A Pirate's Resources

Welcome

Welcome to our creative writing resources! I’m glad you are here. Check back frequently for easy to use tips on all aspects of storytelling and writing. These are written to you - the parent - to encourage you as you then encourage your children to dive into creativity! Check out the categories to the right, and dig in! Or use our resource home page to find the right place to start.

Comments

Making Creative Writing Accessible to All Learners

A few years back, Chris (the author of A Pirate’s Guide) gave a wonderful talk for the SEA Homeschoolers online conference, Homeschooling Children Across the Learning Spectrum. His talk, “Making Creative Writing Accessible to All Learners” was born out of several families’ responses to A Pirate’s Guide. If you’ve got 40 minutes, join us as he encourages parents in the journey to help their neuro-diverse students become more creative and expressive through creative writing. And if you are short on time, or want to take it in slowly, check out our series of articles under the category Across the Learning Spectrum.

Watch, or read, and be encouraged!

Comments

The CHALLENGE and the POSSIBILITY

The Challenge for us all in approaching creative writing ::

You don’t feel that you are a good writer.
What if you aren’t naturally “creative” yourself? What if your student isn’t?
You don’t really know what curriculum to use.
Why do so many of them assume you already know things?
Why do they jump through the material so quickly you end up missing things?
Why do they ask you to master a whole new subject in order to teach your student an elective?
Your kids have a difficult time with writing.
What if they don’t like writing, at all, much less creative writing?
What if they love to write, but don’t know where to begin?
What if expressing themselves, at all, is a challenge?

The Challenge for those on the Spectrum ::
All of the above … AND …
Your student struggles with being easily over-stimulated, over-whelmed.
Your student cannot make big leaps through material.
Your student sees things in black and white and doesn’t express themselves easily, in general.

I have good news. It is
possible. Teaching creative writing - wherever your student is at - is possible. And it yields good fruit. One thing I’ve seen again and again, is that when parents are given the right tools to teach this subject, and have the right attitude, it can be a really positive and rewarding experience. There is hope. I encourage you to hold on to hope as you go on homeschooling, specifically in getting your child to open up to write, to share words, to speak their thoughts, and share what’s going on inside them, to you and others. It’s a worthwhile thing to do, and while it can be difficult, I do believe the rewards are more than worth it.

Though we didn’t start out to create an accessible writing program, the evidence from those families who have tested it with their neuro-diverse students is that it works.
And it is worth it. Read on for more encouragement.
Comments

Overcoming the BLANK page

Chris created this because I (a homeschooling mom of 3) saw a great need for a truly helpful creative writing curriculum. It needed to be easy to use, not require too much of the parent, and let the kids have fun. So many workbooks and texts that I previewed simply didn’t give the foundation for what is needed to tell/write/film a good story. They jumped straight into write a story, and skipped the careful process of laying a foundation of everything that must go into a story. Since Chris had worked for years with storytelling professionals, and had already developed a very successful method of guiding them through the storytelling process, it was simply a matter of making it accessible for a middle schooler. Chris created it and we published it back in 2016, and since then, we’ve had hundreds of conversations with homeschoolers and educators about how this creative writing curriculum is actually meeting a real need in the homeschool community.

One of the biggest surprises was this: the problems that a professional writer is faced with when writing a story are the same problems that a junior high kid has in writing a story as well -
the same thing.

The heart of that thing - the thing that all of us struggle with in creative writing - is the
blank page. Imagine someone sits you down, say, a teacher in a classroom, and gives you a blank piece of paper, and says, “write a story. Write anything you want.” Now, on the one hand, this seems generous: you are free to write whatever you want. But in fact, for most people, this is terrifying! It’s utterly overwhelming, even for most full time writers. What are you going to write about? There are a million possibilities, and you’ve got to decide: what is the one thing I’m going to write about?

Creativity actually works the exact opposite way. Instead of being given utter freedom, creativity flourishes when you are given constrictions and boundaries.

Even though they seem very simple when you listen to a story, or watch a movie, or read a book, stories are actually very complex things. Doesn’t it feel like it just came out of the author that way? But when you understand that it can take a writer years or even decades to write a novel, or make a movie, you can start to see that there are so many moving parts going on below the surface.

This is one of the challenges of writing in general. When we have our kids sit down to write, it can be very intimidating to them - it can be overwhelming, daunting, and many kids just shut down and don’t function any more. All too often, this is how writing it taught. It’s a tragedy, because it doesn’t have to be this way. We have a solution.
Comments

From Overwhelmed to I CAN do This!

The approach that Chris found, after years of working with professional storytellers, is actually pretty simple and straightforward. It’s as simple as giving someone a very narrow and specific thing, and asking them a question. For example, you could ask your child: “if you are a sea creature, what sort of sea creature would you be?” You could even limit their options further by suggesting: “would you be a dolphin, a shark, a whale, a salmon, or a sea monster?” In doing this, we ask a specific question, and then give a limited list of options to choose from. So much easier than saying, here’s a blank sheet of paper, write! It’s something they can do, a question they can easily answer.

