The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Learning To Write Well

on March 11, 2020

When my son Rich was in first grade he wrote a fairy tale called “The Bat Who Eats Children”. When I read red it I was amazed to see a coherent story with complete sentences, correct spelling, and proper punctuation. Although I credited his teacher with the editing, I was certain that the story was his own work. He had taken the plot from a fairy tale called “Hansel and Gretel”, which I had read to him many times, and borrowed the bat character from a television show called “Sesame Street’. The events and characters’ behavior in the story were just variations of the original. Although my son was not yet an accomplished reader, he had learned the basics of writing from being read to at home and at school. Although no one outlined the structure of the fairy tale, told him how the characters should behave, or showed him examples of fairy-tale language, he had learned them all by himself.

 At that time I was teaching high school English and laying out a path of reading and writing for my students. For instance, when I taught a unit on short stories I didn’t ask students to analyze their structure or identify the types of sentences. Nor did I ask them to write in their own journals every day. Instead, we discussed the message of each story, how it was laid out, the behavior of it’s characters, and the surprise endings. I concluded the unit by asking my students to write their own short stories. As I hoped, most of them did very well. They had learned the basics of short story writing.

Here is another student’s example.

Once upon a time, not my time and not your time, but once upon a time the moon was all alone in the sky.

Directly down there was a skunk village. Now there was a problem. Each night the skunks wouldn’t have enough light. Finally one night the genius of the skunks had a council. He glued a match on a board. By accident one of the skunks struck the match and a ball of fire shot up in the air—shaped like this *. .  The skunks thought it was weird, but from that day on they called it a star.  But the skunks forgot how to pronounce it and started to call it a scar until one day a new skunk said, “Look at the stars.”

 And so it was, that from that night to this night, the stars have been twinkling.

By Sachi Komai ( a very smart girl)

How can we explain the power of those two writers? Did they steal their stories from books at home, or did their parents do the writing for them? No, those young writers were vigorous readers, and the stories they wrote grew out of many others they had read. The secret of learning to write is reading. When you read a lot, the structures of writing stay with you and enable you to write new pieces that are not only different, but also just as good.

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