Monday, June 28, 2010

Writing Lessons from Elementary School, Part 1

This post and tomorrow's were inspired by Don't Stay Up So Late, a fabulous collection of bedtime stories written by students at Erickson Elementary in Ypsilanti, as part of 826michigan's work at their school this year. I helped out at Erickson last year and wrote the intro to the book. Come get a copy at 826michigan.

10 Things Elementary School Writers Don't Know They Shouldn't Do
and Their Stories Are Much Better For It

(i.e. Things I Wish More Grown-Up Writers Tried)

1. Name your main character after yourself. Make her fabulous or make her evil. Either way, do not worry for a minute about whether or not readers will think it's really you.

2. Write your fantasy.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Jacqui. She was very nice, but at school everyone was mean to her. She told on them and they all got in big, big trouble and had to miss the field trip and they never bothered her again.*

3. Establish character in the first lines. Don't overwrite this part. Move into the story.
Jason was a bad guy. He liked to beat up kittens and eat bunnies. One day...

4. Make stuff up. Like crazy stuff. Nobody ever put down a book and thought, "Yes! That was totally realistic!"
And then he turned into a butterfly and flew away.

5. Find yourself hilarious. Put stuff in there just because it's funny. In fact, write the whole story as if you were trying to make the kid next to you laugh or say "Whoa!"

6. Do not fear the absurd.

7. Write about everyday playdate drama. Making the stakes high doesn't mean every book has to be about life or death situations. Sometimes we all like to read a book about someone who reminds us of us, with the problems and worries that we hide inside us, and who makes it out of a normal childhood. Ask Judy Blume.

8. Have a moral. Better yet, have a moral we don't expect. At the end of your story of the produce thief who gets caught, write: "Moral: Don't eat all the bananas."

9. Don't wrap up every loose end. At the end of your story of the class field trip to a zombie house, write:
Lucy and John escaped. They went to tell their teacher. Then they realized their teacher was now a zombie! She ate them and nobody ever heard from Lucy and John again.
Do not worry about what happened to the rest of the class; we can guess. Or, it doesn't matter.

10. Rehabilitate your bad guys, instead of annihilating them. Sometimes we need to know there's a chance we can change.
But when Franklin saw how sad Lizzie looked about her puppy being stolen, he felt bad. He decided to give her puppy back. Lizzie was so happy she said she'd be his friend, if he promised never to steal again.

* All quotes are made up by me, and are similar but not as awesome as ones from the book.1


cath c said...

thanks! i'm passing this advice along to my writing group, who are all children's authors.

Anonymous said...

I loved these 10 things!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your post. I've always wanted to name one of my characters after myself. : )

Jacqui said...

Thanks, cath, Catherine, and Susanne. Sometimes we learn to write ad then forget how to have fun with it, eh?

Susanne, do it!

Anonymous said...

I love these! We all just need to LOOSEN UP.

Laura said...

LOVE these!!! Great post, Jacqui! :)

Jacqui said...

Thanks, Laura!

Debbie, Scribble totally fits the bill.