Sunday, January 31, 2010

Creative Writing for Kids: Easy Classroom Tips for Teachers

Creative writing for kids is one of the most challenging and fulfilling aspects of the classroom. Many teachers who are not writers may struggle to explain the nuts and bolts of writing in relation to the imaginative and creative process involved in making a story. Children may also not grasp the solid hard work involved in creating the structure and plot of a good story. Here are some easy classroom tips to make the creative writing process both successful and fun.

Writing can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of your life. There are many reasons a person decides to write: to share their life’s experiences, to tell a good story, to express the feelings and situations of others … the list is endless. Some people even write just for fun. I wrote my book The Secret of the Sacred Scarab because I visited Egypt with my two nephews and wanted to write a short story to help them remember a special time. To my surprise, the short story turned into a book, and then a book series. So, you never know what’s going to happen once you begin!

Any good story is composed of a really gripping plot and realistic, believable characters.

How To Choose a Great Story Topic: You may think, “But what can I write about?” Write about what you know best, or what excites you, or what you enjoy. You’ll find that when you are really keen on something—it can be an activity, a place, an event, or a person (real or imaginary)—it becomes easier to write. Do you love reading about faraway exciting places? Then research a place you find interesting and set your story there. Do you enjoy mysteries? Think about something that’ll keep people guessing. Are you good at a skill or a sport? Set your story around a character with those abilities.

Plot Comes First: Everyone has their own ideas but I believe the plot should come first. What’s the point of great characters if they sit around and don’t achieve very much. So, step one, write your plot down in a few words (that’s all you need). “My story is about … who manages to … and goes on to ….” Example from my book: two cousins go to Egypt with their aunt Isabel and their Gran and are given an ancient scarab that plunges them into a whirlpool of exciting events. I have my two main characters, two secondary characters, a great location (open to all kinds of amazing events), an important object, and … well, the amazing events are up to my imagination.

How to Construct your Storyline: Structure is very important otherwise you’ll end up writing away like crazy but forget some vital detail here and there, and your story will fall to pieces. Sit down and draw your storyline—remember, you have already written it down in a few words. You may not stick to it exactly, but it’s important to map out where the story is going. You don’t want to give away the plot too soon, or tell the reader everything all at once.
So begin with a simple 3-point system: the Beginning (your hero appears—what is he doing? What does he want to achieve?); the Middle (something will happen to him and he has to …? ); the Ending (your hero resolves the situation). From those three vital points you will fill in your other plot points—how did… why did… what happens next…

Make Your Characters as Interesting as Possible: Tip: take them from real life examples. You could write about someone like yourself, or else model the characters on friends at school, teachers, or other people you know. The dialogue between your characters is also important because that’s one place to develop the plot line. Their interaction will reveal the chain of events as the characters work out various situations. Don’t forget to break your dialogue with various activities so that readers don’t get bogged down in lots of talking but no action.

Make Your Information to the Reader as Interesting as Possible: You can do this by weaving it into the story. Don’t say that it’s cold. Get your character to shiver because he left his jacket at home. You can set the scene around your characters by using adjectives and adverbs to enhance your descriptions and actions but don’t overdo it. The reader is also going to use his or her imagination, so don’t overload your writing with too many descriptions. At the same time, your reader is not in your head so you have to help the reader along by using your five senses to engage theirs: sight, sounds, touch, taste, smell. Is your hero in a hot, exotic climate? He (or she) will be sweating, the sounds will be different, the taste of the food unusual etc. Is your heroine (or hero) in a strange place – what is she experiencing? e.g. confusion, anxiety, excitement, or curiosity? Is she hungry or thirsty? You will create the environment for your readers so they appreciate exactly what the hero is experiencing.

The Hard Part: If you love what you’re writing about, and you trust your imagination, then writing will be as fun and exciting as you can imagine. However, two important elements must never be forgotten: research and grammar.

Research will be necessary whether your story is set in the real world, or if it’s an imaginary, fantasy, or sci-fi land. Make notes before and during your writing process. Your heroes are likely to be around your own ages, so think about how they are going to get places and achieve things. If they are travelling, are they alone (not likely) and will they need assistance (possibly)? If they are in a foreign country then make sure your facts are accurate. How did they get there, who are they with, and how are they going to accomplish their task/challenge? If it’s a fantasy setting, then make sure you don’t lose track of your characters and the various places and items found in your fantasy world. Make your own research notes relevant to your fantasy land.

Grammar and Spelling are very important otherwise your readers will never get through the first few pages. They’ll get bogged down in bad grammar and terrible spelling, so make sure you use your spelling and grammar check on your computer (if you’re using one) and your dictionary and style guide (if you’re writing by hand). In any case, you’ll have to check everything yourself because sometimes computers will accept a word that is spelled right, but is actually the wrong word for the sentence or context.

A final piece of advice: writing should be fun and exciting. Just enjoy yourself and let your imagination take you to places you only ever dreamed of…
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