Archive for the ‘Writing about Writing’ Category

Help Your Kids Breathe Life into Their Story Characters

Breathe Life into Your Story Characters

by Brave Writer instructor Karen O’Connor

Have you noticed that when your children are glued to a well-written story you can hardly pry them away for a meal? They get totally caught up in the lives of the characters and are often inspired to create stories of their own. You can help your kids breathe life into their story characters with a few simple guidelines.

Encourage children to:

1. Get to know their characters intimately. ‘Live’ with these boys and girls as they would a sibling or best friend. Have them create a short profile of each character. What does he like to eat? What games does she enjoy playing? What style of clothing does he choose? What are her habits and hobbies? What is he afraid of? Why is she so bossy?

2. Assign each character a distinguishing characteristic or core quality. For example, in one story, Jasmine is a ‘walking dictionary’ as her brother calls her. She has taken it upon herself to learn at least one new word each day starting with the letter A. Your son or daughter might create a character with a special talent or a personality trait that attracts attention.

3. Create multi-level characters. Talk with your children about the physical appearance, emotional makeup, and mental capacity of their characters. Suppose one of the girls is short for her age, quick-witted, and yet embarrassed to show her real feelings. On the other hand, imagine a male character who is “tall, dark, and handsome”—and that’s it. A reader might have a hard time relating to such a stereotype. Talk about what would help readers relate to the character.

4. Avoid labels. (Sue was sad. Andy was happy). Flat statements such as these rob the reader of drawing his own conclusions based on what the characters do. Remind your kids to show rather than explain. For example: Sue dropped to the floor and sobbed. Andy dashed through the door waving his first-place ribbon. Bring the characters on stage and let them talk and act for themselves.

5. Choose a name that helps to identify and individualize the characters. For instance, Gabby could be a cute nickname for a talkative boy whose given name is Gilbert. A striking and to the point name, like Dot or Liz, might work for a tough loudmouth.

6. Study characters that catch your children’s interest in the books they read. What makes them special? What is memorable about them? Creating characters of depth and substance takes time and practice. But all the effort is worth it to hear from a happy reader that their story characters are ‘true to life.’

Karen O’Connor is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction and a writing coach with Brave Writer (Write For Fun: Go Wild, Dream Big, and Fly High). She’s also Julie’s mom!

Write for Fun

5 Ways to Get Writing to an Audience

5 Ways to Get a Child's Writing to an Audience

by Finlay Worrallo, Brave Writer student and intern

Over Dinner

Chose something you’ve written and ask your family if you can read it to them over dinner, or at another point in the day when you’re all together. Read clearly and a little slower than feels natural–that will result in a pleasant reading speed. Afterwards, ask your family what they thought of it and listen to their feedback.

With Friends and Extended Family

Pick a handful of people you know well whose opinions you value, but who you don’t see every day–friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Then select a piece of writing you’re proud of, and send a copy to each person, either by post or email, along with a quick message asking for some comments on your writing. Be specific–for example, ask them to chose one sentence they liked and one that was difficult to understand. Wait patiently for their replies and read them when they arrive. With any luck, your chosen people will give you some constructive comments on your piece. Remember to say thank you for their time!

On the Internet

Blogging is easy these days and it’s a simple way of getting your writing to an audience. First, set yourself up with one online, with your parent’s permission and help if necessary. Then begin with a post about who you are and what your blog’s going to be about. (This is always a good start, as it helps readers to work out whether they fit into your potential audience. If you’re writing reviews of computer games, your best friend might love to read your blog, but your best friend’s aunt might not.) After that, start blogging articles! People like blogs which are updated regularly, so it’s a good idea to add a new post at least every week, or more often if you’ve got time. Then tell all your friends and family about your new blog and spread the word.

In a Magazine

If you read any newspapers or magazines, why not send a letter to the letters to the editor’s page? The whole point of a letters page is to showcase the opinions of readers, so it’s a window of opportunity that’s always open. And if you get your letter published, your writing will potentially be read by thousands. So think about what sort of topics the letters tend to be about–current events, readers’ own lives, comments on the magazine content–then write a letter in a similar vein and send it off!

Through a Competition

It’s true that entering a writing competition is a way of finding an audience that might involve spending money–but on the bright side, you might actually get some money in return. Look for student writing competitions online and see if you can find a free one or one with a low entry fee (few are more than $10). Read the guidelines and bear them in mind while writing your story, poem or article. Send it in before the deadline and wait and see what happens. If you win, brilliant! If you don’t, remember you can try again as many times as you like. After all, the first Harry Potter book got rejected 12 times!

