If You Hit A Nerve

When my son was little, every night before he went to sleep I would read him a story from his favorite book of Bedtime Tales. Afterwards, he would close the book and ask me to leave his room just so my husband could go in and tell him another story. A story that he would make up on the spot. It would be a story involving people my son knew and came in contact with every day, either from the supermarket or his sister’s friends from school. It would mainly be an adventure story with him as the main character or the hero. On some nights I would stand outside his door and listen. More often than not he would interrupt the story to make a suggestion or change something in it, while at other times he would laugh his heart out at the things his father told him. When he got too tired or sleepy my husband would stop, only to pick up the next day from where he had left the night before.

And I thought, as restless and hyper that my son was, the only thing that kept him entertained was the story. He was only two years old then and like Scheherazade’s tyrant husband in One Thousand and One Nights, he anxiously waited for his story. Scheherazade avoided her fate because she knew how to keep her intolerable husband in suspense- the only literary tool that had any effect upon him.

Suspense is the basis, the backbone of every story. It is what makes the reader want to know more, it is what makes the reader turn the page to find out what’s next, it is what makes the reader continue to read.

The stories that my son was interested in, like most kids his age are, were stories of action and adventure and suspense. They did not involve supernatural beings or extraordinary powers. They were about people he met in the supermarket when he went shopping with us, and who spoke with him. Or other parents we spoke to when we took his sister to school. They were people he could associate with and places he could relate to, and thus he could get excited about the things they did and said and what happened to them in these stories. Because that was his world then.

Sidney Sheldon writes:

“Basically I consider myself a storyteller. I won’t let anything get in the way of the story.
I try to write all my books so that when the reader gets to the end of the chapter, he or she must turn one more page and begin a new chapter.
What I do is to put my characters into situations that are so precarious there is no way to get out. And then I figure how to get them out.
What all of us must do is get an idea that excites us and then write the hell out of it. Write it as well as you know how. And if you hit a nerve, and it’s true, then you have a chance.”


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13 Responses to If You Hit A Nerve

  1. I love that your husband is a storyteller, too. How wonderful it must have been for him to tell stories of the people your son knew and what a precious time spent together! Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Escrituras « A Educação do meu Umbigo

  3. Great stuff. Currently trying to figure out how to drive my story forward while still keeping the reader in suspense. I thought your examples really drove the point home.

  4. This is so sweet and great insight. I haven’t tried making up stories for my son. I have made up songs though. 🙂

    • chichikir says:

      Thanks! Making up songs is such a great thing to do too. The learning process is mutual when children are involved. They’re so honest and creative and interesting to work with always!

  5. L. Palmer says:

    Sounds like your son has an incredible bedtime.
    I’ve worked far too many years at resident summer camps, and there’s nothing quite as fun as coming up with a story off the top of your head while the audience – especially children – contribute. It takes you to incredible and ridiculous paths that you would never conceive of on your own.

  6. Samir says:

    That’s one lucky kid! Does he still like stories?

  7. Reading this entry swept me back to when my two sons were children, and the nightly ‘bedtime stories’ that my husband and I would take turns reading, or constructing from imagination -accompanied with sound effects to make them more genuine and entertaining. It was an all ’round wonderful experience for each of us, and experiences that has never been forgotten, for my grown sons did the same with their own children when they were small. I’m a true believer in encouraging the imagination to verbally encompass, or express on paper whatever it conjurs in the mind, and I apply this same method in my own writing. Children, more than anyone have an endless array of wonderment to explore, whether it be in the playground, the classroom, or within the realm of their own mind. You have done your son a wonderful justice that will last throughout his entire life, and you have written a most interesting account of it.


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