I always used to think ‘Write What You Know’ was the best method for writing a story, but sometimes it’s surprising how changing it up can bring fresh ideas to your palette. In my books, Call Me Amy and Amy’s Choice, I have a connection to my main character—13-year-old Amy—because she lives in a tiny fishing village on the Maine coast that is very similar to where my grandparents lived all the while I was growing up. However, lately I’ve switched gears. My most recent work-in-progress is about a boy who lives in a big city.
Breaking out of your comfort zone by changing the way you always write can set your writing free, while avoiding the usual setbacks and roadblocks. Rather than thinking, ‘oh, he wouldn’t do that…’ think instead, maybe she would!
Many fourth and fifth graders are more comfortable reading and rereading the same series of books over and over and this may factor into their writing, as well. Here’s a fun way for your students to come up with new ideas to write about.
Give everyone in your class a slip of paper. Have them write three items on the paper: main character’s name, main character’s age, setting (city, country, space, under the sea, school, etc.). Collect the slips in order and then pass them out again in reverse order. This takes the pressure off. Rather than writing about their own very familiar beloved characters, they’re now writing about someone or something else.
Have them ask themselves ‘what if?’ as they write their stories. What if there is a sudden snowstorm? What if the bike gets a flat tire? What if the main character isn’t even human, but an alien, superhero, or beast? Write fast, the first lines that come to them. They shouldn’t think about it too much, just go with their thoughts and keep writing.
Another story starter idea is to pass out pictures from old calendars and have your students use the scene for their setting. No matter which methods they use, changing it up is bound to uncover all sorts of new possibilities for their stories.
After these mind stretching exercises, students can go back to ‘writing what they know,’ but hopefully they’ll be less wary of experimenting and including new ideas. Happy writing!
BIO: Marcia Strykowski works at a public library. Earlier, after earning her BS in Fine Arts, she worked for seven years in textbook publishing. She is a member of SCBWI. After numerous magazine and anthology contributions, Call Me Amy was Marcia’s first novel. It was chosen for Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of 2013. Amy's Choice , a sequel to Call Me Amy, was released the following year. Both tween novels were published by Luminis Books. You can find out more about her and her books at http://marciastrykowski.com/