Key strategies help unlock creative minds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am


My son is quite a good writer and likes reading, but he tells me he really dislikes creative writing. He puts very little effort into it, and his stories and poems don't reflect his writing ability. Does this matter?

The purpose of creative writing lessons is to develop pupils' creative thinking and imagination, while encouraging a love of language. Whether or not your son explicitly needs creative writing skills for future exams or the workplace, it would be advantageous for him to widen his repertoire.

It is good that your son is a keen reader. His experience of books will have exposed him to ideas and vocabulary, as well as a wide variety of writing styles that will help him learn to write creatively and develop and hone his own style. Successful authors often say voracious reading is a prerequisite for great writing.

The best way for your son to learn to write creatively is simply to write. For this to happen, he needs to be inspired. A good start would be to write stories from his own experience. As a family, you could retell humorous incidents or relive family events. Tell stories about what happened to you when you were young. You could discuss your favourite stories and encourage your son to talk about books he is reading and films he has seen.

Poems can be a quick and easy alternative way into creative writing. They are much shorter than stories and can be emotive and funny. Your son could start by reading some children's poetry books, which are very accessible, then work on his own versions of poems or riddles using the same structure or pattern but using his own ideas. Rhyming verse can be quite difficult to do well, but can be fun.

All types of pictures, including famous paintings, can provide interesting starting points. Your son can describe and brainstorm everything he can see in the picture, then use these ideas as inspiration for a short story or poem.

Oral storytelling is another route in. You could do fun family games, for example, where a person picks up an object and tells part of a story, then passes it on to another person, who continues the story. You might use a collection of unusual objects chosen by your son that have to be incorporated in a story.

Reading part of a story and finishing it off or rewriting the ending is also effective. Comparing his version with the original one will bring up a variety of interesting points for discussion.

Accomplished authors often emphasise the importance of drafting and improving their writing as part of the vital process to producing something meaningful and entertaining.

Be a good sounding board: always start with positive feedback, praising parts you thought were particularly well written or imaginative, and then talk with your son about one or two areas he might improve. Focus initially on the content of the writing, as this is key. Accuracy can be checked later.

Remember, some students prefer to devise a precise storyline and characters, and others prefer to write from scratch and allow them to unfold. Your son will need to experiment to find which suits him.

Finally, I would discuss his apparent lack of interest and motivation with his teacher. Many teachers have lots of strategies and approaches to develop authors in the classroom. It is not uncommon to find boys taking longer to develop their interest in creative writing. Sometimes a little extra encouragement and praise may be all that's needed.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school