I SPEAK KID
By ELAINE DONG
I’ve written before about my kids’ stories, here in the column and more extensively on my blog. I did mini writing workshops with them, even before they could print letters. I’m talking about the process of crafting a story, complete with backdrops, characters and plots.
Their stories are played out in series of pictures. Angelica, my elder daughter, started when she was about three, drawing sets of four to six pictures per story. As she grew, we devised different ways of telling stories. Sometimes she would draw on a big piece of art paper, with all elements of her story on that single page.
Other times, we would do comic-strip-like drawings, with a few words thrown in as she started to learn them. Once in a while, we would attempt poetry, in pictures of course.
Her stories were very random in the beginning, often moving from one frame to another without connection. But as with all things done by a three-year-old, it was the most genius thing in her mother’s eyes. As she developed logical sequences in her writing, I admit I felt like we had left a piece of her childhood behind. I wanted the stories to remain as random as they used to be, but of course that wasn’t possible.
With Lauren, I take a different approach, simply because they are both so different in personality. She doesn’t sit still for long, and would rather tear through the house than sit down to pen her literary masterpiece. So I record her stories on my phone and iPad, whichever is on hand when inspiration strikes her.
Sometimes, she would scribble madly in her notebook – I give them several blank notebooks to sketch on – and present it to me as her story of the day. Unlike her sister, who tells me the story as she finishes each page, Lauren seems to like to get everything down on paper first and talk later. I would sit there, recorder in hand, for the 10 seconds it takes her to tell me her story.
Some parents value mathematical prowess, and others want scientific savvy. But all I want is for my kids to be able to write fabulous adventures. If I can give them just one gift in the world, how wonderful if I could give them the ability to create worlds of their choosing. Not in the psychopathic sense of course, but in the Man-Booker-Prizewinning sense. So, don’t say I am not ambitious, okay?
Last week, I interviewed my good friend and the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up, Dina Zaman, and she says we’re here to tell a story.
So true. She is the kind of writer that makes you want to pick up a pen (or dust off a laptop) and write after you read her work. She is a prolific writer in every aspect – fiction, non-fiction, socio-political, academic – and she’s always nagging me to explore fiction. I dabbled in fiction a lifetime ago, and even
then, only had one short story published.
Work keeps me busy enough, I tell myself, but we all know that’s just an excuse. Perhaps I’ll be motivated enough to find the time for fiction again, but for now, I’m happy to prod my kids in the right direction. Besides, I think they’re better at it than I do.
Just last week, I was arguing with Angelica about adding one more page to her story but she absolutely refused. I started to think of something I could threaten her with, because I am such a wonderful mother.
She was on to me by then. She gathered up her pages, straightened them very deliberately and said to me: “It’s my story, you know. Everything that needs to happen, has happened. The end.”
In writer speak, that would probably mean, don’t overwork the story and to use the least words/pictures to tell the most. All right, I’ll let that one slide, but I’ll still attempt to coax her to do an edit in the next few days, for the key to good writing is being able to go back and refine the first draft.
Those are grand words to be using on a kids’ writing, you might say. But I beg to differ. Like all aspects of common sense parenting – be it teaching manners, instilling discipline or inculcating good writing habits, it starts from young. As young as they come.
Just as you don’t wait till they’re 12 to start teaching them to be polite, you shouldn’t wait for an “age” to teach writing.
Our family spent last weekend in Taiping, Perak, mainly around the vicinity of the Lake Gardens. The girls started to play around with the idea of a hidden treasure amidst the greenery and did a treasure map, centred around the playground area. Knowing me well, they immediately stopped me in my tracks when they saw my eyes light up.
“Mummy, it’s just a map. Not a story, just a map. Okay?”
Sure, I’ll consider it a first draft.
Read more about Elaine Dong’s writing projects with her kids on www.angelolli.com. She and her two girls welcome all literary critique and questions.