One of the joys of parenthood is when your children take an interest in an activity you love. You get the opportunity to teach them what you know and give them all the advice you wish you’d had. My nine-year-old daughter Freya recently lamented that English class was boring because she didn’t get to write stories. She said, “I wish I had a story writing class.” It took a lot of restraint for me to not jump up immediately and start singing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Instead, I immediately instituted a story writing class for just the two of us.
My daughter was kind enough to give me permission to post about our classes. Since we’re planning to meet once per week, this will be a new weekly feature until she gets bored or I run out of things to talk about.
Teaching writing to a child is an interesting exercise, and I don’t have a ton of experience teaching. My daughter is a smart cookie, but she doesn’t have a lot of experience writing or reading stories, having not been on this earth all that long. I think the key is to be flexible and adjust to her interests. The most important thing kids need for successful learning is enthusiasm.
For our first “class,” I decided to start with some general principles and try to find out what she was interested in.
Nobody Can Tell You How to Write
I started with an abridged version of my writing advice advice. There are many authors who have found success with wildly different methods that work for them. It’s great to study and find out what works for other people, but you ultimately have to synthesize your own systems from bits and pieces of others’ advice, along with your own discoveries.
I can give advice, but not all of it will work for you. Just take what works and don’t stress too much about what doesn’t.
Making Sense, Feeling Good
It’s important for (most) stories to make sense. They should have events that follow one after another logically. But that isn’t what makes a good story.
If you think about some of your favorite stories, you probably love them because they made you feel something. The “feeling” of a story, the emotions it evokes, is the real measure of its worth. It might be “happily ever after” and make you feel good, but it might also make you feel bad, scared, surprised or satisfied.
I think one of the many reasons humans are storytellers is because stories serve as a sort of experience by proxy. I will never know what it’s like in real life to be an astronaut stranded by myself on Mars. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a little person with hairy feet, sneaking to volcano to throw in a magic ring. But I can still experience these things vicariously through stories.
Doing It on Purpose
The most important things you can do to improve your writing are:
- Read a lot
- Write a lot
- Seek advice and opportunities to learn from others
The human subconscious is a wonderful thing. Your subconscious can absorb ideas and techniques, even without you realizing that you’re absorbing it. Your subconscious instincts can take you a long way. Still, if you want to get better at writing, you can’t rely solely on your subconscious.
You want to be able to make choices and decide how to do things to achieve specific effects. To do that, you need to consciously learn different techniques and the ways to deploy them.
Questions and Homework
To finish, we discussed a few open-ended questions. These may seem a little silly, but I do think that it’s worth it for any writer to ask themselves overly-broad questions
- What is a story?
- Why do you read stories, and why do you enjoy them?
- Why do you want to write stories?
I also asked Freya what she wanted to cover in these classes. She said that one thing she has trouble with is not finishing stories. I’ll admit, this is something I’ve occasionally had issues with as well. So that will be our topic for next time: finishing stories!