I try to discover whether or not I know anything about writing by Ros Bayes

C.S. Lewis once wrote something which I haven’t yet been able to track down, despite thumbing through many of his books on my shelves and consulting Google. I’m pretty sure it’s in one of his letters. It was to the effect that if you can’t explain something in terms a child can understand, you haven’t really understood it yourself. I didn’t have that quotation in mind when I started my current enterprise, but it came back to me as I proceeded with the project.

I recently offered to do a few lessons on story-writing with a friend's two little girls aged, I think, about 8 and 10, who are being home schooled. I just thought their mum might appreciate them having a few lessons which she didn’t have to prepare. I tried to keep it simple, bearing in mind their ages. So far we have done lesson 1, looking at the basic construction of a story. 

They jotted down some notes, thinking about who their story concerns, and the contents of the plot. I left them an aide-memoire which was not intended as a check-list that must be completed, but as some suggestions to prompt the development of their stories. I made the assumption that these will be happy-ending stories with a neat resolution, but I did point out to them that not all stories are like that, and once they’ve mastered the art of story writing they can experiment with different styles.

My aide-memoire, which is too small to read in this picture, included, for the beginning of the story:

Who is the main character? 

Where is the story set? 
When is the story set? 
Which other characters are involved? 
What motivates the character? (Does he/she want to: 
Get something? 
Help someone? 
Rescue someone?
Reach somewhere?
Fulfil a promise?
Make something?
Remind someone of something important?
Or something else?)

For the middle of the story:

How does the character plan to achieve what he/she wants?
Who wants to stop him/her and why?
How do they do that? (It can be as bad/mean/unfair as you like)
What terrible thing happens?
What makes it seem as though all is lost?

And for the end of the story: 

What gives your character the courage to go on? What stops him/her from giving up?
How does he/she resolve the problem?
Where does he/she get the idea from?
What does the baddy do to try and stop him/her?
How does he/she overcome the baddy? (At this point the younger girl pointed out that there isn't a baddy in her story; it's the parents who are the obstacle, but they're not doing it out of badness.)
How does he/she achieve his/her goal?
What is the result of him/her achieving it?
What difference does it make to the situation?
How are you going to give your story a feel-good ending?

The girls have chosen topics which are probably fairly typical for their ages, the older one about a wartime evacuee and the younger about wanting kittens. They are going to write their stories before next lesson, and then we will have three lessons on how to improve what they’ve written. Next lesson is about the difference between showing and telling, and when and how to use each. The following week will be about using all the 5 senses to make the story come alive, and the final lesson will look at vocabulary, particularly replacing some verbs + adverbs with stronger verbs.

As I’m only beginning to get a feel for their capabilities, and as in my own teaching career I taught much older students – eleven to eighteen – it remains to be seen whether or not I have pitched this right for them, and how much tweaking I may have to do along the way. My own writing is less analytical than this – I suppose I do apply most of these “rules” most of the time, but it’s less conscious and more instinctive, so it was good to have C.S. Lewis remind me to check how much I still understand this stuff myself by explaining it to a child. 

It also occurred to me as I was preparing the lessons how naturally Jesus incorporated many of these elements into His stories. Take a look at the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 or the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18. He really was a consummate storyteller.

 Ros Bayes has 10 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting


  1. What a wonderful blog post. I love thinking of how you're making an impact on those girls. And what a great reminder about the beauty of simplicity.


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