Help Children Write Stories

My cousin wants to write a story.

My 10-year-old cousin Ken visited today and told me the most hart-meltingly awesome words ever. He said:

“I want to write books like you someday.”

And I about melted.

Right up until he followed with, “You still haven’t published a book? How  many have you written?”

Adjust shoulders, tilt chin in defiance and mumble self consciously, “five-ish…”

Welp. Aside from a case of debilitating judgment suffered from a ten-year-old, I was uber flattered. Then he asked me a slightly more complicated question:

“Can you help me write a story?”

Immediately, my brain went into panic mode. How can I, a simple unpublished 5-book-fiend still not published after all this time help my cousin understand the complicated intoxicating methods of writing a story?

Easy answer: I can’t.

Instead, I told him about the first story I wrote when I was his age: Boy needs firewood. Boy enters jungle, leaving his neon jacket at the treeline. Seeks firewood. Finds tiger. Runs very fast. Jacket ex machina, finds his way home. The grandmother does not comment on the lack of firewood.

Basically, things happen and drama ensues. Stories at there heart are about a person doing a thing for a reason and something is stopping them. Whether that’s trekking across foreign lands to destroy a ring and protect the world from a tyrranous ruler or going into the tiger-y jungle to get firewood to keep the house warm… stories are all the same at their core. The execution varies a little, of course.

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I asked him a series of questions:

  • What kind of world do you want? Our world, a different planet like sci-fi, fantasy world? Fantasy world!
  • Do you want to write about a boy or a girl? Boy.
  • How old? Your age, younger, older, adult? teenager! 16.
  • What kind of other creatures are in the fantasy world? Griffins. There’s a griffin.
  • Is he friends with the griffin? Is it his pet? It’s his arch enemy!
  • What does he want from the griffin? He steals something from the griffin.
  • What does he steal? A scythe-axe called The Claw that is for world domination!
  • Why does he steal it? He wants to destroy it.
  • Is there any magic in this world? Yeah, the boy has a magic power. He can control a Pegasus. And the pegasus and the griffin fight.
  • There you go, Ken! Awesome! Write away!

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As he began writing, he started asking me questions.

  • What should my character’s name be? Do you want a name like yours or mine, or a made-up fantasy name? Made up! What’s your favorite letter? I never really thought about it… C! Okay, pick another consonant. B! Oh, how about Colfer? PERFECT!
  • Where should I start the story? Start with Colfer. Where is he? What’s he doing?

He’s in a tower. The griffin’s tower. He’s after The Claw, and he’s going to steal it, but he accidentally sets off the invisible laser alarms, and then he has to fight of some guards, and then he writes on his hand with a pencil and a magic sword appears, and he beats the guards, and then the Pegasus comes and saves him.

Dude. That’s it! There’s your story. Let’s write it.

  • Can I write on the other side of the margin? Sure thing! Use as much paper as you want.
  • When do I start a new paragraph? Whenever you start dialogue or when the action starts. I’ll help you out.
  • How do you spell griffin/ax/circumstance? I AM YOUR HUMAN DICTIONARY!
  • What’s another word for “dark”? AND THESAURUS!

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He emailed me the finished version which is a couple pages, and ends with Pegi the Pegasus getting injured, and they’re falling out of the sky, but Colfer knows how to survive, and!!!  … to be continued. (PS: There were definitely flying guards and laser shooters involved which is just AWESOME!)

He also asked me to edit it for him. That’s a whole different story.

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Verdict?

How do you help a child write a story? You get them to tell it to you first, then you help them translate their ideas onto paper.

If a child asks why you still haven’t published a book? I can’t help you. Try chocolate. You have my condolences.

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