One of the best things that children can do to help develop their creative writing skills is to read – and read widely. By ‘read widely’, I mean reading beyond their usual favourite kinds of stories and into other areas on the bookshelf, including non-fiction. For instance, some of my best story ideas have been sparked through reading non-fiction books about history.
Beyond reading widely, though, I suggest to kids in my creative writing course that they teach themselves to read ‘like a writer’. Reading like a writer means going beyond simply enjoying the amazing story that an author has created and digging down into how the writer did it.
When I mention this to young students, I can see some of them roll their eyes, thinking that I’m about to start breaking down sentences and getting into an English lesson.
But I’m not.
What does ‘reading like a writer’ mean?
Mostly, reading like a writer is about looking for how writers handle information in their stories.
How do they impart it to readers – and when?
Where do they begin the story, and why does that matter?
What kinds of vocabulary are they using – and where do they choose to use it?
Usually I’m having this conversation after reading a piece of writing stuffed full of interesting ways to say ‘said’. Characters are interjecting, squeaking, crying, whimpering, whispering and all manner of other multi-syllable alternative to poor old under-appreciated ‘said’.
One of the best tools a young writer can develop is a wide and impressive vocabulary.
The next best tool they can develop is a strong appreciation of when to wield that vocabulary and when to stay their hand.
Reading their favourite authors with a critical eye is a good place to begin to understand the concept.
Three tips to help you learn to read like a writer
Tip #1: Start with a favourite book, one that you know really well so that you won’t get distracted by what’s happening.
Tip #2: Focus on the first chapter. Read it through a couple of times.
The first time, take note of the first page and how the writer uses it to draw you into the story.
The second time, look for the information – what information does the writer give you about the character, the setting and the problem in those first few pages. How is it given? Is it in dialogue, through action (looking in a mirror, what the character is doing).
The third time, look at the vocabulary – how often does the writer use a word other than ‘said’ with the dialogue? How often do they use big, unusual words?
Tip #3: Compare what you’ve learned with your own writing. What can you take away from what you’ve read to apply to your own stories?
Be warned though! Once you learn to do this well you’ll never be able to stop doing it!
You can hear Megan Daley and I discuss this aspect of writing for kids on episode 24 of Your Kid’s Next Read podcast. Find it here or where you get your podcasts.
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, internationally published bestselling author of middle-grade fiction. You can find out more about me here
Would you love more writing advice for kids? Check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.