I often write about reluctant writers and their struggles to produce just a few sentences.
But what do you do with an enthusiastic, highly verbal student who (when left unchecked) scrawls out a 19-page tome? How can you encourage this eager child—and his boatload of ideas—while helping him write a more manageable story?
Today we’ll take a look at some strategies for reining in wordy writers.
The Problem with Long Stories
Teaching children to self-edit is an important goal. Most kids already have a hard time finding their own errors, but it can be completely overwhelming when they’re faced with that stack of 19 pages to edit, polish, and revise.
Not only that, long stories are often filled with tangents that wander away from the main action, so it’s wise to teach kids to narrow their focus and write concisely.
Until students have developed the skills to plan, organize, and write cohesively, you’ll want to guide them to write stories of a more manageable length. At first, encourage them to stick to a fixed number of paragraphs. If they want to embellish and expand (or even write a novel), they can do that in their free time.
In most cases, stories that are super long have these common characteristics:
- Overly broad topic
- Many characters
- A number of different settings
- Many plots, subplots, and rabbit trails
- Too many details or descriptions
- Long, wordy sentences or run-ons
Writing Strategies for Wordy Kids
Rather than try whittling down a long story into a shorter one, it’s usually much cleaner to start over. Challenge your child to keep the new story to five paragraphs, or two typed pages, by following a few simple guidelines.
1. Narrow the topic.
Instead of tackling a vast subject like the Ohio flood of 1913, it often helps to take a mental snapshot—zeroing in on one moment in the midst of a bigger experience.
2. Use fewer characters.
Perhaps your child could write about one main character who must save his sister as the flood waters rise. Or, the story could focus on a member of the Akron fire department who helps one family get to safety.
3. Stick with one setting.
Many changes in scene and setting add to a story’s length. Though a verbal child might want to have multiple scenes in the story, suggest settling on one or two.
4. Limit the passage of time.
Writing about an event that spans days or weeks pretty much guarantees that the story will be long and involved. But if students stick to a time frame of several hours, they’ll more easily manage the story details.
5. Choose details wisely.
Details are important! They add color and interest, and they engage the reader. By all means, encourage children to describe characters, emotions, settings, and events. At the same time, caution them that trying to fit in all of their great ideas can bog down the writing or steer the story off course.
6. Be precise and concise.
Enthusiastic writers enjoy words, don’t they? But often, their stories are tangled with awkward sentences and long strings of adjectives. Without discouraging kids from developing a more mature writing style, explain that long sentences and big words don’t always produce good writing. Guide them to use simple language and choose more precise words.
A helpful strategy is to first invite them to write a skeleton of each sentence that includes a subject and predicate. Once they have the basic story structure in place, they can carefully choose modifiers, sentence variations, figurative language, or other details to expand each sentence and make it more colorful.
Even if their prose is a bit over the top, we’re thrilled when one of our children finds joy in writing. What writing strategies for wordy kids have helped you guide your young author to write more concisely?