- By Harry Bingham
- Published 04/9/2013
Reading stories with your children is one of the most amazing and loving things a parent can do. It’s rewarding in itself and is known to do wonderful things for all aspects of a child’s development. But there is something a little passive about only reading stories. After all, there’s a reason why we typically read to children at bedtime. So why not go one step further and learn to write stories with your child? Because e-publishing and self-publishing is now so easy, it makes sense to go on and turn your document into an actual book: something you can view on your e-reader or (even better – I’m old-fashioned) hold in your hand. But like anything, the project will work better if you prepare properly. And as with anything that relates to children, you need to keep in mind a careful combination of freedom and creativity and a stern sense of direction. So, first things first. And the starting point has to be that you – the parent, the educator – have a fair sense of how to write a story. Sure, you can put words together. Sure, you can invent some characters and some incidents. But writing creatively is a surprisingly technical activity and your child’s story is likely to fall apart if you’re not directing it carefully. So it makes sense to refresh your own skills. Sign up to an online writing course. Or take a creative writing class at your local college or writers retreat. You don’t have to spend big bucks and you don’t need to spend a lot of time. You just need to get happy with how to plot a story. How to make characters come alive on the page. How to make your prose sing. (Oh, and you don’t need that because you’ve been to college and have had plenty of professional training? Right. That’s exactly why you need the creative writing course: to shake all that nonsense out of you!) Then sit with your child and invent a story together. Start anywhere. What does your child want to tell a story about? A beloved pet? A naughty sister? A scary teacher? Him- or herself? It truly doesn’t matter. Just wait until you get a sense that a particular idea is sticky, then see what you can make of it. What challenge does that character face? What incident sparks the story into life?
You need to encourage your child to brainstorm. But you need to make su
re that those brainstorms don’t go crazy. You need to adhere to the clear lines of a meaningful story. And if that sounds hard, it’s meant to! It’s that tension between free creativity and boundaried discipline which is exactly where the learning happens. (And for you too, by the way. Your child is not the only winner here.) Depending on your child’s age and competence, you may actually put words on the page yourself or get him/her to do it. Either way, bear in mind that you are only getting a first draft together. Any pro author (or literary agent or publisher) will tell you that the first draft is just a beginning. Something to shape and nurture into life. When you have that draft, read it back with your child. Are there bits that really don’t work? Or awkward sentences you don’t feel happy reading aloud? Of course there will be: so change them. Realising that good things are born of effort is an important lesson too. As for illustrations, your story doesn’t have to have them, but wouldn’t it be great if it did? The more you can involve your child in that, the better. Use paint or drawing material if you want. Or go straight to electronics if you prefer. Either way, you’re making art. Then put it all together. E-publishing these days is fabulously simple. It’s free. It’s really not that hard. Don’t charge for your book (it’s not that sort of book!), just give it away for free. If your illustrations are in hardcopy, then scan them into digital form so your e-book can be illustrated too. (Though bear in mind that loading illustrations via Kindle Direct and other e-publishing services can be a little harder than dealing with text.) Better still, use a cheap and cheerful self-publishing package to get a real hard copy made up. Don’t spend a lot of money. Again: this is just for you and your family., You don’t have to worry about what literary agents would make of your amateur effort. They’ll never see it. Just create something that you love, that your child loves, and that is genuinely the product of the two of you. Then, because reading aloud still matters, read your book together at bedtime. Your child will get all the benefit of being read to – only doubled up, because this story is his or her creation.
Oh, and one more thing. When you’re writing a story, do make sure that it’s the sort of thing you can continue into another tale. When education is this much fun, you can bet that your child will beg you to repeat the experience.