Brno Family: Put Them to Sleep with a (Perfect) Bedtime Story

“Once upon a time . . .” is the signal that a story is coming. The rest can be personalized to your own family. Title photo: Brno Region.

Humans are hard-wired to understand stories. Introduction – Rising Action – Climax — Resolution. (See: Joseph Campbell for a much deeper understanding.) Every good story uses those elements, including children’s stories.

During the quarantine to slow the spread of COVID-19, many parents spent a lot of time telling bedtime stories, myself included. Here are some tips that I have developed for telling a decent bedtime story. They could be the difference between another hour of taking care of kids and an hour of quiet time for the parents.

These tips count down to a happy ending; hopefully you’ll get the kids to sleep well before that.

15. Introduction

It’s important to get the story going. Get the kids in bed. Turn off the lights. “Once upon a time . . .” That is the signal that a story is coming.

14. Use Brno

Put the story in a place that they know. Use Spilberk castle. Use the Brno Zoo. Use the local rivers. Consider using the Brno Dragon.

13. Introduce characters

If your kids like royalty, have a King, a Queen, a Princess and a Prince. If your kids like dinosaurs, use Daddy Brontosaurus, Mommy Brontosaurus, Sister Brontosaurus and Brother Brontosaurus. Adjust to the makeup to the size of your family.

12. Repeat the characters

Kids appreciate repetition. “The king and the queen and the prince and the princess went for a trip to the woods. . . . The king and the queen and the prince and the princess were all really hungry. When they got to river, the king had a big sandwich. The queen had a salad. The prince had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And the princess had an apple.” Repetition provides rhythm, not unlike counting sheep.

11. Keep the characters straight

Give each character an obvious personality trait to make them memorable. The Daddy Brontosaurus was really big and strong and he needed to eat a lot of food. The Boy Brontosaurus kept stepping on the Girl Brontosaurus’ dress just to make her mad.

10. Add in morals

There are easy messages that can be added. Don’t lie. Work hard. Eat all of your vegetables. No fighting. Whatever your kids are doing wrong, a personalized bedtime story might help to correct the bad habit.

9. Use voices

It’s not easy, but it’s worth a try. Give the male character a deep voice and the female character a high-pitched falsetto. Animals should talk different than humans. Add an accent. Remember: Your kids are your audience. Don’t sweat the authenticity.

8. Add a pet

Throw in a dog or a cat. Give them magical powers or the ability to talk — or don’t. If your own pet saves the day, then you might get bonus points.

7. Foreshadowing

If you introduce a cake in Act 1, you had better have someone eating it at the end. Put a suggestion into the minds of your audience so that it will make sense when it comes up later in the story.

6. Don’t let Your Story Drag

You don’t want to have a boring part in the middle. Keep the action moving. Don’t let the audience get bored (unless, of course, your audience falls asleep. Success!).

5. Try Humor

What made the kids laugh earlier in the day when they were playing with each other? Package that up and get it into the story. It’s tough, but it could be the perfect touch.

4. Fart noises

Kids, like it or not, react to topics that are not necessarily nice and polite for mom and dad and grandma. Acknowledge this forbidden fruit. If you have a story about a brontosaurus who eats a lot of roughage — then it would make sense to have quick mouth-in-the-elbow sound affect. A well-timed dinosaur fart will make your kids beg for another story the following night.

3. Change up your Voice

Increase the volume a bit for exciting parts and whisper the dramatic and emotional parts. As you get close to the end, speed up the storytelling to add tension.

2. Climax

Movies and books build and build and build to a high point where the pressure is too much and — pop! Make sure to have a satisfying point to bring the story to a conclusion. It’s what everyone naturally expects.

1. Happy ending

No kid wants to go to sleep on a downer. Let them doze off with a smile and a positive message about humanity.

Note: It’s not too late to enter the fourth annual Brno Short Story Writing Contest. If you have a case of writer’s block, add a dinosaur fart. The deadline to enter is next Sunday at midnight. Click here for more information.

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