Once they’ve chosen a sea creature, you can ask deeper questions about it. For example, “where does the dolphin like to swim? Does it swim in waves in the ocean? Does it live in the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean?” Keep asking questions, building on the answers they’ve already given. “What kind of food does the dolphin like to eat in the Pacific Ocean, after it swims it the waves? Does it have any friends? Does it swim alone or with a group of other dolphins?”

In this way, you are giving your child very specific things to answer. The questions are very limited, and it is within their ability to be creative, instead of giving them a blank slate and telling them to write whatever they want to write.

This is our general philosophy around teaching creativity and specifically creative writing. Therefore, the curriculum that Chris designed is structured somewhat in this way. He took the writing of a story, and broke it down into its pieces. These pieces are what we call the
Grammar of Story.
Comments

The Grammar of Story

In keeping with our general philosophy that creativity flourishes when there are limitations, A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story takes the complexity of a Story, and breaks it down into the pieces, or elements, that create it. These are things you are certainly familiar with: setting, rules, symbols, characters, villains. There are other things that you might have heard before: beginning/middle/end, mystery, act of villainy, ticking clocks, and so on. All told, the workbook consists of 33 elements of story, with exercises for each one.

At the same time, we’ve got a pirate story that is woven in and throughout these exercises. The story is about a notorious pirate named Captain Yogger LeFossa, who captures your child and brings them aboard his ship and invites them to go on a treasure hunt, where x marks the spot. The story weaves in and out of the exercises, and the exercises themselves are involving your child in this larger pirate quest. It was done simply to make creative writing fun and interesting, and also to demonstrate these elements of story through the fictional story of these pirates, its crew of talking monkeys, and their adventures.

For a quick overview of how this workbook works, you can watch our 2 minute video flip through
here.
As you can see, the exercises are directive - asking the student for specific responses, something they can easily do. Then the exercises build on each other, adding to what they’ve done before, and in the end, creating a lot of raw material for stories that you student would want to tell.

As Chris designed the curriculum, he drew not only on our experiences as homeschooling parents, but on those of the parents we interacted with in our coop groups. We didn’t want this book to be teacher intensive, but something a parent could hand to their child and have their child do. It does not intimidate, or require a lot of background or explanation, and there isn’t even a big teacher’s guide (though, after many requests for one, we’ve published one
here). Instead, he designed it to be easy to use, very intuitive, and a workbook you could simply open up and start to work within. As a result, it’s something that parents and their kids can do along side each other (time permitting) - you don’t have to be teaching this. It can be a journey that the two of you can go on together. Ultimately, the goal was for this subject to be FUN. Because we believe that if you can get kids to enjoy writing, and engage with it, then they will continue to want to write.
Comments

Homeschooling Across the Learning Spectrum

We wrote this curriculum for homeschoolers, and learners of all ages. It didn’t occur to us to think about it in terms of anything other than :: what do they need to know so they can become better at expressing themselves, at telling stories? And how can we do it in a way that is fun, easy, and actually does the job without any fluff? So it was a surprise to us when some of our biggest fans were homeschoolers that are on the learning spectrum. Parents of kids with learning disabilities and kids on the autism spectrum and other kids that are not your traditional student are regularly finding this workbook to be very valuable.

In having lots of conversations with these parents, we found three reasons why:

  1. This workbook is doable. It is something that the student can do without being overwhelmed or overstimulated.
  2. This workbook takes incremental steps. Gaps that can cause frustration are minimized and bridged.
  3. This workbook is an opportunity for them to succeed and feel good about themselves and their work.
Comments

First of all :: Keep the Work DOable

As we talked with many moms of children on the spectrum or with learning challenges, they all said: This workbook isn’t overwhelming to their kids. At first this felt strange, because I find the curriculum quite rigorous - it takes quite awhile to work through, and it does require a lot of the student. This disconnect for me was really because I didn’t understand what being the parent of a child on the spectrum was like. To quote one parent, “our world is one PTSD episode after another, it’s very stressful all the time. Sometimes homeschooling a special needs child, even though it is the best thing for them, is very hard. It’s like being in a battle. And educating our child. And being a therapist. And being a mom. What’s helpful to us is simplicity. I also find it helpful when things are not timed, with no deadlines.”

What she was describing is that this workbook allows kids to take small bite size pieces. Even though the workbook has exercises, there are not real beginnings or endings. Your student can start an exercise and keep going through it, but when they are tired, or done, or have a meltdown, or someone interrupts, they can simply stop. The next time, they will just begin wherever they left off. It’s not like writing an essay, or a large task you need to do, where you just have to press through with it. One parent described how her son struggles with self-esteem and confidence, and being able to finish an exercise in his own time builds his confidence. Because this curriculum allows him to decide how much he can do, he gets to decide, and he can be successful. When her son can’t finish something, he feels defeated, and can act like he’s losing a limb; there can be a total meltdown over something as simple as not finishing a lesson. But with
A Pirate’s Guide, these aren’t “lessons” - they are just exercises. It allows the student to decide to stop after two or three things, or push through and do more of them to get through to the story.
Comments

Moving Slowly in the Right Direction :: It is Possible

As I’ve talked with parents, it seems like all of them - no matter where their kid is at, how many needs they have or don’t have, they want to see their kids progress, and sometimes it feels like they are not moving or developing at all. And I just want to encourage you - it is possible. And I’ve seen it happen in this area of creativity.

