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Children's Writing - Should I Correct My Child's Spelling?

Mar 1, 2008
Should I correct my child's spelling? That's one of the most common questions I get asked.

My answer: No.

Well this is going to be the shortest column in the world!

Perhaps I should explain. When a story is created, there are a huge number of things a writer has to do. Here are just a few:

The Plot

* Create the main character - you have to make them brave, strong and clever, but they need a couple of faults too.
* Create the villain - they have to be just as strong as the hero or heroine. Otherwise the good guys win too easily.
* Create the secondary characters - the faithful sidekick, the weird best friend, the teacher who cracks great jokes...
* Decide on the Main Problem - this is not something simple like failing a test. It has to be major. Failing a final exam which means you didn't get into the sports team which means your chance of being a star footballer is utterly ruined.
* Brainstorm an interesting setting - where should it all happen? A beach, a boat, a beaten up old house?

Still with me? But wait, that's only the plotting done. Now the writer has to start selecting...

The Writing Techniques

* How can I make the fight between the two kids convincing? I know - I'll use dialogue and have them shouting at each other across the playground.
* How can I make that scene of the ski race really tense? Hmmm, maybe if I have the clock counting down the seconds of the time he has to beat.
* The start seems a bit boring, should I start that morning? No, maybe I should begin right when the kids start screaming for help.

Exhausted yet? Now what about the style the author selects to write in?

Language and Style

* Should I use long flowing sentences?
* In the tension scenes maybe short sentences would be better.
* Maybe the narrator could have an ironic sense of humor. e.g. 'I never said I was a good swimmer... I just never told Tony I was totally terrified of water...'
* The villain should speak in short sentences - with lots of slang.

It's only when an author has figured out all this, that they actually start drafting in earnest. Then they keep working on all this through Draft 1, 2, 3, 4... even up to draft 20. (Though obviously for reasons of sanity, you would not recommend this to your kids!)

In publishing fields, all this creating and fixing above is called Structural Editing. When you hand the book in, the editor will first look at all this big picture stuff. They may tell you 'It's great, love the characters, the style is really lively.' Then they will make suggestions to improve it. 'Chapter three is a bit slow and tedious, can you fix it?' As an author it is your job to figure out why and how to make it work.

However, after all the Structural Edit is done, the manuscript then moves down the scale to what we call the Line Edit. This is often a different editor - one with a fine eye for detail. Their job is to do the:

Fine Detail (i.e. Nit Picking)

* Check for continuity (for instance in one of my books Shadow Seeker the main character Tess had a mobile phone in Chapter 2 and none in Chapter 17.)
* Erase anything wordy in style. e.g. The house that Jack was building on his land = The house that Jack built.
* Put in commas, colons, and other punctuation to make things read easily.

So where does the spelling come in? After ALL this! There is no point fixing the spelling if you are going to delete a whole chapter or totally change the fight scene. It's a waste of time.

Spelling is important to get right if you are getting published - but in the face of all the other things kids have to create, it's small stuff.

Praise and Perfection

So should you fix your child's spelling? Sure. But only as a small favour. Firstly you need to give positive and powerful feedback. Your task is to praise the big picture things. For instance:

* The plotting is excellent.
* Your main character is totally convincing.
* You had great use of dialogue in the final scene.

And then, quietly, casually, you can throw in a last minute question.

'Oh, by the way, there are a couple of spelling errors here. Do you want me to fix them for you?'

(C) Jen McVeity, National Literacy Champion.
About the Author
The fun Seven Steps to Writing Success program, by successful author, Jen McVeity, is in 900+ schools. Suited to the home school curriculum & gifted children, it has rapidly increased students' writing skills and enjoyment. Visit http://www.sevenstepswriting.com for top writing tips and activities - more in the free Parent Newsletters. Click on 'Sample' tab for a free Story Starters Worksheet.
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