Writing Assignments For 10 Year Olds

Last week, we held a seminar on Writing for 8-12 year olds at the CCA in Glasgow.  Our panel included a Literary Agent, Commissioning Editor and a Bookseller. We learned some fantastic tips from all corners of the industry about writing for this age group. Here are the top five things we learned from the event.

1.    It’s a really exciting audience to write for

Reading is the number one leisure activity for children under 10. This age category is where real readers are made -- children are learning new words and making sense of the world through stories and their extraordinary imaginative capacity. It also marks the beginning of independence and self-sufficiency. Books which children read at this age will often stay with them for life, so it’s a really important and exciting stage of their development for writers to be involved with.

2.    Children value a good plot

Children like the momentum of a series and therefore picking out standalone novels can be trickier. Children like to ‘fall in’ with characters they already know and love, but that doesn’t mean you have to stretch out your story across several books if it doesn’t fit. Children need to be the main actors in the story, not the adults. Make sure your language is modern and understandable, but don’t patronise your readers. Children are drawn to a good story which has humour and plenty of action, so keep your chapters short, use cliffhangers and keep the pace relevant to the action.

This age category is where real readers are made

3.    It's important to get to the heart of your story

Let yourself to be creative with the first draft, then create a mind map for subsequent drafts. Use your mind map to see what’s driving the blood around your story and connect everything to that central theme to bring focus to your story. Write down the beginning, middle and end, including chapter breakdowns and the high points of drama. Write them on post-it notes so you can move the action around. Often, writers only understand what’s really happening when they get to the end of a first draft. It may be difficult to distil your work into a single line, but having a single line pitch or hook is also a key way to sell your novel.

4.    There’s a fight for space in bookshops

The average shop stocks 5,000 children’s titles, a large portion of which is designated to bestselling classics such as Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. For booksellers, anything which breaks the mould will encourage them to go the extra mile, but realistically a book sometimes has to look a certain way in order to sell. Encouragingly, they will try to champion a debut over the latest installment in a successful series or classic as they know these will still sell well regardless. Booksellers also want something which parents will think is great and children will love to read. Go into your local bookshop and browse the shelves to familiarise yourself with what’s already out there.

5.    Authenticity is key

It’s crucial to slip into the mindset of your character. Identify a childhood memory of your own in order to connect with how it feels to be the age of your protagonist. A lot of writers are writing about children rather than fully identifying with them.

Ultimately, it’s important to write the book that you want to write. Forget trends and write from the heart; if your story is focussed and exciting it will find its way. 

Why Use This Tip

What To Do

 

Why Use This Tip

Writing stories is something every child is asked to do in school, and many children write stories in their free time, too. By creating and telling a story, children learn to organize their thoughts and use written language to communicate with readers in a variety of ways. Writing stories also helps children better read, and understand, stories written by other people.

But as much fun as it can be, writing a story can also seem like a challenge to a child (or an adult!). By familiarizing a child with how authors create stories and what the different parts of a story are, introducing visual or written prompts that inspire him or her to think of story ideas, and encouraging him or her to plan before starting to write, you'll help the child make a complete and imaginative story.

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What To Do

  1. Start by reading some favorite stories together. Talk a little bit about each story’s author. If there is information about the author on the book jacket, you might read it together. Help the child understand that the author created or adapted the story and made decisions about what should happen in it.
  2. As you read, stop and ask the child to make predictions about what is going to happen next and why he or she thinks so. When you do this, you are encouraging him or her to think about how stories work and how readers understand stories – both important when writing a story of one’s own.
  3. While you are reading and when you are done, talk about the different parts of the story, asking questions such as:

    • What is the beginning of the story? The middle? The end?
    • Who are the characters?
    • What do you like about them?
    • Where does the story take place?
    • Is there a problem that occurs in the story? If so, how does it get resolved?
    • What do you think about the ending? Is there a connection, either in words or pictures, between the ending and the beginning of the story?
  4. Once you’ve read a couple of stories, talk about how the child might make a story that is similar to one of them. For example, if the book he or she especially enjoyed was a story about the first day of school, ask the child to write a story about her first day of school. Or if the story was a fairy tale, suggest that the child write his or her own version. Use the questions you have asked in Step 3 as a guide to help the child plan the story. For example, you might ask the child what will happen at the beginning, middle, and end of his or her story or where the story will take place.
  5. If you find that the stories you read aren’t serving as inspiration, you might look for some story starters, which are scenarios or statements that someone else has already come up with. An example story starter might be “One day I woke up and discovered that my dog could speak to me.” The child then writes about what might happen next. You’ll find examples of story starters for kids at The Story Starter Junior and Chateau Meddybemps, where each story started is printable and comes with an illustration. The website Making Books With Children also has some suggestions for story topics.

    You might also:

    • Suggest three unrelated things—for example, a train, a princess, and a basketball—and encourage a child to write a story that includes all of them.
    • Help a child write about favorite family stories or events, like a funny story that’s been passed down from generation to generation, or a memorable vacation.
  6. Once the child has chosen a topic, help him or her create a storyboard. These help writers put the events of a story in order using pictures. They work kind of like a comic strip.
  7. You can make a storyboard by having a child draw a series of pictures of the main events in the story on sticky notes and then asking him or her to arrange the pictures in order. Talk about the order and whether it makes sense – since you are using sticky notes, the child can move them around. A photo story is another way of using pictures to organize or create a story. Have a child cut pictures out of magazines or take photos with a digital camera. He or she can then arrange the picture in order and write captions, much the same as with a storyboard.
  8. Once the child has picked a final order for the story ask him or her to write several sentences or even a paragraph for each picture that tells that part of the story.
  9. Ask him or her to read you the story. Stop to ask the same questions you asked while reading stories written by the child’s favorite author in Step 3. Encourage the child to fill in any missing information or detail that might make the story funnier or more interesting. If you’re working with a storyboard, have the child add connections between the different parts of the story, for example showing how the characters move from one place to another or how much time has passed between one event and another.
  10. After the child has had a chance to read the story aloud and make some changes to it, have him or her write a “final” version of the story that is illustrated and turned into a book, complete with a title, a cover, and the name of the author. Keep this book on the shelf with other stories and encourage the child to read it to you.

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