If you’ve never told stories before, it helps to have read some sample stories and have a few things lined up.
1. A willing audience. Pick a night when your child seems in a mood to snuggle and be silly. Asking “would you like to hear a story” puts them in the driver’s seat even if you are certain they will want to. After all, anything to delay going to sleep! Most of my stories take about 10 minutes.
2. A couple of characters. You already have the main character snuggled up to you, but a couple of ideas for a supporting cast is always helpful to keep things moving.
3. A problem. All stories have them. A good bet is to pick a problem that you can imagine your child loving to solve or help solve. Frequently my stories will have two failed attempts to solve a problem before my heroine arrives at the final solution.
4. BEP. This is a concept I learned at the TPR Storytelling workshops. Bizarre, exaggerated, and personalized details make storytelling work. BEP details help hold your little listener’s attention and make for some really wacky stories. It might feel a little awkward at first to say that your child speaks fluent cow, but adding a few BEP details goes a long way. A kid that plants a garden that grows flowers=dull. A kid that plants a garden that grows (candy, monsters, pizza, etc.)=something you can work with.
5. Questions for your listener to answer and details that you would like them to add. These can be details about your characters such as names and descriptions. Or these can be plot details. If you like what you have, keep it. If you think that your child comes up with something even more fun and interesting, go with it. You may have an idea about how the story should end, but definitely ask your child what s/he thinks is going to happen. One of two things will happen. Either s/he will come up with an answer that is creative and awesome and you use that one. Or, you decide your ending is much more interesting and stick with that. It can be fun to disagree--it keeps them guessing. “No, that’s silly. The elephant wasn’t gray. The elephant was yellow with purple spots. Geesh, what kind of elephants are you thinking about!” Pretending that ridiculous details are normal is tons of fun.
If you are not a storyteller by nature (I wasn’t), it takes awhile for this to all feel natural and automatic. Please feel free to borrow liberally from the examples I present on this blog. Take all the credit with your child, but if you use my material with adults, please tell them where you found it.