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Storytelling: A Perfect Family Fun

Illustration by Randolph Caldecott

Illustration by Randolph Caldecott

The craft of storytelling: write your own story for a family gathering

Every family gathering is a great occasion for some fun. Listening fairy tales, fables, spooky stories, whatever... can be nice, but here is an even more original idea for all creative minds: let's write a story together with our kids. And because we will create it, we'll have complete control how spooky or cute it is!

I have already written a lens where you can read how to write a fairy tale from scratch and we'll use a part of this lens to make a cheat sheet for your convenience. Even better, I'll show you how to make the whole writing process easier with one simple trick which all professional writers use all the time.

You see, nobody, consciously or subconsciously, never writes from scratch. We all, intentionally or unintentionally, use other's ideas to create our own ones. To make it short: for our story writing project, we'll steal an idea!

(Image credit: Randolph Caldecott, source:, all images in this article are Public Domain)

Source:, PD licence

Source:, PD licence

How to repair a story

We'll choose an old, public domain story, which is improper for some reason, to make new, improved and more suitable one.

We'll opt for a fable, not a fairy tale because fables are so simple even adults can understand them.

Many of fairy tales and fables for children from previous centuries are not suitable for them anymore. Maybe they are sending wrong messages. Maybe they lost the touch with reality. Or maybe they are just too spooky.

So I'll take one old and famous fable and show you how I have adapted it for today's audience. I have intentionally chosen the fable almost everybody in the world is familiar with.

This way you will see how only minor changes, some brushing, and polishing, transform sn old and worn out story in something original and more appropriate.

So here it is:

Ant and Grasshopper, painting by Jean-Baptiste-Oudry

Ant and Grasshopper, painting by Jean-Baptiste-Oudry

The Ant and the Grasshopper

The Ant and the Grasshopper

We all know what happens in this story from Aesop's fables. Ant is working hard and Grasshopper is just partying. When the winter comes Ant is safe and Grasshopper is in trouble.

A perfect example of a great story with the wrong message. Well, Grasshopper should really think a bit about the future, but I (and according to numerous works by other authors many others) have a problem with the Ant.

She is just too cruel.

The original fable goes like this:

1. Heroes: Grasshopper, Ant (in some versions we have ants)

2. Setting: somewhere outside

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3. Mission: Ant is accumulating seeds, Grasshopper is having fun

4. Reward: Ant survives winter, Grasshopper dies

5. Helper: none

6. Confrontation: Grasshopper asks Ant for help, Ant denies it

7. Happy ending: only for Ant

Did you know there are many competitions in storytelling out there?

Obviously, we have a lot of possibilities to repair this story and I'll show you how I did that on two occasions.

Both are already published and copyrighted!

Source:, PD license

Source:, PD license

First alternative to this story

1. I added another character: Spider, who owns an inn. This is great for kids, who will gladly add known or unknown character to the already known cast. Don't be surprised if they suggest a Superman to rescue Hansel and Gretel from the witch's hut.

2. I expanded setting. Readers should know more about the landscape where Ant and Grasshopper (and don't forget the Spider, now we have a Spider too) live. Kids will probably enjoy in drawing and coloring the scenes from beginning. You'll have an illustrated fable in no time.

3. I didn't change the basic plot. Ant is still working and Grasshopper is still enjoying. Kids will gladly add some fun and original details.

4. I made the mission more plastic and there is more action: because Ant is non-stop working, she asks the Grasshopper if he could transport her seeds to one of her friends (this friend is unimportant because Grasshopper fails to get there). This kind of thinking is great for kids. They love the change of location and they will probably produce at least ten fun reasons to do that.

5. I gave the role of a helper to Spider. This is a negative role. Grasshopper stops at his inn, drinks a lot of honey and looses all the seeds. But you and your children can add another character or even more characters with different roles. Remember: characters should be believable and they should actively participate in the story. Their presence should make an important impact on every other character (in our case: Ant and Grasshopper).

6. In confrontation, Grasshopper admits to the Ant he made a big mistake. Kids will gladly produce a detailed dialogue.

7. We don't really have a happy ending, but they both learned their lessons. Ant will not trust to the Grasshopper and Grasshopper will try to avoid the Spider.

You can use this (or any other story) to present your kids the lesson you want and your kids are ready to accept. But if the characters are believable and their actions are logic, there is no need for adding a moral. It will come out itself!

This was one of the first tales for kids I have written (more than two decades ago!) and although it was commercially pretty successful I wasn't really satisfied with it. It was too much of a fable and not enough a fairy tale to my taste.

