It was a dark and stormy night…
One of the things I particularly love about storytelling as an activity is that it needs absolutely nothing. It’s one of the very most basic human skills we have. You don’t need paper. You don’t need power. You don’t even need to use your eyes or hands (although they can help).
Just a couple days ago we were driving around and my gal Friday suddenly became so bored. And we didn’t have any toys in easy reach. Her tablet was dead. The world was ending.
So I asked her to tell me a story. It was about Pokemon battling, of course. And she was no longer bored. She asked her dad for a story. Then she told another one. Then she asked me to tell one.
C is for Campfire Stories
Grab a flashlight and turn out the lights for an exercise in improv. Here’s a few prompts to get you started:
- You get lost in the woods
- You can hear a voice no one else hears
- You meet a person who disappeared a hundred years ago
- Every morning when you wake up, your dolls are turned around backwards
- You meet a person who can’t remember anything about who they are
For more scary writing prompts, check out Scholastic’s list to encourage their readers to take a go at writing spoop!
Of course campfire stories are known for being spooky, but there’s no reason they have to be! Especially if you have a kid who is sensitive to scary stories and doesn’t have fun with it. The whole point is to have fun! So pull out the wand and cast your best riddikulus on the prompts above.
Even more fun
On the other hand, if your kid is all about the macabre – and has fun making up stories – look into the card game Gloom.
It’s a game my parents bought me one year, because they knew I was into tabletop games and liked scary stuff. They didn’t know a ton about it and I’d never heard of it, but it was a definite win!
Gameplay is very easy. Each person gets some cards representing their family, then you proceed to make good things happen to your family, and gloomy things happen to everyone else, by playing cards from your hand on the family members. The one cool thing about the game mechanics is that the cards are see-through, so each new card invalidates the previous cards, but only partially.
However, the really fun and unique part of the game is the improv storytelling aspect. You can technically get through the game just playing the cards, and reading the short description of what has happened to the player – things like they “fell down a well” or were “spoiled by spooks.” But you can also explain that, being a necromancer, Professor Helena Slogar is adored by all the dead and undead, so they threw her a surprise party with all her loved ones and kept her drink full all night long. Each card is a prompt for the next event, and you play cards based on what has most recently happened to the person to keep the story straight, filling in the gaps where needed. So Helena, at a party in her honor, probably doesn’t get Masticated by Mastiffs. Unless, being deep in her cups she wanders off alone and stumbles upon a pack of wild hounds…
If you want your own copy of Gloom, and use the link above, then I’ll get a commission at no cost to you. Win! Apparently they also have a standalone Fairytale version that’s more kid-appropriate.
Despite the fact that storytelling needs no props, a game like Gloom is cool in that it gives you guidance as far as where your story can go, but you get to make up all the details. If you seriously struggle with improvisation like I do, that can make all the difference.
We played it tonight for the first time with my gal Friday. I was a tiny bit worried that it was going to creep her out, but she was all about killing off all the characters. It’s that age I guess.
Because she can’t read yet, we played a heavily modified version.
- Play collaboratively, since you’ll be reading the words anyway
- Only play with one family
- Remove the cards with red words
- We also took out the Untimely Death cards so we could control when and how people die, but it’s not necessary
Gameplay in our version is very straightforward. Draw the top card and play it on the family member of your choice, explaining the horrors befalling them. We each took turns drawing a card. I read MGF’s card to her and then she told me what happened to the person.
In the future I might even narrow it down to a single family member at once. The stories won’t be as elaborate, but she had a bit of a tough time remembering what each person had been up to.
If your kids are having too much fun for short stories, try out these short chapter books for kids (more affiliate links):
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A young girl finds a doll that looks just like her but with button eyes, then ends up traveling through a portal to an alternate dimension
- Bunnicula by Deborah Howe
- The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine
I haven’t read them in years, but ten year old me can vouch for them (though I was personally more of a Fear Street kid)
- Ghost Hotel by Larry Weinberg
A time-travel-alternate-historical-fantasy (like Outlander, actually) about a girl who meets some ghosts who think she’s their missing daughter, and gets thrown back in time. It’s not actually a ghost story, but it has some very creepy elements. Get your hands on a copy if you can!