The mom who shared with me that her son couldn’t work with play dough, and only did legos exactly as the instructions dictated, shared this most wonderful story with us, after having spent a season doing
A Pirate’s Guide. It was encouraging for them, and for us as well.

Their autistic middle school aged son was very literal. At the beginning of the process of doing creative writing, his muscles just weren’t very strong. And when he was asked to answer a question - he would just give a single word and be done with it. She said it was literally like pulling teeth to get him to answer, but now that he’s gone through the workbook, it’s not. She described how even her husband had noticed the progression, had seen that his writing had developed and become easier for him. Her son has gotten to the point of saying, if I do this, and this, and this, and put it all together, it actually sounds good.

That’s the key: their son was the one recognizing that
he was doing this - he understood his muscles were weak, he understood that he hadn’t been able to do it, then when he saw himself being able to do it, he was encouraged. Now, don’t get me wrong, the progress here is small, but for them and their family, any movement at all was very significant, and it really came home to them this past Thanksgiving.

The mom described how every Thanksgiving everyone puts the things they are thankful for on what they call a Thankful Tree. In the past, her son’s items on the thankful tree were just simple foods (potatoes, turkey). But this year, she shared how he wrote down non food items, and things with descriptions, and in that, they could really tell that he had come a long way. Hearing this, I cheered.
Her son was expressing himself, and expressing something he hadn’t been able to express before. He hadn’t been strong enough, but now, his muscles were growing, and his ability to share who he is with his family is growing.

So to summarize the point here - I don’t think this has anything particular to do with my curriculum or anything other than it is just using a tool of small, incremental baby steps that gradually get harder and enables them to win, to keep going, to not get lost, to not get stuck at the edge of this cliff with a gap that’s too big for them and they just give up.
Comments

When the Work is its Own Reward

Another unique aspect of A Pirate’s Guide is that there is a story woven through out the workbook. There’s the story, and then exercise, and then more story. For some kids, the story acts like a reward.

And while we are on the subject of rewards … One parent shared how, as a 42 year old, she had grown up without rewards , but today she feels that all things need rewards. Every activity and book, every app, is about earning something - stars, points, leveling up. She’s found that it is too much for her autistic son. (It’s too much for me, too.) He gets focused, but the focus is solely based on getting the prize, not the work itself - he’ll work just enough to get to the prize. Then this parent described how, in
Pirate’s Guide, because the prize in this curriculum is the story woven in and out of the exercises - the rewards are integrated into the very work itself.

And the other unique thing about this reward is that it is in their mind - for other than the cover of the book, there are no illustrations or drawings inside the book at all. Most curriculum has characters and stars and doodles and drawings … and as a parent told me - their kids are overstimulated as it is. Our kids are inundated with stuff on their phones, computers, and television screens; it can be a challenge just going into a store, because there is just so much stimulation for them. So in a curriculum, anything extra can be too much. So many moms have found it valuable that their students are able to visualize the characters in the story out of the written words (not through images) and the whole process is streamlined and simple.


Parents need curriculum that is something that their kids can do that is not overlong, or overwhelming, or overly taxing them. They need something that their student can accomplish, finish bite size pieces and build their confidence, and that doesn’t resort to bribes or rewards or meaningless things like stars or points. The reward should be the thing itself - and one of the rewards of stories is being transported to a different world, meeting new characters, going and experiencing things that you yourself would never do in your own real life. We get to experience this when we watch a movie or read a book. And we can connect this for our kids when they are writing a story. We want them, as they are creating a story, to have the same experience of traveling to a different world, but this time, it is a world they are interacting with, they are creating. This is one thing that makes video games so attractive to kids, and why so many boys, particularly on the autistic scale, gravitate towards them. There is a huge desire to be creative, to act and function in a world, without the limitations that they experience in this world. Writing stories can be the same thing, but it is much more work. It’s easier to pick up a game console and play within an existing world. It’s more difficult to do this with pen and paper and something they get to create. Hopefully, this pirate story and the exercises help bridge that gap between passive (playing a video game) and proactive (writing their own story from scratch), by making it easier for kids to enter into a world, and begin to enjoy creative writing.
Comments

Second :: Bridging the Gaps

One of the moms we spent time getting to know is a curriculum reviewer for a publication, and she is inundated with new curricula and has reviewed lots over the years. Most of us homeschooling moms can go through a fair number of texts and workbooks and study packs trying to find the right one that fits our family. This is only heightened for moms whose kids have learning challenges. They so long for something that will enhance the learning experience for their kids and encourages them to want to learn - for that learning experience to be a good, positive experience that their kids will want to do.

A common barrier is what this mom called “gaps.” This is where you are working on something, and the next step that they ask your student to take is too big a leap for them to comprehend or succeed at. They can’t do it. For example, incremental learning in math would be something like: 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 1+3=4, 1+4=5, and so on. Working in this way allows the student to take the previous step, see how it applies, and move on to the next step. It’s small enough that they can bridge from the first to the next example. But many teachings tend to take a leap. They show the student that sequence, and then ask “what’s 7+9?” That is too big of a leap. Gaps like this aren’t just a problem for special needs kids, it’s a problem for us all.