So last year I gave another shot to the fable about the Grasshopper and the Ant ...

Second alternative to the story - This time I will not specifically write where kids can help, because you already know that

C. H. Bennett: Ant and Grasshopper

C. H. Bennett: Ant and Grasshopper

1. I added another characters: Spider, who's role is only minor one and many other animals with even less important roles. We'll meet them later.

2. I expanded setting with a tiny twist: this time Ant comes to Grasshopper. You see, she is concerned about her neighbor. We don't know if she came to her place to offer a help or to mock her misery, but we also can't accuse her of cruelty as we can in Aesop's version.

3. As you have already noticed, I didn't change the basic plot. I definitely want people to know where the idea came from and how I used it to make something new, useful and hopefully beautiful.

4. This time Ant is on the mission. As I said, we don't know why she came to the Grasshopper, but she is the one who goes out.

5. Now the Spider enters as a helper. He, not the Grasshopper, opened Grasshopper's door. That's it. I said it is a minor role. But Ant is shocked and listeners are all ears. This is what a storyteller wants. To be listened!

6. We don't have one on one confrontation here, instead of that Ant is confronted with great discovery: Grasshopper's home is really a concert hall where she performs her music to wide audience. She is not hungry at all. She is even selling tickets for her performances!

7. Happy ending for everybody: Grasshopper is still enjoying playing her music, all other animals are enjoying listening to her music.

And if you insist on the moral: Everybody has the right to find his or her own way to happiness!

Which of the 'repaired' version you liked better?

Source:, PD license

Source:, PD license

Source:, PD license

Source:, PD license

My final word

This is it. Everybody can do it. An opportunity like a Thanksgiving or a Halloween can be a perfect occasion to take a story you already know and 'repair' it just for fun or for some higher purpose. If you choose one old enough to be in public domain and if it turns out good, you can even publish it and earn money with it.

Just like my Grasshopper.

Or me.

Earning a living can be (and it should be) fun.

And of course, you are not limited to do it only on special days and holidays. Every day is a good day for storytelling and you can do it as often as you want:)

Great resources for storytellers

For your convenience I have already made two great lists with fairy tales and fables on-line. There is enough ideas for hundreds of years. And if you want to explore many versions of well-known fairy tales, like Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and so on, you are welcome to check my other articles.

  • Fairy Tales: list of free e-books and resources
    Fairy tales are an indispensible part of kids' development. Here is the most comprehensive list of free resources available on-line. All stories are in public domain!
  • Huge list of fables and resources related to them
    Another growing project with list of thousands free fables, collections of fables from all over the world and a lot of interesting info about their authors and morals they try to promote.
  • Aesop's Fables
    Aesop's Fables is the biggest collection of fables ever. Although we have no proof if Aesop ever authored any oh 'his' stories, we can use them as an endless source of inspiration.
  • How to write a fairy tale
    Writing fairy tales is easy if you follow simple step-by-step plan. As internationally published author with numerous rewards I can tell you how to write a fairy tale, but an inspiration is up to you.
    Blog, dedicated to vintage illustrations which already entered in public domain. Very useful for exploring the history of fables and fairy tales as well.

Will you do some storytelling for next family gathering? - Will you recycle an old story to make a new, better one?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 28, 2014:

@VioletteRose LM: I bet that was a lot of fun!

VioletteRose LM on July 28, 2014:

When my mother used to tell me stories in my childhood, I used to ask her to change the situations and even the actual story in few of them :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 09, 2014:

@asereht1970: This can be very effective method and it's fun too!

asereht1970 from Philippines on July 08, 2014:

I do that all the time, recycling an old story to make it more appealing to the kids.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 28, 2014:

@Colin323: This idea is exploited for centuries. Shakespeare actually never wrote anything 'original', his works are almost entirely based on old chronicles and well known myths. It is not the idea, it is the approach which counts.

Colin323 on January 27, 2014:

Good idea to use fairy stories as a basis for writing your own. I hadn't thought of doing that, but it's an excellent idea, as these stories often contain universal truths

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 29, 2013:

@Melissa Miotke: :)

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on July 25, 2013:

I think it would be a lot of fun!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on June 21, 2013:

@KamalaEmbroidery: Great to hear that!

KamalaEmbroidery on June 20, 2013:

Well not for a family gathering, but you've inspired me to look at old fairy tales and try to write one of my own. Thanks.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 23, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Great!

