Launching Paper Boats | The Art of Creating Your Own Bedtime Stories


Creating bedtime stories for your kids can be easier than it sounds when you implement basic story elements into your family culture.


Stories shape us more than we will ever know. We may not remember specific stories that were told to us as children, but like wet clay, we are molded by the stories that fill our lives.


N.D. Wilson reinforced this idea for me when I read his book, Death by Living. Wilson compares stories to the food we eat growing up. We don't remember every meal that our parents fed us throughout our childhood, but nevertheless, the food nourished our physical growth. Just like food gives us the physical nourishment that we need to grow, story gives us the narrative nourishment our souls need.


After reading the chapter on story in Death by Living, I was left with a vivid picture of what it looks like to pour stories into our kids each night before they drift to sleep.


Wilson writes,

Every night, I feel like I'm launching paper boats into an ocean. I point these children as best I can. I flavor their minds with subjects and characters and songs and dances and blessings. And when they are warm and spilling over with joy, I let go, and I wait for the morning to hear of their adventures.

There are so many great stories you can share with your kids (check out the book lists if you need a place to start)! Pick up a book and get started. It's easy to come up with excuses on why we don't have time to do it, but we all know that childhood goes by too fast. Push the excuses aside and start small. Over time, the bedtime routine you create with your kids will become the best part of your evenings.


So how do I create my own bedtime stories?


As you begin to interact with more stories, you will start to notice that the story structure tends to be very similar in every book you read or movie you watch. The story structure in Star Wars is exactly the same as Finding Nemo. These are two very different movies that are actually quite similar when you look at their most basic elements. I had the opportunity to learn about story structure from former Pixar storyboard artist, Matthew Luhn. Matthew travels the world teaching storytellers and businesses how to implement story elements into their context. The beauty of story structure is that it works for bedtime stories too!


If you know the structural elements of a story, you can tell engaging stories of your own at bedtime. Here are the story elements (known as the "story spine" at Pixar) you will need to tell your own:


Once there was… (Exposition)

And every day… (Exposition)

Until one day… (Inciting Incident)

And because of that… (Progressive Complications)

And because of that…

And because of that…

Until finally…(Crisis/Climax)

And since that day…(Resolution)


Here is the Story Spine for the movie Toy Story:


Once there was a toy cowboy named Woody.


And every day Woody would spend time with his human, Andy.


Until one day, a new toy enters Andy’s life that is newer than Woody.


And because of that Woody gets jealous and pushes Buzz out the window.


And because of that Andy takes Woody to Pizza Planet instead of Buzz.


And because of that Buzz and Woody get into an argument and are left behind at the gas station.


And because of that they have to figure out a way to make it to Pizza Planet.


And because of that they end up getting taken to Sid’s house.


Until finally, Woody realizes that he and Buzz have to work together to survive.


And since that day, Woody and Buzz have been best friends, as Woody lets go of

his jealousy and accepts Buzz for who he is.


All you have to do is fill in the blank! You can tell all kinds of wonderful stories to your kids using this simple strategy. What better way to make memories that will last with your children! They may not remember every story, but they will remember the time spent together. The stories will shape who they become.


So take a shot at launching paper boats into the ocean. Let the stories linger in the imaginations of your children and let the adventures begin!


Find N.D. Wilson's book at your local library or add it to your family bookshelf.

Click below to buy it on Amazon.



Find Matthew Luhn's book at your local library or add it to your family bookshelf.

Click below to buy it on Amazon.



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