How to get kids to love writing stories
The best way to show kids how much fun it is to create a story is to do it as a group, together, making the story as outrageous and funny as you can (see above). Teachers and parents often accidentally convince kids that their stories must be meaningful or beautiful. Beautiful meaningful stories are good things to have. But most people like to read — and write — fun ones.
Kids need to be given the freedom to write the kind of stories they like to read. But just like someone who loves a hunk of watermelon may like a gourmet meal too, kids who start writing ‘silly’ stories may find theygrow to love writing the deep and meaningfuls, too. And a book can be deep, meaningful and also fun.
A list of Do's and Don’ts
If you find yourself saying ‘I don’t think that is a nice thing to write about. Why not ...?’ stop at once. Instead accept their idea, but subtly, carefully, encourage them to focus on their other ideas so the one you are uncomfortable with slips away. But do think about why you don’t like the idea before you do this. Sometimes we have a double standard and expect books and stories written by kids to be ‘nicer’ than the things we let them watch on TV.
Don’t use stories as a spelling test
If someone stopped me every time I made a spelling mistake I’d never have finished writing a page. (But you can sneakily make a note of what they can’t spell to work on later. Just don’t tell them where you found the words.)
Don’t make kids finish the storiesthey are writing for funYou will just make them hurry the story along. If they want to write professionally, they will discover very quickly that a story must be finished. Till then, let them experiment. Kids’ writing styles evolve so fast that making them keep writing one story may prevent them from leaping to the next level of creativity with a new idea.
Don’t set a word length
Most ideas for stories are for novels or movie scripts. They need at least seventy thousand words, not five hundred. Again, a target such as this encourages kids to hurry their story along. And once again, they are accidentally being taught a lousy writing style. One day, when they have time, they may finish a book — if they want to. If they wanted to be a builder you wouldn’t expect them to build a whole house at their age — just experiment with building other things. So don’t expect them to write a whole book either. Ask them to write the final scene of their story
This makes kids think about their story: you can’t write the final bit without working out where it begins, who the characters are and much else. And the final scene of a book often makes an excellent short story.
a short story is one of the mostdifficult genres to write wellAnd we expect kids to do it! Instead, ask for a beginning scene, a final scene, and a ‘vignette’: a dramatic or moving scene somewhere else in their story. That’s it. Finish.
Let them range! Let your children write about what they want to write about — this is fun, not a way to turn them into a junior Shakespeare. And if they do turn into a junior Shakespeare they are best left to experiment and find their own voice.
Don’t worry if it’s a lousy story!
Of course it will be lousy — they are just beginners! But also the more ambitious a young writer is, the more experiments they’ll try. Kids who write ‘nice’ stories — a bit like their latest favourite book and with butterflies in the margin — are possibly just trying to please their loving parents, not writing from the heart. Give them the freedom to make a mess of it!
This is often done by teachers or parents to make the story better. Sometimes it makes the story worse, adding ‘overwriting’ and distorting what was a clear simple story. But mostly, when a kid, or an adult, writes a story it is theirs. You can suggest how they can change it. But remember it is their property, not yours. And yes, you can probably make it better. But that won’t teach them how to write a better story. It will just dampen their confidence; it will make them feel that there is a right and wrong way to write a story (There isn’t. Every great writer breaks ‘rules’ of writing.) It will teach them that writing is work, not fun. Actually writing is work. But in the words of Terry Pratchett, it is also the most fun you can have by yourself.
Provide paper or a word processor
Sounds obvious, but how many houses have writing materials on hand? And when a kid wants to write they want to do it now! Leave piles of scrap paper where they can be found easily and used whenever the child wants to.
No, they are not Margaret Atwood or Tim Winton — yet. There will nevertheless be something there that you can pinpoint as commendable. So praise that and them and their hard work. Make the praise really concrete and particular — not a general, ‘That’s great!’ Find some element or passage in the writing that you can single out and comment on so that they know you have really bothered to read and notice what they’ve written. Too often children are fobbed off with platitudes and broad statements when what they really want is to know that they are worthy of your undivided attention and focus.
If they are really into writing, borrow books on writing stories from the library like "How the Aliens from Alpha Centauri Invaded My Maths Class and Turned Me into a Writer and How You Can Be One Too," a book written to encourage kids to write. But reassure them that every writer has his or her own ways of making up a story. I outline my stories and think about them for ages before I start the actual process of writing, that is, putting words on paper (or, rather, on screen!). But other authors find that boring — they’d rather just write and not know what happens next until they have written it! In other words, give kids help and support — but leave them free to do it their own way too — or to find out which way works for them.
Give kids a great range of books to read and sample
This will help them to absorb the techniques other writers have used to say the things they want to express.
Don’t try to get the work published.
Kids can write brilliant stuff — but it’s usually only ninety-eight per cent brilliant. And that uncertain, amateurish two per cent will almost certainly make publishers reject the book and disappoint your child.
A kid who wants to be a doctor doesn’t expect to start practising at fourteen — and it’s a really bad idea to let him think he might be a professional writer at fourteen too. (The mother of Nobel Prize winner Patrick White paid for his early poems to be published, and in later years Patrick White did his best to get hold of every copy still extant so that he could destroy them. The stuff you write at fourteen, even if you are brilliant, may be extremely embarrassing ten or twenty years on.)
On the other hand, a kid’s story can be a great gift for aunts, uncles and doting grandparents — and a great memory to hand on to their own kids in twenty years or so too. There are computer programs that will let you produce a reasonably professional-looking book. Or ask for the advice of one of the companies that specialise in self-published books. Contact the Writers’ Centre in your nearest capital city for a list.
On no account pay for your child’s book to be self- published then pretend that a publishing house has published it and that they are a ‘real writer’. Of course they are a real writer — but a novice, unpublished one. Paying for your child’s book to be published then calling a media conference about your genius offspring is a good way to destroy her confidence, because as the years go by — and you can no longer buy them a brilliant HSC result, university experience or career — they are going to feel that their life is heading downwards, not up into the heights of genius you said they had.
Ask yourself why you want him to be published. Because it makes you feel great you have a brilliant child? Be patient. A brilliant child will grow into a brilliant adult — if he is not pushed so hard and high he comes crashing down. But if the book is printed for the family he will see how it’s treasured not just because it’s great, but because he is himself loved. Which is worth a million small grabs in the local paper about a ten-year-old ‘published author’.