Helping kids create a story
step by step
Step 1. The thinking
Thinking is the most important part of writing a story. A badly written story with fascinating ideas will be fun to read. But even the best writing in the world can’t make boring ideas into a good book.
The first idea for a story that kids come up with is usually based on a book they’ve read (or listened to) or movie that they’ve seen — pretty much a cliché. But the more they think about their story the more original their idea becomes. And the better it gets, the easier and faster it is to write.
When kids are first learning to write stories it often helps to do so in a group — the whole class works on it together the first time, then maybe a group of friends continue to thrash it all out.
Ask kids the answers to these questions. (They don’t need to write them down. Once they know the answers the story builds up in their minds.)
Where is the most fascinating spot in the universe to put a story? The place you’d LOVE to be now? A beach? A volcano?
Is it nearby? Is it another country? Is it another planet?
What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like?
Think of three absolutely fascinating things to put in your story.
Who are the main characters? Think of their names.
Are they male or female? What species — humans, animals, aliens, mermaids, vampires, zombies?
How old are they? Babies, kids, teenagers, twenties, thirties, or extremely elderly?
What do they look like?
What do they spend most of their time doing?
And — most importantly — what do they want more than anything else in the world? Will they have it by the end of the story?
How does this story end?
And ... what else needs to go in this book to get to the end? N.B. Kids don’t have to stick to the outline they create when they first think of the story. It’s not a recipe. It’s just a way to get them thinking by responding to a series of questions. The more they think the better and easier it’s going to be to actually write it. Of course the story will change as they write it, or get other good ideas. Here’s an example of thinking out a story. Phase A. Where would the best story you have ever read be set? I’d set mine in a world with intelligent wombats who served scones and jam and cream down wombat holes. But you might prefer a story set on a spaceship, or a zombie world where everyone lives in giant zombie chickens. The wombat holes are as big as a town hall; the soil is bright purple, pink or green, and all the furniture is made of baked mud. Purple soil smells of chocolate. Pink soil smells like watermelon. And green soil smells like dog doo.
Phase B. Who are the main characters? I’d have the world’s most handsome wombat, Fuzztop. And a vampire chicken called Gloria. Who would your main characters be?
Phase C. Three things you really love and want to see in a book: macadamia ice cream, lots of cold watermelon and zombie spaghetti, a terrifying treasure hidden deep under the earth, a battle between the furry forces of good (the wombats) and the Slime Worms of the Dreadful Depths Below.
Phase D. How the story ends: Gloria learns how to vampirise a carrot. Fuzztop invents The Way of the Carrot — a new form of martial arts using vegetables. The Slime Worms turn out to be allergic to carrots, which is good as The Way of the Carrot may be delicious but it’s not much good for smiting non- allergic Slime Worms. The world is saved, apart from the carrots, as now Gloria is eating them too. And the treasure turns out to be ... So try it for yourself. Where is the story set? Who are the main characters? Three things you’d love to see in a book (or more —
a good book needs a hundred great ideas, not just three). How does the story end?
Step 2. Write the most exciting or interesting bit
But, and here’s the catch, don’t stop writing till you’ve finished it. Doesn’t matter if it’s messy or not as good as it could be. Just write! (This is to astonish reluctant writers ... they will be stunned and delighted at how much they have written, and how good it is if they’ve had fun thinking up a great story first.)
Step 3. Write the ending
Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation.
Step 4. Now write some more bits
Step 5. Put the bits together
Add any other bits that are needed ... rewrite boring bits ...
(But be aware that Step 5 may not happen for years. Most of the stories kids come up with are for long novels or a TV series — not a short story, but they only have time to write a short story. Pushing them to ‘finish’ the book will only make them hurry the story along. It teaches them bad writing. Best to make sure they finish writing the ending and leave the ‘complete’ stories till they are older and have a spare year or two.)
P.S. Few adult writers can write a good short story. It’s harder — not easier — to stun the reader with a few words instead of lots. The short story is the hardest thing you can get kids to write. A fragment of a long story is infinitely easier.