Writing Lab: Offer Your Kids a Story

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Do you nurture daydreams about being the next JK Rowling? If your bestselling kids story just needs a little help to bring it to life, these short story prompts and writing tips are the first step towards your masterpiece making it onto the page.

Perhaps we can’t all conjure up such vivid and engaging worlds as the creator of the Harry Potter novels, but we can certainly follow a few simple writing techniques to create a wonderful and unique story to entertain our children.

JK Rowling wrote her latest novel, The Ickabog, as a bedtime story for her own children – which just goes to show that all great writers have to start somewhere… and you would be hard pressed to find better muses that your own little ones.

#1. Getting started: idea generation

Perhaps the best place to start would be Rowling’s own advice On Writing: which cites reading, discipline, resilience and humility, courage and independence as the essential instruments in the writer’s toolkit.

For something a little more practical, you can try starting with developing a premise for your short story. The Write Practice recommends this approach if you want to write fiction. It says a premise needs to contain three things in a single sentence:

  • A protagonist in two words.
  • A goal. What does the protagonist want or need?
  • A situation or crisis the protagonist is facing.

If you’re running short of ideas, you could start from one of the Write Practice’s Top 100 story ideas or give Mslexia’s Prompt Generator a try.

#2. Get writing!

Once you have your premise nailed down, you’ll need to put pen to paper. 

If you are having trouble getting started, why not begin with some writing exercises to warm you up and get you thinking more deeply about your premise and your protagonist? Short-story writer Eliza Robertson suggests asking yourself some surprising questions about your lead character.  While these details may not appear in the story itself, they will help you project the shadows of your character’s past and future.

Or you could take guidance from author Kurt Vonnegut who recommended starting “as close to the end as possible”.  Vonnegut also offered some useful tips about character and story development:

  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

#3. Practice discipline

At this point it may be wise to remember Neil Gaiman’s advice for would-be writers: You write. You finish what you write.

This is where JK Rowling’s discipline pays dividends.  Or, as Gaiman says, “If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not ‘inspired’ … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.”

For John Steinbeck this meant taking it a page at a time: “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps.”

Steinbeck’s approach of concentrating on the page in front of you rather than getting distracted by the whole is echoed by Matt Haig: “Forget about what you want the book to achieve. Think about what you want the words to achieve.”

#4. Read, revise and improve

Haig also offers some wisdom about revision: Read it aloud. You’ll notice more mistakes that way.

Revision is an equally important part of the writer’s craft as discipline.  Gaiman suggests, “Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Of course, if you’re writing for your kids, you have the perfect audience for revision.  They certainly won’t shy away from giving you honest feedback!

#5. Print!

Now that your story is ready, you can print it out and offer as a perfect gift!

And who knows, it could be the start of something better or bigger – or both!