Archive for the Kids Can Write Category


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talkingGood dialogue seems natural, but in fact it is not.  In natural speech, nearly all people repeat themselves, start over, stutter, etc.  If you do this on the written page the character will sound boring or scatterbrained.  Unless you want him that way you must change the speech slightly.

But don’t go to the other extreme!  Too much editing can make a character sound phony.

Each author has his own style of writing dialogue.  It may be mostly uninterrupted dialogue with large chunks of story telling.

The best way to find your dialogue style:  writing1.  When writing your first draft, write down everything that comes to mind.  2.  Read your work out loud.  Does it sound like something your character would say?  Is it too wordy or too choppy? 3.  Edit – Experiment – Practice!

Use quotation marks at the beginning and end of each persons words and a new paragraph every time a different character speaks.  If two characters are talking back and forth and it is clear who is talking you don’t have to use – he said – she said after each line.

Avoid using too many descriptive speech words, example:  she blurted, bubbled, pouted, pleaded, etc.  Your characters actions, words, and descriptive story telling should be enough to inform the reader how he feels.


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The character may be what we care about, but the plot is what makes us care.  It is through ACTION that the story is revealed.

Something has to happen that keeps us interested.  A story isn’t about an ordinary day, week or year.  It is about an EXTRAordinary day, week or year.

A plot (the story) is made up of conflicts (problems).  A character wants something he can’t have because of the problem.  Is it because of what is going on around him? Or is it because he is unable to do it?  You’re the writer, what do you want it to be?

Once you have brought the problem out in the open, the next thing to do is to make the character try and solve it.  But there should be a whole bunch of little problems to solve along the way.  Try the “What If…” route.  For example, what if the character falls and breaks his arm, then what if he has to run away from something, and then what if he finds and old bike to make his getaway…. And so on.  This can produce some great ideas.

boyNever make solving the problem easy.

Think about solving the problem in different ways.  Write them down and see where it takes you.

A good example of some “up” and “downs” is the story of Cinderella.

Her life is miserable, then she is invited to the ball, but she has nothing to wear.  She makes a dress herself, and then the sisters tear it up.  She is given chores to do while everyone goes to the ball, but a Fairy Godmother comes and helps her get there.  She meets the prince and falls in love, but the clock strikes twelve and she has to go.  The Prince searches for her and the shoe fits! Yikes what a roller coaster ride, up and down, up and down.

Every writer works differently.  Some outline the whole story, including all the problems and solutions.  Some create and solve the problems as they go along.

Which one are you?  Try them both.  I bet you will come up with a great roller coaster ride of your own.

Point of View – Who is telling the story?

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First Person

When the story is told in first person it is like a camera is in the head of the main character.  The character refers to him/her self as “I” and may talk to the reader as “you.”

You don’t know me, but after hearing my story you will.  It all started when I found the ring.

Pretend you are sitting around the campfire telling a story.  It should feel natural.  Use humor and simply tell what the person is thinking and feeling.

The hard part of first person is describing yourself, what do you look like, what is your name.  You cannot say, my face turned red. You cannot see yourself!  Chocolate icing covered my lips. How do you know without looking in a mirror.  You can use that mirror though in a helpful way.

When I looked in the mirror and saw chocolate all over my lips, I wiped it away with my sleeve. (Yuck!)

Try, My little brother called me Mickey, but I like Mike much better.

or:  “Michael Brown,” shouted Mrs. Tingle, “are you paying attention?”

Also, YOU CANNOT REVEAL WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE THINKING!  You may only describe their actions when they are around the main character.

Third Person

1.  This is how most stories are told.The writer describes the main character, calls him/her by name and can tell the reader what he/she is thinking and feeling.

Karen was tall and thin with brilliant red hair and freckles.  Basketball was her favorite thing, and she loved playing on the school team, but today she was having a horrible game.  She felt like she had never played before.

But cannot say what other characters are thinking and feeling.  The writer can only describe what they look like or what they are doing when the main character is around.

2.     Or, the storyteller can get inside EVERYONE’S head and move around from scene to scene describing what everyone is doing.  This is a little harder as it can become confusing.


Setting – Where Are We?

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Without giving your reader a good picture of where your story takes place, it is hard to make your story EXCITING!

But be careful not to slow your story down with tons of information that you don’t need.

Is your place real or from your imagination?  How about a little of both?  It is usually easier to think of a real place, describe it from your memory and then add some different scenery to make your reader want to discover more.

Don’t forget we live in a 3-D world.  When describing your place, what does it smell like? What did supper taste like? What sounds can you hear around you? Is there a radio playing, a CD Player?  What do you see, look in all four directions? What are you feeling as you explore your space?  All of these things can be different depending on what season it is.  To get your reader into the story he wants to feel the heat of summer or hear the howling winter wind.

Charlotte’s Web is one of my favorite stories (the book is much better than the movie!)  Even if you have seen the movie read the book now.  It is filled with wonderful images such as:

When they pulled into the Fair Grounds, they could hear the music and see the Ferris wheel turning in the sky.  They could smell the dust of the racetrack where the sprinkling cart had moistened it; and they could smell hamburgers frying and see balloons aloft.  They could hear sheep blatting in their pens.