WriterJanis2 on May 22, 2013:


Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on April 18, 2013:

@kathysart: :)

kathysart on April 18, 2013:

Maybe not for a family gathering but you have sure encouraged me to write a fairy tale. Whoot whoot! Great lenses.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 24, 2013:

@Felicitas: I hope I helped a bit:)

Felicitas on February 24, 2013:

You have some great ideas. Maybe I can come up with something.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 22, 2013:

@Melissa Miotke: Every day is right for storytelling:)

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on January 20, 2013:

I haven't told any stories for Halloween yet but this will inspire me to do so next year!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on December 04, 2012:

@anonymous: That is a clever trick used by many professionals:)

anonymous on December 03, 2012:

Stopping back and you've had me thinking of some of my favorite story tellers as I was growing Dad and my Uncle Ed....each time they told a story they would make little changes or additions that I would wait to hear.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 25, 2012:

@LindsayPietrolu: Great to see you too!

LindsayPietrolu on November 25, 2012:

Really great lenses :) And thanks for being active on mine! Very much appreciated!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 15, 2012:

@dlobel: Happy to hear that. Enjoy!

Debra Lobel from Oakland, CA on November 15, 2012:

I wrote a fairy tale this past Halloween with my granddaughter as the heroine (Princess Halloween). It was a lot of fun writing it. She loved it. I plan to write other ones and have them ready for next year. I will definitely use your outline.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 14, 2012:

@Chris-H LM: It's an old trick. Every professional use it all the time.

Chris-H LM on November 14, 2012:

Thanks for the great tips. I like the idea of remixing an old fable and adding your own twist.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 18, 2012:

@ATTHED LM: It is fun too!

ATTHED LM on October 17, 2012:

I had not thought about it until now, what a great idea

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 16, 2012:

@anonymous: Great to hear that!

anonymous on October 16, 2012:

I will try to write a new one.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 25, 2012:

@RhondaTrapp: Great!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 25, 2012:

@tricomanagement: Great!

RhondaTrapp on September 25, 2012:

Like it !

tricomanagement on September 24, 2012:

think that I will try

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 13, 2012:

@anonymous: Hope it helps, hope it helps...

anonymous on September 13, 2012:

Very creative work... inspiring us to tell a tale! ;))

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 08, 2012:

@anonymous: Thanks!

anonymous on September 07, 2012:

"Every day is a good day for story telling"....I like that. I was fascinated with your two different approaches...born out of just a little dissatisfaction that brought wonderment a bit higher...may we all live in peace and harmony with lessons learned along the way....happily ever after! Halloween is a great time to start so many fun and a little bit scary stories...and then just keep them coming....

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 05, 2012:

@dream1983: Thanks!

dream1983 on September 05, 2012:

Excellent lens! Thumbs up

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 04, 2012:

@Heidi Vincent: I hope it stays. Tradition constitutes a human being.

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on September 03, 2012:

Storytelling is one of the rich traditions of Caribbean culture. Unfortunately, 'Modernization' seems intent on getting rid of this important and age old tradition.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on August 31, 2012:

@ecogranny: Congratulations! Winning a purples star is always a special moment!

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on August 31, 2012:

@ecogranny: Update. Just wanted to let you know that I moved my Halloween fable over here to Squidoo and it just won a Purple Star! I'd never have thought to move it if I hadn't seen this lens, so thank you again for a wonderfully inspiring page.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on August 30, 2012:

@ecogranny: Thanks for your visit. I'll try to check your fable on Wizzley. I write there too.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on August 30, 2012:

@WriterJanis2: Thank you very much:)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on August 30, 2012:

@banapple: Thanks, storytelling can really be rewarding activity.

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on August 30, 2012:

It's way past my bedtime, but I just had to take a look at this lens because I too enjoy and write fables. In fact, I have a Halloween fable on Wizzley from last year. I wish I had time to read every word, but I'll come back and peruse it more carefully when I'm not half brain dead! Thank you for sharing your expertise.

WriterJanis2 on August 29, 2012:

I absolutely love this idea. You can actually use your idea for any story, Blessed!

banapple on August 29, 2012:

Very creative ideas. Love story telling with the kids :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on August 29, 2012:

@BeyondRoses: Thanks:)

BeyondRoses on August 29, 2012:

Everyone loves a fairy tale, just like in a movie with a happy ending. But the ones that give me most thought seem to be fables instead of fairy tales, and lessons along with any happy ending. Yes, the ant was cruel, but hence the fable. Though the grasshopper selling tickets is a cute touch for a fairy tale! Delightful storytelling!

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