I’ve said this twice already, but I’m going to say it again: It is possible to teach your kids creative writing without being a writer yourself. You don’t have to be a scientist to teach science or a historian to teach history. You don’t have to be a writer to teach writing.
However, since it so happens that I AM an author, and I’ve taught creative writing to students from Kindergarten through college, I am happy to share some tips, strategies, and resources that can help you and your students find joy in the art of writing fiction.
As I said in my last article, I have too much to say on this subject for one article (or at least, one blog post people could read in a reasonable amount of time), so I’ve split it into two parts. In my last article, I focused on preschool through fifth grade. This time, I’m tackling sixth through twelfth grades.
Sixth through Eighth Grade
Middle-schoolers want to be taken seriously, in my experience. And yet, they’re very attracted to silliness. So don’t be weirded out if your kid wants to write a story about people blasting each other with ketchup and mayonnaise or a world where everyone turns purple when they burp. I think it’s a good idea to encourage sillier students to try to address more serious things, and to help serious students to loosen up and get a bit wacky.
Most of the ideas I put forward in the previous article work perfectly well for middle-schoolers. Letting them pick a picture as a story prompt (like these I’ve collected on Pinterest) and then having them answer the questions of who, what, where, why, and how about that photo can be a good place to start. Then they can flesh out those ideas into a full-on story with a beginning, middle, and end.
I created some creative writing worksheets that you can download from Google Docs. I’m also making those available on my book blog, The Edge of the Precipice, on the page called “Lit and Writing Resources for Homeschoolers.” These will work fine for middle-schoolers as a place to start and a way to refine their ideas about characters, plot, and setting.
Middle schoolers are ready to write more than one draft of their story. And they’re definitely ready to learn more about story structure and plotting.
Give them time to get to know their characters by brainstorming character traits, physical appearance, and so on. I’ve got a worksheet on developing characters in that download, but you can also just let them jot down their ideas while they brainstorm.
A typical plot is a bit like a mountain. You start out at the foot of the mountain, then something happens and you move higher. Then something even more exciting happens, and you move higher yet. Then the most exciting thing happens, which is like reaching the top of the mountain. And then you see how all that has affected the characters and where they are in their lives after the excitement, which is like strolling down the other side.
You can have a simple plot, which looks like this:
Or you can have a more complicated one, which looks more like this:
Either way, the character starts out one place, has a problem to solve or fix, and while dealing with that problem, moves on to a different place. That doesn’t have to be a physically different location, but it can be. It can also be a different emotional state, or a different life situation. But either way, something must change. If there is no change, then you don’t have a real story.
Once they’ve written a first draft, let them work on fixing spelling and punctuation, and help them figure out if their story is a real story, or if it needs something more. They can then write a final draft. You might want to get a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White for kids in middle school, if you don’t have one already. It’ll answer all their questions about things like grammar and punctuation, and all of yours too!
A great way for kids of this age to practice their creative writing skills is to let them write fanfiction for their favorite movies, TV shows, or books. Using characters and settings created by someone else can help them focus more on plots and storylines. Just make sure you balance this with having them write stories that are wholly their own as well. Maybe let them alternate fanfic stories and original stories, if they’re so inclined. Not all kids will want to write fanfiction, so don’t make them if they don’t want to!
There are lots and lots of books of writing tips and prompts out there. One of the best I’ve ever found is Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. Check your library to see if they have it, because it’s wonderful. It covers everything from finding story ideas to writing good dialog, developing characters, and forming good plots. Plus, it has lots of writing exercises. You could use it for a textbook, honestly. Another book by Levine called Writer to Writer is excellent too, but I think it’s better for kids who already have an interest in writing than those who are just putting in their creative writing time for school.
Everything I just said for middle-schoolers applies to high school students too. Only more so. Expect your kids to write stories where characters themselves have changed by the end of their story, not just where they are or how they’re feeling. Expect them to explore big themes like friendship, fear, courage, hatred, love, and disappointment. But encourage them to be playful too. Creative writing should not feel like a chore… but sometimes it does, and older teens can understand that that’s okay.
The best resource I can point you to for your high school student, especially if they have an interest in creative writing, is a website called StoryEmbers.org. Their blog is crammed with articles by a variety of authors on every creative writing subject imaginable. Characters, plots, themes, settings, styles, habits, everything. They also have a podcast, and they have a creative writing forum, plus they run contests! The winners get published on their site, which can be such a boost to young writers. AND it’s a Christian website. I love it dearly and learn a lot from it! It’s not just aimed at beginning writers, but it’s wonderful for them. I hope these ideas and resources have helped you get ideas of how to teach your kids to write creatively! As always, if you have comments or questions, please share those below, and I’ll reply.
Rachel Kovaciny was homeschooled K-12, graduated from Bethany Lutheran College with a BA in Liberal Arts, and promptly married her college sweetheart. She now lives in Virginia with her husband and their three homeschooled children. Rachel writes a monthly history column for the newspaper Prairie Times and bi-monthly articles for the online magazine Femnista. She also blogs about books at The Edge of the Precipice and about movies, writing, and life at Hamlette’s Soliloquy. Her 2017 book, Cloaked, was a finalist for the Peacemaker Award for Best YA/Children’s Western Fiction, and her follow-up, Dancing and Doughnuts, is now available in paperback and e-book. To learn more about Rachel and her writing, visit www.rachelkovaciny.com