Help Your Child Create Their First Story
We love to read stories, and some of us like to create them too, but how can we get our children as interested in literature as we are? The following is a simple step-by-step guide that provides the opportunity for you to expose your child to the wonders of story creation in a relaxed and supportive one-on-one setting.
This activity needs to be fun, laid-back, and encouraging, so allow plenty of time and create a relaxed atmosphere where your child can go at their own pace. Choose a time that your child is mentally awake, such as on a weekend morning rather than a school evening, and minimise distractions for both of you by turning off the TV and putting mobile phones and other interruptive technology out of sight.
Depending on what is suitable for your child, you may decide to do this all as one activity, or break it up over weeks, days, or hours—whatever works best for you both.
You’ll need several sheets of plain white paper. It could be a novelty for your child if you pick up a cheap exercise book for their story to develop inside, although it might add extra pressure, as if they make any mistakes it will be in their special book. Therefore it’s likely better to work on loose sheets of paper, as you can always stick them into a book later.
You’ll need a pencil or two. Some young children find holding a pencil correctly, with the tripod grip, tricky. You can lookup ways in which to help a young child hold a pencil beforehand, and there are also thick triangular pencils with grips that might help. An easy and cheap technique I used to help my child was to wrap an elastic band around where they would hold the pencil—it created just the right amount of extra grip and allowed them to still use a standard pencil.
Gather some coloured pencils or crayons (or felt-tips, pastels, or paints if you’re feeling brave, and your child enjoys working with different materials). Using different materials could add extra fun to the illustrative process and help keep their attention on the activity, though for other children it could prove far to greater distraction. As with every step of this story creation, go with your gut as to what will work for your child.
A ruler or something you can use to draw straight lines will also be needed.
Step 1: Character
Ask your child to think about the character they wish to create. What will the character’s name be? Will they be human or animal? Will they have a gender, and if so what will it be? What colour hair will they have, if any? What colour will their eyes be?
Ask them to sketch out their imagined character, and add simple labels and arrows describing important aspects of their appearance, such as an arrow to the character’s hair and the word yellow. Other words could also be added around the character to describe the characters personality, such as brave, kind, fun or friendly.
As they add words to their drawing, encourage them to sound out the words for themselves and think about what letters might be needed. For example, many young children who are learning to spell will write the words rose as roas, castle as carsol or pie as pigh—this is an important part of their understanding of phonetic development, and correcting their spelling errors could leave them feeling deflated and not wanting to continue with the activity. Only write the correct spelling for words if they ask you to, but always encourage them to have a go for themselves first and give lots of praise for trying, regardless of whether their spellings are correct or not.
A very important word they need to write, at the top or bottom of the paper in even bigger letters, is the character’s name. Finally, they can have fun adding colour to their drawing.
If your child is unsure and needs a bit of extra support with character creation, it may help for you to create your own character at the same time, working beside them. This will help relieve any pressure they may feel from you watching them, and can also help give them with ideas while reassuring them that they are doing the right thing. At this early age, most children are still developing their pencil control skills, so avoid making your sketch an absolute work of art, as they may compare it to theirs and feel deflated. Instead, loosen your wrist, allow yourself to make mistakes, and colour outside the lines.
Step 2: Setting
Your child has created a main character and can now decide the setting, where the character is or lives. They could choose a castle, cave, beach, swamp, cottage—it doesn’t matter what your child chooses, as long as they are having fun and becoming engaged in the story they’re creating. As with step one, get them to draw a sketch of this place and add some labels to help us understand, and to help them to remember, what they have chosen.
Step 3: Motivation
Now that they have a couple of visual aids—their main character and where the story will take place—they can begin to craft their story. Get a ruler and a piece of blank paper and, on the bottom half of the paper, draw three to five quick and wide lines.
When they are writing sentences, encourage your child to use ‘finger spaces’ between words, capital letters at the start of sentences, and full stops at the end of each sentence.
Ask them to write the character’s name first, followed by what your child thinks the character might want. This want—their motivation—could be to have a pet rabbit, or to catch a shooting star, to meet a unicorn, to find a treasure chest—the options are endless. Let your child have the absolute freedom to choose what the character wants, regardless of how outlandish it may be.
Jacob wants to catch a butterfly.
This is all they need to write; the character’s name and what they want. If they are an extra keen writer, they could always write a longer sentence with an explanation of why the character wants the item.
