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Writing Skills for Children - Better Story Starters

Mar 11, 2008
'You're too early.' This is probably not a phrase we use much with our kids. Wouldn't we love it if they started studying for exams, packing for trips and planning Christmas presents early?

However, when it comes to writing, kids often start early - and it is NOT a good idea. It probably means their writing moves too slowly and is full of padding. Here are three examples:

1) Story Starts

For some reason, people seem to want to start stories at the beginning of the day, or the start of holidays or even (for autobiographies) at the moment they were born. Yet, often this is a boring time.

TOP TIP: Start much LATER when things get interesting - not at the start of the day. Then 'backfill' who and why you are there as the action unfolds.

Before: I was really excited when I woke up because today was the first day of the school holidays and we were going to Sea World. I raced into the kitchen and gobbled down breakfast and then headed back to my room to pack. I put in three pairs of bikinis and two bottles of sun lotion. At last we all piled into the car and headed for the airport. I couldn't wait to see the dolphins and go on the Super Splash ride.

After: 'Buckle yourself in tight,' said the attendant. 'This ride goes at 120 kilometres an hour.'

I gulped and nodded. All my life I'd wanted to go to Sea World and ride the Super Splash roller coaster. Now we were here. [Note: Backfill]

My sister locked down the safety bar, raised both arms into the air and grinned at me.

'Dare you,' she said. 'We ride this thing no hands.'

2) Dialogue

Writing dialogue is another place when writers can start 'too early'. Normal conversations often begin with cliches and standard questions. This is a getting-to-know-you time, when people are looking at you, reading your body language and reacting to your tone of voice. Words and what you are actually saying take second place. How many times have you heard and said this:

'Hi, how are you?'

'Fine thanks.'

If someone actually answered the question with a list of their ills, you would think them very strange. In fact, I've even gone to a doctor and when she asked 'How are you?' I said I was 'fine.'

TOP TIP: In writing, we 'cheat' when we record conversations. We leave out all the getting-to-know-you cliches and cut to the core.

Before: 'Hi Jackie, how are you?' said Mike

'I'm really good. How are you?' said Jackie.

'Fine. What are you doing?'

'Nothing really, but I was thinking of going to the movies,' said Jackie.

'Good idea,' said Mike. 'I'd like to see a movie. Can I come too?'

After: 'Hey Mike, I was thinking of going to the movies,' said Jackie.

'Great idea,' said Mike. 'Can I come too?'

3) Skip the Travel

Ever noticed in the movies we never see the hero travel, the movie just cuts to the scene outside the hotel or the house when he/she arrives? We should try and do the same in our writing. Travelling is boring, you don't have to document it all.

TOP TIP: Don't travel - just arrive!

Before: We all piled into the bus and Michael told funny jokes all the way and Chris and Jeremy and I ate all the sweets we'd packed until we felt sick. Then we stopped at a roadside cafe and we all ordered hamburgers but the chips were cold and everyone complained. We drove for nearly three hours and we were all really tired when at last we arrived at the ski fields.

After: The snow lay thick and soft on the slopes. Three hours of travelling and I thought I was tired. Yet the minute I felt the crunch of snow under my boots, I could hardly wait to get moving.

If we detailed every single thing in our lives, from the time we opened our eyelids, yawned, turned over in bed, mumbled, yawned again... it would probably take a whole book just to cover a few days. Good writing focuses only on the highlights (and low times), of lives, not the boring and ordinary. Show your children this and see their writing skills - and their confidence - forge ahead.

(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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