Storytelling is a great way to dip a toe into creative writing. It borrows from narrating, and redirects the process from retelling the story of someone else to telling your own — but without the “what will I come up with” dilemma. Let’s face it: sometimes we do not feel creative! The benefit of storytelling prompts is that they encourage a student step by step through the process of creating his own story.
What Are the Components of a Story?
First, a story has these simple main components:
- The setting — or where the story takes place.
- The characters — or who is involved.
- The conflict or problem — or what has to be solved. (Note that some stories simply do not have a problem to solve. They sort of ramble over hundreds of places without a well-defined purpose. Yet after you have read the story, you find the whole was greater than the parts. For young students, they will likely need a conflict….)
- The solution or resolution — or the way the problem is solved.
Now you may want to point out that a story will need a plot or you may add a denouement. But to keep this simple we’ll assume that the conflict and solution of the conflict form the plot.
So, given our starting premises, let’s review the elements that a student needs to tell a story.
- Where will your story take place?
- What time period (past, present, future; or be more specific)?
- Real or imaginary?
- People or animals?
- Friendly or not-so-much? (Hero or villain?)
- What are those characters like? What type of personality do they have? Are they funny? Kind? Harsh? Loud?
- What problem does one or more of the characters face?
- Why is it a problem? (How does it affect one or more of the characters?)
Obviously you can have more than one conflict, but let’s keep it simple.
- How will the problem be solved?
- By whom?
- In what way?
The conclusion simply wraps up. It may look like, “And they lived happily ever after.” Frankly, I find the best conclusions to stories are sometimes those that don’t tell me what to think, but allow me to ponder ever after.
At this point your student is ready to get started in creating his story. But what if he isn’t so creative?
Creating a Storytelling Prompt
Using the simple outline above, we can create prompts using any one of the elements listed above. These storytelling prompts will aid the student in creating his story.
For example, “Once in the old, old West in the middle of a dry and thirsty desert…” provides the setting. Our student can then tell the rest of the story.
By giving the student one of the elements of a story, he can flesh the story out and take it in his own direction.
But even better, by working with the storytelling prompts, the student is learning the process of writing stories step by step.
To get you started, try a few of the storytelling prompts below:
- A wintry cold day on a farm.
- The barren surface of Mars.
- A ghost town.
- A marble factory.
- An astronaut.
- A nurse.
- An old cowboy.
- A mom.
- Two burgers.
- A stolen painting.
- A missing pet.
- Chaotic and random things are happening.
- We ran out of….
- A disagreement between two people.
- A criminal is captured.
- Help comes from an unexpected source.
- Someone gives up his wants for the good of the others.
- Too many lemons are made into lemonade.
- Amazingly, the important letter makes it to the needed location just in time!
Putting It All Together
One easy way to create a storytelling prompt is to think of a favorite story and change up the story elements.
Let’s use the example of “The Little Red Hen.” On the left are the original elements of the story (sort of). On the right are new elements that can be used as prompts:
- Setting: Barnyard
- Characters: The Little Red Hen, the other farm animals
- Problem: Little Red Hen does all of the work necessary to make bread; the other farm animals don’t help, yet expect to eat the fruit of the hen’s labor.
- Solution: Let Them Eat Cake! (Empty stomachs … lesson learned.)
- Setting: The Old West
- Characters: Wise Old Pete, the other shady cowboy characters
- Problem: Wise Old Pete does all of the work necessary to lay in supplies before the winter cold; the other characters don’t help, yet expect to enjoy the warmth of Wise Old Pete’s place.
- Solution: Old Pete stays warm and toasty throughout the winter while the other shady characters have to give up their land claims and move to the city.
Units by Subject
One easy way to find material for stories.
Another, of course, is to read!
14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student: The Short Story
Lots of help (for all ages).