Whenever we come to a barrier or a chasm that’s too big to cross, we shut down, we give up, we don’t know what to do. It’s the level of scale that determines if we can push through, or if we shut down; it’s a matter of how big the gaps are. For some kids you can have fairly big steps and they can navigate that fairly well. Others need the steps to be close and tight for them to keep walking the path. So the challenge for all parents is to find a curriculum/program that does not have gaps that are bigger than their child can handle. And this is something that has been stated again and again by parents who have used
Pirate’s Guide: it makes use of very small, incremental baby steps, and leading by example. It’s very directive, and removes the gaps, so that the student can keep walking forward confidently. No flying leaps!
Comments

Second :: more gaps

And here’s a unique kind of gap - totally different from just taking too big a step between 1+1 and xy+52. It’s a gap in strength and ability.

I’ve been told by numerous parents with kids on the spectrum, is that their kids can have a very black and white nature. They are the kind of kids who, when they ask the time, don’t want to know that it’s 3 o’clock, but that it’s 3:
01. Oftentimes, this can be the biggest block to these kids being creative. They can be very literal, so factual and focused on the actual, that, as a parent, you don’t have any idea of how to help them to be creative. Our hope, when Chris set out to write this workbook, wasn’t to present kids with a proper course of study, but to help them actually develop creativity. Creativity is like a muscle, and the more you use it, the more you work it out, the stronger it can become.

This becomes an issue in area of the arts especially. For example, you might sit down with your child, and say,
let’s draw something together. They don’t know what to draw (blank page!), and you suggest a tree. They sit down to draw the tree, and they try but can’t, because it doesn’t fit what they expect a tree to look like. So they give up. This gap is to big for them. What is happening here? The creativity muscle isn’t very strong. If they practice drawing trees - start with simple trees, and then add a line here, a little shading there, all by following a clear example, and focusing on only one part at a time, they can step back and see, wow, I drew a tree!

To return to the idea of handing a student a blank piece of paper and saying, go write … the reason that is so intimidating to us is that that creativity muscle isn’t strong enough to do something like that. The gap with our creative muscle strength is too much. Simplifying the process by giving them a focus (“choose what kind of sea monster you would be”), leading them into creativity,
that is a muscle they do have, and so they can answer the question and build up a little strength. A Pirate’s Guide can be seen as a training program for our creative muscles. Each step is small, explained, modeled, and then, as the student successfully completes a portion of the exercise, the muscle grows, and they can do harder and harder things.
Comments

Creativity CAN Grow

I spoke with a parent that was sad because her autistic son could just not play with things like play dough. Even with legos, she described that her son could only create what the instructions outlined, and once he put that puzzle together, he’d be done. For her, it felt like pulling creativity out of him was impossible. But I think the real challenge here, what’s really happening, is a description of the strength of a muscle, and giving that muscle a chance to lift the weights that it is capable of lifting. And that’s why incremental learning is so important, and why we created Pirate’s Guide to be so incremental. To think of it like exercise - you start with the arm weight that your arm can carry, and you slowly over time build that up until that muscle gets stronger and you can lift heavier and heavier weights. The same is true with creativity. For her son, he could only “lift weights” of following detailed instructions.

The goal isn’t to pull creativity out of our kids, but to help them build them muscles so that it can come out naturally.

So now here is something that I find really interesting. Professional storytellers struggle with these exact same things. They feel that their muscles are not strong enough either. I asked Chris about it, and he reminded me that story is one of the most complicated things that we as humans can do. In a sense, it’s harder than rocket science. So he spent years (literally, years) trying to find a way to break down story into smaller parts, that would make it more manageable. This made sense to me. When you have something that is complicated, you break it down into the most simple, basic things, and then focus on those one at a time. That is essentially what we are doing when we teach kids English grammar - things like nouns and predicates and subjects and adjectives and clauses; all those really scary words that we come across in English grammar are just these small, simple things that make up sentences. Taken one at a time, we can master them, and in turn, master sentences, and the paragraphs, and then pages. So Chris’s goal was to make story as simple and as straightforward and gentle as possible for everyone.

And in doing this, he inadvertently made it accessible to kids with learning needs. Kids on the autistic spectrum. Kids that have attention disorder, kids that are not professionals. And that’s the great irony - the problem that professionals have is the exact same problem
all of us have. Your kids aren’t any different than kids who are academically gifted and excelling in their school. We all need a gentle, slow, straightforward path to the destination to which we want to go.
Comments

Third :: Overcoming Self-Criticism

Finally, we have heard, over and over from parents with kids with learning disabilities, that their children can be very negative and critical towards themselves. Many described it as self-hate. Their kids knew that they had problems, that they sometimes didn’t fit in, they knew that they had disabilities, they knew they had limitations. They feel bad about themselves, and their schoolwork and some curriculums just reinforced that feeling that they are broken and they don’t have the ability to do these things.

