Assisting Young Writers to Better Shape Their Ideas

One of the most frequently asked questions that writers receive concerns where ideas are hiding. The plain fact of the matter is that ideas exist all around us. Writers tend to draw on life experiences, observation, family and friends. There is also a wealth of possibilities in the stories we are told, in the books we read, poems plays, film and assorted media. Ideas exist in the conversations we overhear and those in which we participate. We are surrounded by possibilities.

 ‘Sometimes the easiest way to start writing is not to try to think something up but simply -to write something down –and what better place to begin than with what is right in front of your eyes.'                    
 Andy Griffiths,Once Upon A Slime

Writers need to practice being observant and notice things other people miss. The challenge for all writers is to identify an idea and make it your own. The art of close observation is something writers of all ages and experience need to practice. Alert the senses and receive the messages the world around you provides.

It is also said, writers write with their ears. Mine are tuned to the world around me and remain on alert, ready to receive. Sitting quietly and eavesdropping can provide ideas for any writer.

It turns out that even bees eavesdrop. They have learnt to save time looking for pollen by avoiding visiting places depleted by other species. They listen in and use pheromones to alert them to such information.

Student writers should be encouraged to add eavesdropping to their ever increasing writer’s armoury. We need to show them how we use it to inform our own writing, so they can make use of it when attempting to employ effective dialogue. My notebooks are full of wondrous sound bites.

Some writers are inspired by places, others by objects. Sometimes it is a map, a picture or a building that sparks a writing idea. Ideas certainly exist in things.

How do we assist young writers to notice things in the world they inhabit? How do we help them to harness the potential that exists right in front of their eyes?

We can develop a student’s capacity for ideas by encouraging them to talk and tell stories. We pass on culture through the telling of stories. The telling of stories on a regular basis assists students to develop greater complexity and richness to the narratives they eventually write. When students practice the telling of their stories they should be encouraged to recall details. Small, yet important details to assist the listener/ reader to better connect to the events being shared. Small group re-tellings are an excellent form of rehearsal for the writing that is to follow. 

Storytelling prior to writing eliminates the prospect of ‘cold start’ writing. It places the young writer in control of the words they wish to convey. Boys in particular, seem to appreciate this rehearse then write approach. Writing volume and fluency frequently improve. When we allow young writers to invest time in feeding their ideas, imagination begins to flourish.
During the pre-writing stage of the process student writers should be encouraged to talk about their writing intentions. This can be further supported with activities such as drawing (characters, settings) brainstorming, story-boarding, some rudimentary planning, writing leads, creating some dialogue for specific characters, or describing characters and settings.

Another possibility is to use artefacts or ephemera to stimulate story ideas. Asking students to bring totems and treasures to school and begin to weave a story around these special items is a great starting point. They could also weave such items into a story they already know.
Before a story is written a discussion needs to be framed around questions such as:

What is your story about?
Who are the characters?
Who is telling the story? (Narrator?)
Where does the story begin?
What is the tone of the story? (funny, dramatic, scary, a mix?)
Getting Started With the Writing

Look closely at the various ways others writers begin their stories. It is informative. Student writers must be nudged to begin to noticing how authors employ a range of craft strategies.

They might:
·       Write in the style of an author they admire
·       Establish the setting
·       Introduce a character
·       Introduce a problem or an event
·       Establish a sense of time
·       Make a statement or share a piece of factual        information        
·       Ask a question
·       Use some dialogue

Support for the formation of ideas is critical to ultimate writing success. Providing adequate time to talk and rehearse ideas for writing helps the student writer close the gap between intention and outcome. 


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