Unlock The Hidden Author – 12 Fun Writing Exercises You Can Give Your Child
Children love to get lost in a world they’ve created for themselves. Where we adults often wait for other so-called “creative” people to build these worlds for us – in a film, for an event, etc – our children can much more easily build them unprompted.
Despite having had a well-rounded and engaging education from an early age, I remember far less emphasis placed on creative writing – making up our own stories – as opposed to studying other people’s work.
While I would never question the importance of understanding our cultural roots and socio-historical context, through studying classic and modern literature, the ratio always seemed skewed too heavily in its favour.
The matter goes beyond the merely nurture of the next generation of authors. With the rise of cutting edge technology and artificial intelligence, it is more important than ever that we cultivate our children’s ability to imagine innovative ways of looking at problems, to create different “worlds” in which solutions can be found.
Thankfully, young children need only the smallest of pushes to start their imagination. The older they are, the stronger the required push to get started – once your child approaches their teenage years, they might require more than minimal encouragement to explore their inner author. Here are some fun writing prompts you can suggest to them:
Question #1 – If you could ask the Queen one question, what would you ask?
This light-hearted, bitesize question is bound to throw up some entertaining answers.
You can encourage your child to think about once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and dealing with the responsibility of coming up with a question.
Question #2 – Imagine you are in a spaceship and have landed on a completely new and strange planet. What does it look, sound, smell and feel like?
Is your child harbouring the spirit of HG Wells or Isaac Asimov? Find out with this science fiction prompt and see how far their imagination goes in creating worlds that are as different from our own as possible.
I still have a fascination with the idea of other planets and how different they are – Venus with its ‘squash-you-flat-as-a-pancake’ atmosphere, or Mercury with its boiling day time and freezing night time – and thinking about the question could encourage your child to take more of an interest in science subjects, along with their writing.
Question #3 – Write a story in which you save the whole world
We all enjoy feeling like the hero – and self-love exercises have been shown to have a huge positive psychological effect on self-confidence.
The question not only encourages imaginative narrative but also places your child as the hero at the centre of their own story, getting them to practise seeing themself in a positive light.
Question #4 – Write a story that ends with the sentence “what’s in the envelope?”
This style of exercise – providing a starting or finishing sentence – has always been popular with drama & improvisation workshops.
Especially when the final sentence is specified, it exercises the ability to construct a coherent narrative that takes the story to a defined end point. There is still plenty of space for your child to explore their ideas, but it also teaches balance between unbridled imagination (playtime) and controlled creativity.
Question #5 – One morning you wake up in the middle of a forest. What happens next?
This scenario is sort of the love child of Roald Dahl’s The Minpins and Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Not only is this another very open ended situation which can give your child a wide range of options around genre and pace, it also encourages them to come to terms with being in new or challenging situations – taking them out of their comfort zone.
How might they react? What dangers might they face? How will they respond to ‘strangers’ in this environment?
Question #6 – Create the next Disney/Pixar superhero. What do they look like and speak like? What special powers do they have?
Apart from the fact that your child’s answer could somehow land on the desk of some big-shot Hollywood producer and make millions of dollars (you never know…), this is another light-hearted way for your child to explore their creativity in a more familiar setting – animated super heroes.
Question #7 – If you could change ONE thing about the world, what would it be?
This is an interesting way of seeing how your child perceives the world around them. Do they see big problems that need big solutions, or have a shorter-focus lens on their immediate world.
This also can be a good indicator of a broader, longer-term question that relates to careers – what one problem do they want to try and fix?
Encouraging them to think unselfishly will help them develop one of the single most precious currencies that an author can possess: empathy.
Question #8 – If you could invite anyone in the world or the whole of history to your birthday party, whom would you invite and why? Now write a story about what would happen.
This is a more child-friendly variation of the “if you could invite 4 people to a dinner party…” question.
Seeing how different people interact with each other encourages your child to think about character development as multidimensional – it is not one main character VS the world, but a series of subtler relationships between a mix of different characters.
At the very least, it gives them a fun and familiar space to explore their ideas!
Question #9 – Imagine you are granted a wish – but you can’t wish for anything for yourself. What would you wish for?
Again, this question is encouraging unselfish imagination – the idea that they can gift happiness on another person or other people.
For bonus points, they can write the situation – the wish and the effect – into a short story to explore in their own space.
Question #10 – If you could write your own book, who would be the main character (and you can’t choose yourself!)
A good character is very often what sells a story. Someone with a clear aim, with whom the reader can relate, or with distinctive and captivating characteristics or an irresistible back story can transform a relatively simple backstory – even if it’s totally unoriginal. Just think of the constant rehashings of detective fiction that rely on a brilliant detective to reel people in.
Question #11 – What was the happiest moment of your whole life? Describe it.
I actually love asking adults this question – it encourages the ability to describe a specific point in time, or at most a short series of events on a given day, often quite far in the past.
This can help your child explore the more descriptive side of writing – rather than focusing on pure plot or character.
Question #12 – You wake up on Christmas morning and there’s a giant present at the end of your bed. You pull off all the wrapping paper and … it’s a TIME MACHINE! What happens next..?
The idea of time travel has (ironically perhaps) been done time and time again. But it’s a great way to give your child complete control over the various elements – setting, character, genre – of their story, and encourage them to draw connections with other school subjects, especially history.
As always, thanks for reading and please leave comments – especially if you have any cool writing prompts of your own! And you can leave questions for the magazine too.