This is why self-pacing can be so helpful. And why we want to provide material that is presented in steps that can be taken, in their own time, and without fear of judgment. One mom described their days to Chris: “so many things in our lives are just rush rush rush, it’s so rare and so valuable to be able to open up a book and just go through it slowly, for as long as he is able, and to close it at any time. The net effect of this is that it reassures us that this is not going to be one more thing that my son is going to have to feel bad about as well. It’s depressing when I can’t get my kid to do his work because I’ve had a late night with him, or any of the other things that happen in our day to day life. Chris, you have to understand that they are going through meltdowns all day long and that the thing that you’ve created isn’t overwhelming. It doesn’t have sensory overload - colored pictures, graphs and charts - all the other grammar books have lists, memorize these rules, do this, do that, here’s this, and all of it is overwhelming. Your program is easier, simpler, and stress free.”

Almost every kid on the autistic spectrum has sensory issues, and they get overwhelmed. They can’t take too many words at a time, or too much to do at any one time. Or too much to understand at any one time. There is so much information thrown at them all the time. There are tests and quizzes and reviews, and grades, and scores and assessments - none of the which we do in
A Pirate’s Guide. All you have them do is practice what you are learning by doing the exercises themselves.

When the mom described this to us, both Chris and I thought, wow. We feel this way a lot of the time. Many things are pulling on us, we are rushed, feeling graded and assessed and tested. If I’m honest, I would have meltdowns a lot of the time (if I’m really honest, I’ll confess that sometimes I do). There is so much to do and not enough time to do it, I feel like I am not doing a good enough job. I long for things that are simple and quiet and stress free. I can’t promise that, in using this curriculum, your student will have a stress free experience, suddenly express themselves with ease, and feel great about themselves. I can’t promise that, but the evidence is showing that it will be more stress free. It does help them express themselves with greater ease. And the ones we are hearing from are feeling better about themselves in this area.

The point I can make is this - we all want to communicate to our kids that they aren’t broken. They are not a problem. All the self hate and criticism is something I think we all wish we could magically pull out of our kids and throw a billion miles away under the sea in a galaxy super far away so it never comes back.
Comments

Overcoming the Negative :: Have Hope!

The unfortunate reality is that it seems like self-criticism, self-judgement, self-loathing are getting worse in our culture, in general. So what do we do as parents? How do we help our kids, how do we help ourselves, in this? I think one way is simply being together. I think this is one reason that homeschooling can be such a gift to our kids and ourselves. We get to spend a lot of time with each other. And this has some good and some bad. There’s going to be the times of fights and meltdowns, when you have to leave the grocery store with a lot of items left in the art. But there are also the sweet, tender, wonderful, magical times, whatever that looks like for you and your kids. It may be singing a song together or dancing a silly dance around the house, it might be bedtime stories or going on a roller coaster and screaming your lungs out together. Whatever it is for you and your family and your kids, I encourage you to do that more. To focus on it more. In doing these things, we are saying to our kids: I want to be with you, I like you, you are not broken, you are not a problem.

I hope your homeschool, your actual schoolwork time can be the same. And all too often it’s not, it’s a fight, the battle of wills. Too much stimulation and over focus on prizes and rewards that don’t really affirm who your kid really is at the heart. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many examples of wonderful experiences that parents and kids share in homeschooling together.

When Chris set out to write this curriculum, he created it to be an independently used workbook, but his hope is that it could be something parents and kids do side by side, and it could become one of those special moments that you and your child share together. It doesn’t need to be something that a parent just gives their student and then goes off, leaving the child alone and separate to do it. When parents
do this with their student, and answer the questions themselves, you can share your answers with each other, share your character, and all the things these exercises will draw out of you. So if you do try it out -have fun with it, just enjoy it, together with your kids and your family. I know this isn’t always practical - especially if you have several kids (though getting everyone in the family doing it can be very, very fun). So it can be used independently, and then we encourage you, busy mom or dad, to take a few moments. Read through the story and their exercises. Ask them questions, show them that you are interested. (You can check out these articles for encouragement on doing just that). Make it something that, even if they are able and willing to work on it independently, you come together and encourage the growing creativity muscles they are building.

These are the three things that I’ve learned in talking with numerous parents about their kids and their problems and their needs, and how, in some small way, this creative writing curriculum has helped them.
The
first is to do something that they can do - be it just a small exercise. Just bite sized pieces that they can finish and accomplish. Make it something that isn’t overwhelming or overtaxing or over long or over stimulating. Make it something they can start and finish and feel good about.
The
second is to do something that utilizes incremental steps that don’t create gaps or bridges or walls that block their progress, or stop them from getting to the goal or end or across this chasm they think they can never get across. We need to build bridges for them, make things that they are able to accomplish, so they can continue, and don’t give up or lose hope.
And
third, do things that say that they are valuable, that you care about them. Do things that counteract this poison of negativity and criticism and self doubt and self hatred. Things that say YOU did this, here’s what you’ve done, what you’ve made, what we’ve done together. Here’s who you are, and this is how I view you.

It’s possible. Have hope!
Comments

How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Heave Ho!

