How cunning parents use bedtime stories and why I write fiction

bedtime stories

I’m not a parent — no, not yet — but like everyone else, I was once a kid, so let’s dive into this with you knowing that I’m coming at it from the perspective of a child.

My mother’s stories

I used to be one of those children who always asked for books before bed. I loved it when my mom read me a story, but I also loved surprises so every now and then I would ask her to make one up. Little did I know that my sneaky — and very literary — mother used this opportunity to teach me things I hadn’t yet learned. Her short and cunning tales ran along the following plot lines:

  1. Mother tells her little girl not to do the thing. But little girl does the thing anyway. Because of that, something bad happens and she learns her lesson and promises never to disobey her mother again. (Try not to have this after they’ve actually been disobedient or else it becomes a sermon. Wait two weeks).
  2. Little boy does a random act of kindness. Later on, in a moment of great trouble, the recipient of said kindness shows up and helps little boy and so he learns that he should always be kind to everyone. (Might be good to also include an epilogue that says not all good deeds are rewarded, lest they get the wrong idea).
  3. Child always argues with his parents. One unfortunate day, parents die in a car accident and child wallows in regret saying he should have told them he loved them and he should have made sure every moment with them ended on a happy note. (Probably not best to tell this one very often. I had nightmares, I tell you. I still do. This was just cruel, Mom, but effective all the same).

And of course there are several others. But you get the idea.

The thing about stories

The thing about stories is that the sound of the words, “Once upon a time,” opens up people’s minds so that they are curious and ready to listen to what you’re about to say.

Say something in the heat of an argument and the other person is only provoked to fight back. Teach children an important lesson while punishing them and their attention is focused on their distress, not on your words. Preach to a rebellious teenager and they might as well have their headphones on in full volume. But tell a story, and you get your message across even without having to actually say it.

Why I write fiction

I used to think I decided to write fiction when at 23 I thought I wanted my work to be more enigmatic than pragmatic, but thinking about it now, that decision may have been 19 years in the making. I probably made it in the back of my head snuggled under a blanket listening to one of my mother’s stories.

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth. – Albert Camus

I want to tell you I made a mistake, but only you can tell me that I couldn’t have known any better. I want to tell you that I trusted the wrong people, but only you can tell me where you think I should have seen the truth. I want to tell you that I am a horrible person, but only you can tell me that people are not black and white.

We look through the eyes of every character we meet and therein lies empathy. We can judge them for their misjudgments, but first, we see how it feels to make those misjudgments ourselves.