What is the weather like?

The next day was rainy and dark.  Rain fell on the roof of the barn and dripped steadily from the eaves.  Rain fell on the barnyard and ran in crooked courses down into the lane where thistles and pigweed grew.  Rain splattered against Mrs. Zuckerman’s kitchen window and came gushing out of the downspout.  Rain fell on the backs of the sheep as they grazed in the meadow. (Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White)

Let us see your story, let us enter into your special place and snoop around with your characters as if we are there!

Who Are You?

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When we are writing our stories we want to have characters that the reader can see.

We need to describe how a person looks, (facial features, clothing), on the outside as well as on the inside (personality, how do they react to different situations.) Tell us what they are thinking. The reader needs to be interested in the person and should care about what happens to them.

Interviewing a character is a good idea so that YOU really get to know him/her.  How can the reader know the person if you don’t?  You won’t use all the info in your story but it will help you tell the story about them.

Some sample questions:


Age, Birth date, Place

Height, Weight, color of eyes, color of hair, facial features

Father’s name, brother’s, sister’s, mom’s, pets

Address, house description

Mannerisms:  grooming, speech, voice, favorite phrases


Music, Reading, Movies, Sports, Food

Name of School, favorite subject, teachers names


Good at, Bad at

Now that the reader knows your character and cares about them, they want to see what happens and so this person must somehow change in some way by the end of the story, usually for the better.  A bully finds a friend and learns to share, a sad person finds happiness through friends, a goal is achieved.

Other characters in the story matter too, they must get involved in the main person’s transformation.  You can interview them, but don’t focus on trying to change them.

One thing I have done that has been helpful is to find pictures of what I think my characters look like and put them with their interviews.

Good luck finding and creating your special person.

It’s kind of like being Dr. Frankenstein!  Have Fun!

Frequently Asked Questions

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In case you don’t know what this means,  it’s “Frequently Asked Questions.”  When I tell students I’m a writer (aren’t we all!) they ask questions.  So here are some answers.

What is the most important thing I need to do to be a writer?

READ!  The more you read the more you will learn how other people put stories together.  You will probably write something that you like to read, so how will you know what that is….unless you read lots.  There are many story types, these are called genres (you say it like “john-ra.”)  Do you want to write a mystery, a comedy, an action adventure, a sad story, a story about life, or history?  Try them all.    What are you doing now?  YOU”RE READING THIS!  Good luck.

Where do you get your ideas?

Well, mostly from life (and again from reading!).  For my first story I wanted to write something that kids like to read.  Working in a library has its advantages because I noticed that a lot of students took out books on dogs.  But it couldn’t be just any old dog story  So I asked myself, “self, what are you interested in?”    The answer to that was…ANGELS.  So I wrote about a dog who was a guardian angel.

In all my stories I remember things that happened to me growing up.  As part of an answer to the first question I would say the second most important thing in writing is to WRITE!  Keeping a journal is a great idea.  It gets you writing and you can keep all those memories to put in your stories later.

How does a book get published?

A writer sends a copy of the story, which is called a manuscript to a company that publishes books.  If it is a novel you would send the first three chapters, information about yourself, and a list of any books that you used in your research.  If it is a manuscript for a picture book you would send the whole thing.  Unless you are a really good artist you would not send drawings for pictures.  If they decided to make your story into a book to sell they would use one of their illustrators.  Unfortunately there are many many many other people trying to get their stories published so your story would have to be better than a lot of the other stories.  I love to write so much that if they don’t want my story and it comes back, then I reread it  to make sure it doesn’t need any changes, and  I send it out again to a different publishing company.  And so on and so on……. (don’t give up!)

Fine Tuning Your Story – Overused Words

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Overusing Words

Well-chosen adverbs works good in a story, but beware of using too many in a row.  Usually because of the “-ly” ending, it creates a sing-song, clickety clack effect that draws attention to itself.

Also many are unnecessary because they’re already denoted by the verbs they modify.  How else do you slam down a phone but forcefully, or jump to your feet quickly etc.  Why repeat what the action has already told us.  Take them out.

Remember words that aren’t working for you are against you.

Repetitious Words or Phrases

Watch that you are not using one word all the time within a small section of writing.  Writers often have a favorite word that they use and don’t realize it.  For example:

little, huge, there, shiver, cried, etc.  This is harder to fix and I don’t worry about it when I am writing my first draft.  The important thing then is to get your thoughts down.  I know that I have used the same word to describe something five times but I also know that I can come back later and change it.  That is where the Thesaurus becomes invaluable.

Less is more

Consider the difference between: “Ron felt tears falling from his eyes,” and “Ron wept.”

“You’re no longer going to be working here,” and “You’re fired.”

“The place turned out to be a Laundromat,” and “The place was a Laundromat.”

“She launched herself forward at him,” and “She jumped at him.”

“He raised himself from the chair and came to stand by the bar,” and “He rose from the chair and stood by the bar.”