Ready for a challenge?

Thirteen times throughout the workbook, your student will come across a section called Heave Ho! Whenever we yell “Heave Ho!” they should be prepared to do some more difficult exercises. These exercises were designed to challenge your student by taking what they’ve just learned, and going a bit deeper and farther. They can be difficult, and your student might be discouraged.

If this happens, take a deep breath, and help them to relax. These are not required lessons. If the Heave Ho! is hard for them to understand, spend some time with them, listening to what they know, paying attention to what part they are struggling with. Depending on their age and understanding, you may decide to have them skip a specific Heave Ho! Or you may choose to go back, read through the previous exercises so you understand, and then gently walk them through the material.

Whatever you choose, remember that being creative is a vulnerable thing. Our goal is for this workbook to help your child open up and enjoy the process of being creative. The Heave Ho! sections should stretch them but not break them, or your relationship. Only you can assess your student’s difficulty with a section, so use discernment to encourage and support them.

Comments

How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Scratch Yer Noggin’

It’s time for a review. Creativity is hard work. Learning grammar is hard work. And though we’ve done our best to have this be as fun and easy as possible, we also want to make sure that our students don’t forget what they have been learning as each new element and exercise comes along. So we created the Scratch Yer Noggin’ sections to test their memory of past sections.

There are ten of these review pages throughout the workbook. Each one includes some defining, some brainstorming, and some demonstrating that the material is also being understood. While we don’t provide an answer key for these (definitions can be checked against the glossary terms on page 1), this is the one place in the workbook where you could, if you need or want to, grade their work. It’s your choice if you have your student spend some time reviewing in preparation, or do the
Scratch Yer Noggin’ as an open book review.

The final
Scratch Yer Noggin’ (page 311) is a comprehensive review of the entire book. We encourage your student to see how much they know - they might review before hand, take the “final” without looking back to see how far they’ve come, and then go back and find the answers to any material they may have forgotten.

Comments

How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Raise the Anchor and Set Sail

Throughout PGGS, you’ll find 8 sections called “Raise the Anchor and Set Sail.”

This means it’s time for your student to write a story of their own! In the first of these, we walk your student through it from start to finish, even providing an example of a short story that we created based on the work we did in the previous exercises. So we encourage your student to go back to their mindstorming work from the previous exercises, asking themselves some easy questions - does anything stand out? Is something interesting? What are the things you liked? They should flip back through their exercises (as far back as they want to go), and could even highlight or circle those things that interested them most. Then they should start to put those together. Encourage their curiosity. As the workbook demonstrates in our example, our curiosity can take a simple mindstorming exercise and take it to a brand new place, like this:

In the exercise, I did a mindstorm about “things monkeys throw.” I said: bananas, bean bags, water balloons, bagels, barbecues, Bunsen burners, bowling balls, and broccoli. Then I asked myself the question, “I wonder who they are throwing these things at?” The first thing that came to mind “other monkeys in a parade.” Then I thought of a character, Monkey Mary. Then I wondered what she wanted. …

As you can see, WONDERing is a big part of storytelling. I wonder who’s doing this? I wonder why? I wonder who else is there? I wonder what would happen if? Encourage your student to wonder about some of the things they mindstormed. You can model this for them as they are getting started, but let them make it their own.

Now, if they are feeling hesitant to write, that’s perfectly normal. As we encourage them in the exercise, there is no right or wrong way to tell their story, especially not at this stage. They shouldn’t worry about whether or not it is good or bad (whoever thought sticking “good” and “bad” stickers on stories ought to be eaten by a kraken, so be careful that you as a parent/teacher don’t do this!). They should simply write whatever comes out of them, as it happens. They are learning and growing and trying things out. Encourage them to give a good effort, without judgement or grading. If you must assess the work, focus on their attitude and willingness, and respond with interest and encouragement, not praise.

That’s all there is to it. As the workbook progresses, they will have more and more material to draw from, and their openness to telling their stories will hopefully grow and flourish.

Comments

How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Where's the Teacher's Guide?

As your student begins the workbook, you’ll notice right away that there is NO teacher’s guide. None is needed, as all the teaching is done by First Mate Manfred within each exercise. There is a short teaching portion (sometimes just a few sentences and a definition), and then the learning really takes places as your student follows the examples and works through the incremental steps of the exercises. Seriously, when Chris sat down to teach this complex thing called storytelling, he broke it down into the smallest possible steps, so there would be no gap in learning, no moment when a student would just throw up their hands to say “how did they get to that?”

That said, some sections are harder than others. Some concepts (like Values, or Light and Dark) are just more complex than others (like Setting or Plot). And some parents want a teacher’s guide. So, here you are! Click on
Specific Elements to get a series of posts which go through, exercise by exercise, a bit more on each element. As much as possible, in each post you’ll find ::

  • An explanation of the element in greater detail and examples both in real life and in the story world.

  • “In Real Life” :: I’ll offer suggestions for how to challenge your student to dig deeper into the element (in life and in story).

  • “Finding it in the Story” :: when possible, I’ll give specific examples for your student to find within the story chapters.


