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I babysit a lot, which means I get to meet a lot of kids. Since I love stories, one thing that generally comes out sooner or later is me telling them a story, either to be acted out as we go or to be listened to in bed. Stories are good because they’re still engaged but they’re sitting down and I won’t have to chase them. And because there are stories involved, there are at least a few lessons to be learned.

The value of the details. Omission, addition, which characters get featured, where the twists and turns may go, all depends on the moods of my charges. Older children want more control of the story, so they can develop their own skills, with a taste to crazy twists. Younger ones like simple stories with a more limited cast of characters. I’ve told the same story to three different children and had it turn out three different ways because I altered it to fit their tastes (or rather listened to their questions and occasional commands to change the story).

The value of the strange choices. Talking firetruck, no problem. Ten year old superstar, of course. The floor is lava? Classic. Stories need something a little out of the ordinary, or else we would just be reading a book about reality and reality is not the most fun thing ever.

The value of brevity. Attention spans are short and the clock is ticking until bedtime or mom’s return, which means that the story has to get to its conclusion sooner or later. Or, if I’m planning on stretching this story out, finding a good place to wrap up so they can go away satisfied while still wanting to know what happens next. (On that note, sequels are hard. Even writing chapters that lead one to the other is hard.)

Kids know their stories. I’m going to start taking notes.