Brave Writer Online Classes

Criteria for Feedback

Be your kids' trusted writing coach

Elizabeth Gilbert, professional successful writer, shared about how she handles criticism of her work. She avoids it. She doesn’t entrust her self or her work to those who haven’t earned the right to speak into her life. Then she wrote a list of criteria she uses when asking for feedback for her work. My jaw dropped. These are the criteria I advocate for how a parent can be a trusted coach and ally to their children in writing.

Here’s the list of how she finds her critics. Imagine your child asking these questions while evaluating whether or not to trust you with their work. If they can say that you are this kind of person, they will ask for your help and feedback! Promise!

1) Do I trust your opinion and your taste?

2) Do I trust that you will understand what I am trying to create, and therefore can help me to improve it?

3) Do I trust that you have my best interests at heart — that there is no dark ulterior motive, and no hidden agenda in your criticism?

4) Do I trust that you can offer your criticism with a fundamental spirit of gentleness, so that I can actually hear it without being mortally wounded?

She concludes:

Gentleness is very important.

YES!! Take these words to heart today when you partner with your kids in ANY part of the school experience. Gain their trust. Be gentle.


The Writer's Jungle Online

Header image by Jess Pac (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

Hating Writing: The Hidden Side Effects

The Importance of Enjoying Writing

One of the hidden side effects of “not liking writing” is “not liking self.” We don’t talk about it much. We think that resistance to writing is a resistance to school or hard work. We tend to believe our kids are being disobedient or lazy.

To “hate” writing as a child usually means the young person has not yet made the connection that what is going on inside is worthy of the page! Heck, many adults have yet to make that connection! The pervasive critique of mechanics and raw thought makes many would-be writers withdraw from public scrutiny.

When we accept the idea that children “hate writing,” we unwittingly turn off the tap to joy in learning. Writing is the chief expression of self in academic life. Even higher math requires explanation and proofs in writing.

Children want to be seen as successful, bright, and capable. If they risk their private thoughts, ideas, and flights of imagination and are met with judgment, they decide that learning itself is not worth the effort. By high school, some stuck writers have checked out of traditional education all together!

It doesn’t have to be this way!

The writing life lives inside your young writers right now—no matter how poor their punctuation, spelling, handwriting, and grammar.

The writing life lives inside your young writers now—no matter
how poor their punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

Click to Tweet

Kids need to know that the writer inside is alive and well—that the mechanics of writing are a necessary challenge to be mastered over time, but not a referendum on the child’s success as a learner or writer.

You can do this for your child every time you value the writing risk. Hold the writing in your palm tenderly, with a look of love. Yes, even the writing that says, “I hate writing” and “This is dumb.”

Underneath those objections is a quieter cry: “What if what I put on paper makes your face look worried or disappointed? What will I do then?”

Start early—value the writing risk, love the child’s self expression, get as much of it to paper as possible, hold it as a sacred crystal vase—sturdy, beautiful, fragile. See the light refracted through it.

Work on mechanics as “no big deal” and “we all get there eventually” and “you don’t have to be a good speller to be a GREAT writer.”

Children raised this way see learning as open to them, and education as satisfying.

This is the gift you can give your children if you protect them from hating writing.

You can do this!

The Homeschool Alliance

Becoming Comfortable with Language

Immersion into Written Language

Think of teaching writing to your children in the same way you taught them to speak. You didn’t tell them to conjugate verbs or to use articles. Sometimes they even made attempts to get the right plural and “missed.” But over time, through exposure, modeling, and a little intentionality, they “got the hang” of speech.

Instruction after they were comfortable with spoken language created opportunities to teach your kids etiquette, how to introduce people, how to answer the phone (maybe!), and more.

Written language can work the same way. For instance, each of our Quiver of Arrows focuses on language inductively—the passage suggesting the focus. You can certainly ask your children questions:

  • What is the dot at the end of the sentence?
  • Do you know its name?
  • What do you think it does?
  • What do you see in the word after every period?

Your kids’ answers may even surprise you and yield new ways of “seeing” what the sentence markings do.

The point is you don’t have to follow a systematic approach to written language any more than you did with speech. The goal in all the Arrows, etc. is to help you immerse—with your kids—noticing, commenting, exploring, playing with. Over time, your children will develop a sense of how it works through copying, dictation, and practice that is intuitively fluent (which is easier to sustain than memorizing rules).

Also, allow yourself to be led by your own curiosity and understanding. Some of the writing in our products IS for the parent—to help you grow in your own understanding of how language works and what are literary devices—to keep you aware and present to possibilities within the text. But if something doesn’t yet feel comfortable, you’ve got years with each child ahead of you. You’ll be circling back over these ideas again and again.

Sips—take sips.

The Arrow language arts program

Image by Africa Studio / Fotolia (text added)