There are two things I’d like to highlight. First, if you and your student want to dig deeper, every one of these concepts can be found “
In Real Life.” Finding examples of it in the “story” of our daily lives, in the story that Grandpa tells, in the story that we watch in a movie is the best way to really understand and own these concepts. When that happens, you and your student will begin to realize that story is everywhere, and story is important in many places that are not traditionally “story” settings. For example, my daughter was in a Mock Trial recently. The team that won? Well, according to the judge (and I quote him): “Story vs argument is a no brainer - the story will win. So when you are thinking through your opening statement and your closing argument, you’ve got to be thinking about what story you want to tell.” But to tell a compelling story requires understanding what makes a story compelling - the elements. These very same story elements are also part of our own daily lives - we operate very much like characters in our own story, and understanding what makes a story character tick is often a clue to what makes us tick as well.

Second, once your student has read through the story and the teaching, and done the exercises, they will be able to define and identify story elements. Putting them directly into a story is the next step. To get there, have your student go through the
Pirate’s Guide story itself (I would suggest after each exercise or two, and again perhaps at the very end), and identify the elements they’ve been learning. To help guide you as they find these (on their own), I created “Finding it in the Story,” a master list of each element and a few of the places (though by no means all. If your child really wants a challenge, have them write up what they find that I “miss” and send them to me - I’ll add them to the page!) where they can find those elements in the chapters preceding it. I’ve added a few from other parts of the story, as well, in the hopes that they will start to be on the lookout for these things! Of course they will have already read it, but in reading it again, with this new understanding of setting, or mystery, or hero, they will be able to see it in context and that will help bridge the gap between definition/identification, and putting it into practice. I’ll post these “Finding it in the Story” helps at the end of each element, and here in a master list.

As always, if these resources don’t answer your question, don’t hesitate to write and ask! We love to hear from parents and students, and could talk about story all day.

Comments

How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Getting Started

Welcome to the pirate ship! It’s time to get started! The first steps are simple!

Parent, please start by pre-reading the Letter from Yogger LeFossa (pg. 6-7) and the corresponding Note from the Publisher (pg. 322-3), as these will give you a sense of the workbook and our hopes for your time in it. Hopefully you will laugh a bit!

We recommend then sharing the book with your student, going over the Table of Contents and format for the book. Generally, they will enjoy a portion of a pirate story, then do an exercise, and then more pirate story as a prize (or carrot for beginning the next day). Take note - the “teaching section” of each exercise (that brief portion before they begin putting pencil to paper) is told from the point of view of the Monkey First Mate. Scurvy Spat is your student (some kids love this, some would like a new name!). And the story, whether it is its own chapter or integrated into the exercise, is always italicized.

Plan for your student to spend some time in the workbook each school day - we generally recommend starting at around 20 minutes a day, and slowly increasing the time until it fits both your schedule and your students energy/ability. If that’s the wrong amount of time, scale up or down to meet your students' needs. Each lesson moves in small incremental steps, building slowly into more creativity and expressive thoughts. It’s okay if an entire lesson isn’t completed in a single sitting - just pick up where you left off each day. Some exercises are longer than others, some are harder, so there is no right or wrong in how much to complete. You are the best gauge for your students effort and energy.

Every now and then there are sections where they can choose to dive deeper (
Heave Ho), review (Scratch Yer Noggin’), or write their own story (Set Sail) - do these only as they work well for your student - they are entirely extra. Click the links for more specific information on each of those sections. Always remember, there is no right or wrong in these creative exercises!

The first week, I recommend looking at the Table of Contents, the Glossary, and the general format. Spend a few minutes reading the first chapters of the story, and do exercise one - it is the perfect, simple introduction to mindstorming (our pirate’s word for brainstorming), and will give you both an idea of what to expect in the coming days. Check out the first Raise the Anchor and Set Sail, and then take a break. Get ready to start fresh the next day, and set sail for some creative writing adventure!

Please feel free to contact us at any time if you have questions, concerns, or just to share how it’s going!

Comments

How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: In the Midst

Hopefully you’ve gotten a good taste of how A Pirate’s Guide works, and the seas are calm and your student is having fun. But what if you hit some rough waters?

This happens. It happens in real life, and it happens in stories. It’s what makes for rising tension and dramatic moments. So don’t be surprised, and don’t threaten to walk the plank. If your student hits a difficult patch (and it is likely to be a unique place and reason for each student), take a deep breath, look over the material with them, and walk slowly through it. Plan to take more time, and plan to be more present than you may have been.

When I’ve hit a mental block during my own time working through
A Pirate’s Guide, I try to assess what’s going on - am I hungry? Do I need to eat or drink? Am I tired? Do I need to take a break for the day? Am I just being willful, and need encouragement to push through? Or have I hit a concept that feels beyond me (for me it was values, for another of my kids, it was the Light and Dark section)? When this happens, I will take a break. I’ll go back and re-read the story chapter before the exercise that I struggle with, and see if I can find examples of what they are teaching me in the text itself. At that point, I have to decide (for myself - or for my student) - is this a section to breeze through, and come back to at a later date, or is it one we will work through very slowly until the understanding forms? Only you and your student can assess that. Once you decide, stand tall, work on, and then enjoy a breather before heading back into the waters again.