Jacob wants to catch a butterfly because it is beautiful.
If their writing is tricky to read, you may wish to write a translation underneath their words because they are likely to forget what they have written.
Once the writing is complete, in the top half of the paper which has been left blank, they can add a small sketch, or illustration, of an item to represent what their character wants, and add colour to it.
Step 4: Tools
Again, draw some quick lines in pencil on the bottom half of a plain piece of paper. Now that your child has a main character that wants something, they need to think about what tools the character will need to use in order to obtain what they want. If they want a pet rabbit, they will need to convince a parent or carer to take them to a pet shop. If they want to fly to the moon they will need a rocket. If they want to catch a star, they might decide they need to find a huge tree, buy a big net, get a very tall ladder, or perhaps use a lasso. Let them write this out, in their own time and words.
Jacob gets his really big net.
Once complete, your child can illustrate this part of the story in the blank space on the top half of the paper.
Step 5: Action
This is the part where the character does what is needed to obtain what they want. With another piece of paper and your quickly drawn pencil lines on the bottom half, ask your child to write the next sentence in their story. Does their character loop a lasso around the star? Do they go in a submarine to find sunken treasure? This is a great opportunity for the insertion of adjectives to describe actions.
Jacob swoops the net and catches the butterfly.
As with the previous steps, your child can use the blank space at the top of the page to illustrate this stage of their story.
Step 6: Ending
At this point the character most likely has the item they wanted, unless an aspect of the plot was that the character changed their mind or were unable to obtain what they wanted. What will the character do now? Will they keep the star they caught safely in a jar under their bed? Will they put their new rabbit in a hutch in their house? Will they sell the treasure for money? If they could not get what they wanted, will they fall asleep and try again tomorrow?
Jacob looks at the beautiful butterfly and lets it fly away.
Ask them to use the top section of the paper to illustrate this scene of their story.
Flexibility and Differentiation
If your child is reluctant to pick up a pencil and draw or write, don’t make them. You can get their minds into story-creation-mode by following the six steps and talking through each part—in this case, it will really help if you verbally create your own story as well, so you can take turns in enjoying describing each step and demonstrating great listening skills that your child can mirror.
For my child, both pencil control and concentration on any given activity for a length of time can be challenging. If I feel they have almost reached the point of distraction due to the sheer hard-work of writing, I offer to write the story out for them, and they dictate to me. This allows them to happily think up plenty of stories and provides me the opportunity to read them back at a much faster pace than if they were frustratingly writing it out herself.
If your child is willing to write but struggles with letter formation and handwriting, you can always write key words or even whole sentences out for them in a yellow pencil or felt-tip, which they can then trace over the top of. Eventually you want them writing for themselves, but this will provide a starting point and offer them practice, and most importantly enable them to become engaged in the story they’re creating.
If your child would rather work only in sketches and no written words, or they will verbalise the story to you but not want to do any drawing or writing, or they simply want to act it out without spoken words, that’s fine. All children are different and have varying strengths and likes. A child who only wants to verbalise or act-out their story might be up for being filmed, and might even put on a bit of a show for the camera, developing their confidence and performance skills, while also enjoying creating a story all of their own.
If your child becomes particularly interested in story creation, they might wish to develop their stories further. They could do this by adding in a ‘problem’ stage after step 5, followed by a ‘resolution’ stage before the eventual ending. This problem could be that their character’s lasso snaps, or their rocket runs out of fuel, or the character get sleepy and gives up. The resolution would then be how they solve it: they make a new lasso, they go to a petrol station, they have a nap. As always, once they’ve written out the sentence or two for these additional steps, ask them to illustrate the scenes with quick sketches.
They may also like to add extra characters into the story, all of which can be imagined up and sketched out.
They might enjoy creating their own book covers for their story, featuring their name as the author and illustrator.
They may even want to have a go at writing the blurb for the back cover, the sentence or two that will get potential readers of their story interested.
There are only four actual rules in this activity: be flexible, be supportive, be patient, and be very encouraging. Some children will write page after page and not seem very interested in the illustrations, while others may show little interest in creating a story and you will need to find engaging and often energetic ways to grab their attention and keep them focused. If they enjoy the character creation and would rather draw the stages of the story than write them, let them, just encourage them to add a written label here and there.
This may well be your child’s first encounter with character creation and plot building—let it be a fun experience that they will want to revisit time and time again.
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© 2018 Rebecca Delphine
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.