Every child has the potential to be a creative storyteller, an important skill parents can nurture. As the children's fantasy author of "Demonkeeper," "Goblins" and the upcoming book "The Dead Boys," I have helped hundreds of students, and my own boys, bring their imaginations to life through stories. Below are some tips to try with your children. These are the same simple techniques that I use to create my own books, and they will make a tremendous difference in your child's storytelling.
I often hear that when children sit down to write a story they are blocked by the imposing wall that is the blank page. My deceptively simple solution: Take away the wall.
Draw on imagination
Children have active imaginations and a natural ability to make up stories. Just ask them this question: "What would you do if [fill in the blank] happened?" And watch them go. This is my first bit of advice — start with oral storytelling.
Help your child get the story straight in her or his head, share it and get feedback before writing a single word. This teaches the child at least four primary story development skills: outlining, finishing, seeking feedback and editing.
For oral storytelling, ask your son or daughter to think up a simple "What if [fill in the blank] happened?" Then invite the child to answer these three basic questions:
- What character would be the most fun to put in that situation?
- What is the character's problem?
- How does the character solve it in a creative way?
Encourage your child to try several different answers for each question and then pick her favorite. Feel free to contribute examples if the child gets stuck. As soon as the child answers these questions — voilá — it's a story.
Now ask for a different "What if...?" and repeat the process. Have your child create three of these oral stories, making it a fun game.
Tell the story out loud
After creating three stories, have your child pick a favorite story and tell it to as many people as possible, each time in three minutes or less. Allow your child to add details, change it and eliminate parts that don't sound right. The story may grow or tighten. The trick is to tell it over and over in three-minute increments and smooth it out orally.
As the story changes, your child is learning to edit. Yes, edit — that scary chore so many writers dread! Changes in oral stories, however, are natural and painless, since there's nothing to erase.
Have your child keep telling the story to others. When the story sounds right to the child and to the last person told, it is ready to write down.
This process usually takes me about three to six months (no joke). I don't write a single word until I know my story by heart. Of course, I don't recommend six months for a child. Just be sure to have the youngster tell the story enough times that the kinks are worked out and he can tell it smoothly so that it makes sense.
Now your child is ready to write ... one sentence.
Writing is the last step
Have your son or daughter jot down the story as a single sentence including only the three basics: the character, the problem, and what the character must do to solve it. For example:
When Billy, a first-grader, discovers his school has vanished, he must find it by following the clues left behind on the playground.
Your child will recognize when the written sentence is right, because she has told the story over and over. Now celebrate!
Once children can write compelling one-sentence stories, they graduate to a paragraph. If this goes well, move on to a one-page summary. And when they can describe a story in these abbreviated written forms, then have them try it as a short story. Small steps first. Novels later. And trust me, knowing the story first will make the writing part much easier for the child later.
Your child should stop at each stage to celebrate, share and receive feedback. Soon your son or daughter will have a great story and a great story-creation technique.
That's it. That's how I do it, and that's how I teach children to do it. It's a good way to prepare kids for school, it's free, and composing a great story together is a creative way to bond with your child.