Action Hero #1: “I am getting you with my super power ray.”
Action Hero #2: “Uh uhh, ‘cause I just got you with my mind melt!”

Then followed lots of plastic clacking on plastic. I lasted, on average, about ten minutes before my mind melted.

Then one day, I decided to send the boys’ little men on a quest. I set up different pieces of furniture as islands, put some toys on each one to cause the travelers some kind of problem, and put their heroes on a boat. Off they went, and I made up the situation at each stop.

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One of those boys is now nineteen. The other day, as we were driving and I was telling him about this article, he recalled that story. Island by island. Event by event. “That was so cool!” he said.

Basic plots can transform your children’s playtime. They can also guide you as you make up a story, or as you create one along with your children.

(Some of these story ideas are linked to stories I’ve started on my website. Try reading one aloud to your school-age kids and ask how they would continue the story!)

The main character goes on a journey. She can be out to find something or someone, to get back home, to right a wrong. Along the way, problems crop up. Examples: Little Red Riding Hood, The Wizard of Oz, The Incredible Journey, Shrek.

Story ideas:

• A puppy is lost and has to find its way home
• A boy tries to return buried treasure to a spooky house (Story-starter)

Someone’s in trouble and your hero has to save them. There can be one villain, or a number of obstacles. (Try it from another point of view and make it an Escape) Examples: Rapunzel, Charlotte’s Web, Finding Nemo.

Story ideas:

• your son has to climb a mountain and defeat a dragon to save the princess
• a mouse has to rescue his uncle from the mean house cat (Story-starter)

Two characters go head to head to win a prize, or to out-trick one another. Examples: The Tortoise & the Hair, Brer Rabbit Tales, sports stories.

Story ideas:

• your son has to climb a mountain and defeat the evil wizard to save the princess
• a super-hero has to stop invading aliens (Story-starter)

I find with kids, it’s best to keep mysteries fairly gentle – along the lines of something having been stolen, or something mildly spooky. Examples: Encyclopedia Brown Books, Magic Tree House Series

Story ideas:

• What is the mysterious monster in the lake?
• A monster wants to find who’s been stealing sheep (Story-starter)

The main character overcomes a weakness or a challenge. He grows. Examples: The Ugly Duckling, The Little Engine That Could, Scrooge

Story ideas:

• the dog who learned to like cats
• the bully who becomes nice

all material ©2003 Bruce Van Patter