Child, or adult, we all have moments when we would like to step out of our seemingly mundane lives and embrace a new, different and more exciting one. Whether we imagine ourselves in another century, on a new planet or just around the corner in possession of a new identity, fantasizing about walking a fresh path can create a powerful narrative.
When telling a kid’s story that will empower a child to tap into this almost universal desire to fantasize about a parallel life, I first create a character who is very much like my little listener(s). No need to worry that the child will be put off by a fictional protagonist who is the next thing to their identical twin. To the contrary, the closer your story hero(ine) is to your little one, the more he or she fully sees herself in your tale. The only exception to this “closer is better” rule is when your fictional character will be called on to do things your real listener might conclude would be impossible, in which case I make the imaginary clone a year or two older. Thus, while a nine-year-old might be skeptical of her ability to ride a fire eating dragon, she is likely to believe that a 10-year-old could do it.
Once you have an appropriate protagonist, your next step is to drop her into a fictional world she is already excited about. To stick with dragons for a moment, if large, scaly, fire-breathing monsters excite your listener then a story about a kid pretty much like yours who finds herself alone in dragon land (or possibly with a buddy or two) is almost sure to be a hit.
But remember, fantasy lives come in all shapes and sizes and don’t need to have an over-the-top plot line like a Hollywood blockbuster or Robert Jordan novel. Thus if your serious 10- year old thinks about little but growing up to be a marine biologist, you’ll want to respect this fantasy, perhaps by parachuting him into an expedition to search for the last survivor of a possibly extinct species of giant sea turtle.