How To Tell A Story: The Topsy-Turvy Method

I mentioned this method on Friday when I told you about the wonderful little book, My Lucky Day, by Keiko Kasza.  Today we’re going to bring it to life and hopefully I can convince you to try it on some unsuspecting kid in your life.

This isn’t going to be as structured as the boringly-named “Four Step Method.”  In fact, it isn’t structured at all, so if it doesn’t work for you, go back to that one for now.  Still, I think topsy-turvy is pretty fun for generating new and interesting ideas.  Or at least new and silly ideas.  Which is even better if you’re a kid.

So here’s how it works:  You pick something ordinary, anything from your day or from nature or from well-known fairy tales or from old college textbooks.  Anything.  Then you turn it upside down.  Follow the upside down trail and see where it goes.  That’s it.


  • You eat your food and drink your water at lunch time = you drink your food and eat your water
  • You brush your teeth = Your teeth brush you
  • The early bird gets the worm = The early worm gets the bird
  • The waterfall cascades over the cliff = the water leaps up the cliff
  • Cinderella can’t wait to escape her step-mother and marry the prince = Cinderella wants to stay with her step-mother but the prince kidnaps her

These can go in all directions.  You can tell the story of why:  Why would you need to drink your food and eat your water?  Why would the water be going up instead of down?  Or you can tell the story of how:  How exactly does a worm get a bird?  Or you can tell the story of what happens next: How does Cinderella escape the prince and get back to her lovely step-mother?

Or you can just tell what happens with no explanation at all.  Let’s take the teeth brushing example:

Once upon a time there was a family of teeth.  There was Mommy Tooth, Daddy Tooth, four very old Wisdom Teeth, and twenty four brother and sister teeth.  The littlest tooth was only four years old when Mommy Tooth said, “You’re big enough now that it’s time you started brushing your person.”  “Aw, Mom,” said Littlest Tooth.  “I don’t want to brush my person.”  “Hush,” said Mommy Tooth.  “If you don’t brush your person, your person will be dirty and will smell bad and maybe will even fall apart, and then where will you be?”  So the Littlest Tooth brushed her person, just as she was told, but she grumbled because it seemed like a waste of time and she would so much rather be chomping.  After many days of brushing her person like a good little tooth, Littlest Tooth noticed that Mommy wasn’t really paying much attention any more.  She decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip brushing for just one day, so she went off biting with her sisters instead.  The next day, she thought that skipping two days wouldn’t cause much damage, so she decided to chomp with her brothers.  So it went on for many days until one day, Littlest Tooth noticed that her person was looking extremely dirty.  Her mother noticed, too.  “You haven’t been brushing your person, Littlest Tooth,” her mother scolded.  “Now we will have to take your person into a special person doctor to get it repaired.”  Littlest Tooth was afraid of the person doctor, but there was nothing else to be done.  Into the person doctor they went.  The person doctor shook his head and said, “You haven’t been brushing your person, have you?”  Littlest Tooth felt ashamed.  “I will do my best to repair the damage,” said the person doctor, “but you really must do a better job from now on.”  “I will,” said Littlest Tooth.  So all day long, Littlest Tooth had to sit at the person doctor while he worked on cleaning up her person.  It was very boring.  She wished she were biting.  She wished she were chomping.  But she couldn’t do any of those things without her person.  When that long, long day was over, Littlest Tooth went home with her shining clean person and gave it a good brushing, just to be safe.  And she never forgot to brush her person again.

Is this story ridiculous?  Yep.  Is it super weird?  You bet.  Does it have a plot?  Not really.  Does it at all explain how a tooth could brush a person?  Not a bit.  Would my five-year-old like it? She sure would.  And I’m guessing that she would have some mental image of a tooth brushing a person that would be way more interesting than anything I could come up with.

That’s all there is to it.  Next time you need a story and are stumped for an idea, turn something ordinary around.  What do you think?  Are you up for it?

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