Four steps to creative writing for children

April 08, 2016

Most school subjects seem to have a definite path to success, but is it also true of creative writing? With the arrival of the National Young Writers’ Awards, Henry Fagg, founder of, investigates.

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1. Ignite a passion for writing

Unlike most subjects, creative writing is perhaps more to do with who your child is, rather than what they know. Although there are undoubtedly skills to learn, creative writing is challenging because it cannot be learned by rote.

Arguably, the first key to igniting a passion for creative writing is your child’s own life experiences. Does your child visit museums or galleries? Do they take part in creative pursuits such as music, art or drama or attend concerts or plays? Do they go for walks in the countryside? All these first-hand experiences can encourage inspiring writing.

You can encourage your child to keep a notebook for jotting down inspiring sights, sounds or ideas when out and about. They can also use their notebook to help develop empathy and character ideas. For example, who is the person sitting opposite them on the train? What are they wearing, and where might they be going? What life experiences might they have had? After a short time, your child will have a character they can work into a creative piece.

The second way a child will get into creative writing is through their reading. Reading begets writing. If your child is an avid reader of all sorts of genres, their love of writing will develop through osmosis. Your local library, or the website are great places to discover inspiring books.

2. Nurture the creative spirit

Wordsworth famously wrote that poetry originates in ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’. Children are often advised to think about the five senses when writing descriptively, but it is the child’s bank of life experiences which they will need to recall. As tutor Bryan Dadson says:

“Writing works best when it is from experience, so I get my students to try and conjure up that experience, using their senses to describe a place, a person or an event. If you can put yourself at the centre of a piece of writing, then you are one step ahead. What can you see? What does it smell like? Is it cold? warm? dark? light? noisy? quiet? These question words (what? who? why? when? where? how?) are a useful tool in developing a creative chain of events not dependent upon a predetermined structure and as such it is more flexible.”

As well as drawing on memory and experience, there are plenty of other ways to develop the kernel of a great short story. Pictures, postcards, photos, unusual objects or symbols (such as a river, castle, window or jewellery) are all useful for this. It is helpful to focus on the emotions which these items inspire, or on the imagined feelings of any characters depicted.

3. Introduce some structure

There are many different ways to structure a piece of creative writing. Tutor Denise Byrne, for example, writes about the need to blend Description, Action and Dialogue (DAD), and also four essential aspects to cover: the problem/goal of a story, the setting, the characters and the plot. Mind maps, time lines or flow charts can be good for brainstorming these.

Another way into creating a simple story structure is Mary Amato’s WOW technique, which stands for Wants, Obstacle and Wins. Put simply, this kind of story has a main character who Wants something, is confronted by an Obstacle, and then either Wins or loses. For example, a girl wants a new bicycle, but her parents say no. In this story, her parents are the obstacle that must be overcome. Obstacles can also be emotions. For example, a boy craves friendship, but is too shy to make friends. In this case, the obstacle is his shyness.

4. Develop writing techniques

Reading widely will of course expand your child’s vocabulary and comprehension of words in context, but there are other ways to improve vocabulary through games such as Scrabble. Inventive, accurate and evocative word choice is one of the keys to effective writing, and you can encourage your child to be ambitious with their choice of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs with the help of a good thesaurus and dictionary.

Other skills include effective use of dialogue (a whole topic in itself), and replacing adverbs with ‘strong’ verbs. For example, ‘walked fast’ or ‘walked slowly’ can become instead ‘marched’ or ‘sidled’ with all the extra overtones of meaning which such words imply.


Like all great skills, creative writing can be a lifelong pursuit, and the earlier your child starts the more satisfaction they will gain from it in the future. Although the creative process is essentially mysterious and cannot be controlled, there is much that you and your child can do to bring about the right conditions for it to flourish.

If you know a budding young creative writer, why not take a look at our National Young Writers’ Awards?

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