Many children have no problem coming up with a story idea.
Others can think of ideas, but struggle to write them down. Then there are those who not only find coming up with ideas an arduous task, they are reluctant to write at all.
I’ve met all these types of children at my creative writing club, Storymakers.
And as a writer, myself, I know it isn’t always easy to come up with ideas. It’s not as though you can flick a switch and a story idea will just pop into your head. Sometimes, the harder you try to think of something, the more difficult it becomes.
Author, Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book, Big Magic, talks of story ideas as though they are spiritual entities, roaming about the universe, waiting for the right person to write them down. She even cites examples of poets, musicians and writers who describe these moments when an idea literally pops into their head.
Indeed, I’ve had a similar experience recently, where a story idea won’t seem to leave me alone. I’m not sure whether to believe that it has particularly chosen me as the person most suitable to write it (even though I would love that to be true), but one thing I do believe, is that the idea was stimulated, in part, from a recent talk I went to, along with a book I’m currently reading.
We have to nurture our creative minds by giving them stimuli from which ideas can grow. It is the literal food for thought.
We cannot expect our children to just come up with ideas out of the blue, so the first and most important thing you can do to help them is to make sure they read widely. Most, if not all, books are based on stories that have already been written, in one way, shape or form. No story is truly unique, just a different aspect or way of looking at things.
Reading fires the imagination, as well as widening vocabulary and helping children to gain a good grasp of story structure.
If your child is not an avid reader, please consider reading to them, or try audio books. I have reluctant readers myself, so I understand the difficulties and have written of ways to help with this in previous posts. If you’re stuck for ideas, try some of mine first.
To help them come up with story ideas, though, here are some of my favourite activities:
1. Story cubes or dice
Children tend to love anything tactile, so using story cubes, or dice for a roll-a-story activity is a great way to help get them started with an idea. What I love about doing this, is it gives the children a character, a setting and a story problem and I always find that ideas are flowing almost straight away.
I look for unusual images all the time, or if I’m out and about, and see something unusual, I will snap it. I like to get the children to tell me what they can see. There is no right or wrong answer, as everyone sees things in their unique way and the great thing about this is it starts a discussion that very soon leads to the formation of an idea.
3. Random objects
You can take any object and apply the words ‘what if’ to it and very soon, you go from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Even the most seemingly boring object can suddenly become interesting and from this, you can move on to who might be using this object, where might they be and discussion of a possible story problem.
4. Map it out
This is a great one for visual learners. Get them to draw a map with three major landmarks, or hurdles that the character would need to pass to get to the final destination. Who will the character be and what are they searching for? What will happen at each of these points?
5. Re-write it
As I said, most stories have been written before, in one way or another.
Why not get your child to write a new version of their favourite story? This could take the form of a complete re-write, a different ending, or a re-write from a different point of view.
For example, how about the tale of the three billy goats gruff from the point of view of the troll? They could also continue where a story left off, by imagining what might have happened next.