Training the Imagination through Imitation
- Monday, September 27, 2010
The greatest fallacy in creative writing instruction is the imagined divide between the creative and the non-creative. Because we are all created in the image of God, we all have creativity welling up inside of us. Yet we are all created with different personalities that cause us to express our creativity in different ways.
When most parents tell me that their child is not creative, they mean that he is not artistic or imaginative in the same way the parents want him to be or think he should be. I have a confession to make. I'm not artistic or imaginative. Given the choice, I would rather write a factual article (like this one) over a novel or short story. And yet, I'm being creative. Before I sat down to write it, this article did not exist. Now it does. I created it. You can teach even the most realistic, down-to-earth, engineer-to-be child to be creative.
First, notice what your child reads and teach him to analyze it. If you are reading this article, creative writing is important to you. That probably means that good writing is important to you, which tells me that reading good books probably happens on a pretty regular basis around your house. So I'm not going to tell you that good readers make good writers. Some do, some don't. But good writers are always good readers.
Noticing what your kids want to read, especially as they get into later elementary and middle school, will probably give you an idea of what they will enjoy writing. If they are always reading Brian Jacques, talk to them about the choices he makes as an author in creating the Redwall books. Authors make countless choices in words, event sequence, and characterization that make us either want to read more or set the book aside.
Next, give your kids something to imitate. No, I'm not talking about plagiarism: as you read books and short stories together, make a note of the plots. You'll begin to see that most plots are not all that different from one another. In fact, most literary analysis courses will tell you that all plots are variations of the same five or so conflicts. Think about how many "girl meets boy, girl intensely dislikes boy, boy intensely pursues girl, girl decides that she actually loves boy after all" stories you've read. I mean really, I assumed I was going to hate my husband before I would decide to marry him. When I got to college, I began looking for the most unlikely suspect, assuming that he was going to be my husband someday. Yes, I had read Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice too many times! But I digress. Let your students write a story based upon another story.
Here is how I teach this process:
We begin by reading a fable together and analyzing it for setting, characters, plot, conflict, and resolution. Fables are perfect for this because they are short and contain few details in the characters and setting. My favorite one to use to introduce this process is "The Fox and the Crow."
The Fox and the Crow
A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree. "That's for me, as I am a Fox," said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree. "Good-day, Mistress Crow," he cried. "How well you are looking to-day: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds." The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox. "That will do," said he. "That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future. Do not trust flatterers."1
After reading the story, we take our notes in keywords, as shown below. In the blank spaces we record additional adjectives and verbs to describe the characters, setting, and plot that the fable didn't have. We also add characters and events and sometimes a twist at the end.
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