1. Read with the young writer and pick a character, a scene or a setting from what you are reading – something they would like to write about – and get them to write it.
2. Look at this blog post by Susan Stephenson, which has various ideas on how to get a story started http://writingclassesforkids.com/writing-prompts-to-get-your-story-started-by-susan-stephenson/
3. Brainstorm with your young writer. I used to do this with my kids. We’d pick a word for instance, chocolate, and I’d make up a story about chocolate and they’d either continue with my story or they’d think up an idea of your own. To encourage them I’d ask questions like “What if… this happened?” and “What happens next?” and “How did that happen? Why did that happen? Who did that happen to?”
4. If the idea of a whole story is overwhelming, take it in stages:
- Decide who the character is
- Decide what the character’s story problem is
- Decide how the character plans to solve it
- Decide what obstacles will get in the way.
5. Encourage the writer to create a story based on a favourite character from a book, movie or tv program – encourage him or her to try to imagine what it would be like to be that character.
6. Don’t put limitations on the length of the story. If the child wants to write a 30 word story, that’s okay. If they want to write 300 or 3,000 words, that’s okay The only word count limitations they should have to follow are if they are submitting for a competition or publication and a word limit is specified in the guidelines.
7. Always use encouraging language and don’t push the writer to do more than they are comfortable with. If you have constructive suggestions on how they can improve their story, always focus on the good things about it first, and be encouraging with your suggestions. Always use positive language.
8. Don’t take over. If the story isn’t the way you would have written it, don’t interfere. The child needs to follow their own creative direction. You will stifle their creativity, dampen their enthusiasm and wreck their confidence if you try to take over their story.
9. If the writer isn’t great at spelling, don’t let this be a deterrent. They can still be a good writer, they just need an editor to help them. Getting the child to dictate the story to you or to type it themselves, will encourage their storytelling and develop their confidence and stop them from worrying so much about the spelling. This is definitely an area you want to help them improve, but try and keep it separate from their story writing. Jackie French was the Australia National Children’s Laureate for 2014 and 2015. She’s the author of over 100 wonderful books, and she also has dyslexia. She is living proof that one of the most important qualities you need to be a writer is to be a storyteller.
10. Endings are hard and many young writers don’t complete their stories before moving on to the next one – this is perfectly normal. Have realistic expectations. Writing endings is one of the hardest parts of creating a story. It’s something that writers often find difficult into their teens and even adulthood. Particularly when writers are young, they are exploring where the story is going rather than planning it so it might not have an ending – and it doesn’t matter. I started writing novels when I was about nine. There were boxes full of my half finished stories at my parents’ house. They were experiments – me learning to be a writer. Allow your young writer to explore their creativity without pressure. There is no right or wrong way to be a writer.
If you have keen writers in your house or at your school, look for ways to help them get published – through school blogs or newsletters, or holding a writing competition at school. Find out more about hosting a writing competition here. If your school wants to run a writing competition, I’m happy to donate prizes.
I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any additional tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.