You can do it, be gentle with your self, gentle with your student, and keep growing together as you build these creative muscles.

Comments

Exercise 1 :: Mindstorming :: where it all begins

Brainstorming (or mindstorming, as our pirates call it) is one of the most important things story-tellers need to do. Because of this, we have a whole exercise devoted to walking the students through it, step by step. A blank page can be a scary thing for a storyteller, even seasoned professionals. Mindstorming is a key way to move past the fear of the blank page, the fear of getting it right, or the trap of going with our first idea (when it is often idea #5 or #55 that is much better). Mindstorming, as we’ll be doing throughout A Pirate’s Guide will build their creative muscles, slowly and gently, and at the end, provide them with a resource that can act as a sourcebook for future stories.

In Real Life :: at the start of this, I said that mindstorming is one of the most important things story-tellers need to do. Yes, NEED to do.
And it is HARD. So how can you help kickstart the brainstorming session? The first thing is to turn off the internal critic. There is NO stupid idea in brainstorming! This is not only true for your child, as they brainstorm, but for you as you listen to them brainstorming. Turn of the critic, and be open to just seeing what pops up. (It’s amazing how our children sense our inner thoughts. So turn off your internal critic - of yourself and them - and watch them create).

Finding it in the Story :: not in a specific chapter, this “element” is less part of the grammar of story, and more a skill you’ll need in developing the other elements!

Comments

Exercise 2 :: Being Specific :: Communicating Clearly

One of the greatest skills, in general, that A Pirate’s Guide teaches - something useful across the board of their education and life - is being specific. It’s so important, in fact, that is the second exercise in the book, and actually lays a foundation for all the remaining exercises. Why is this? And how do we help our children become more specific?

To illustrate, let’s imagine a character together. Let’s say that the character is a boy. If you asked a group of 10 people to draw a picture of that character, you’d get 10 totally different boys. Some might be 3, others 10. Some might be tall, others short. Some might be… you get the idea. So let’s be more specific. Let’s say the character is a 10 year old boy, 5 feet tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. If we ask everyone to draw him again, the pictures will be closer, but we’ll still have 10 different versions of that boy.

But I want my reader to be thinking of the same boy that I am - seeing the same boy that I see in my mind. So I need to become very
specific indeed. I need to describe his clothing, his hair style, how he smiles, which backpack he wears (and how he wears it), etc. If there was a room full of 10 year old boys, 5 feet tall, how can I describe MY boy so that you can pick him out of the crowd? That’s specificity. It’s helping the reader to see what’s in the author’s mind.

Being specific is a way of setting limits and creating a focus. Being specific communicates an idea more clearly to the reader. And clear communication is a worthy goal not only in story-telling, but in life. The more specific the writer is about ANY aspect of their story, the more the reader will understand what the writer means.

In Real Life :: Being specific in real life is just as important as in story. Actually, it’s more important. If I write a vague character and you imagine it differently that I anticipated, it’s not great, but oh well. But if I ask you to grab the spice from the cabinet, and I’m not specific, my cinnamon pancakes might taste like pepper! So much frustration in life comes about because our communication lacks specificity. Take a moment today, and have your child pay attention for a time when being specific helped them get what they wanted, or conversely, when being vague resulted in something they didn’t want at all.

Finding it in the Story :: again, not an “element” of story per se, this is another skill you’ll need to have to be a great communicator! (But you can easily find examples of being specific throughout the entire story. You’ll find specific examples in the story portions that are embedded in the exercise itself.)

Comments

Exercise 3 :: Setting :: where to begin?

Simply put, setting is a location where a group of characters live and act and where their stories take place. It includes both time and place - though in some stories, each aspect may be more or less important. A story about space cowboys is generally set in space, and likely in the future - both time and place matter to the focus of the story. But another story might be more thematic - about love, for example, and it could be set in any time or place and still have, essentially, the same story line.

One way to help you student think about setting is to ask them to name a favorite story (one they know very well). Ask - what are some of the physical places in this story? Then - in what time does this story take place? Their answers should not only help them understand what setting means, but how/when it is important to the story. For example,
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe takes place in England, in the Professor’s house, in the wardrobe, in Narnia… and it takes place during two time periods - WWII, and during the rather timeless time of Narnia (where time is passing, but doesn’t seem to have a direct relationship with our time). These are important details. Having talking animals in the professor’s house wouldn’t make sense - the setting of that part of the story needs to be somewhere like Narnia, where that is normal (this is an aspect of story you’ll learn about in rules). You can ask them what would happen if they moved the story from England to Africa? Would the story change? How? Why? What if instead of during war time it took place during a peaceful summer? Would the story change? As they grapple with these thoughts, they will begin to see how changes, big and small, make a difference to the story.

Once time and place, and how they are used in a story, are understood, then your student can brainstorm what time/places will give their story meaning. Based on their story, it might be just a context for the greater story, or it might be central to the understanding and meaning of the story. Asking open questions can help them think through these larger issues and will strengthen their story overall - but remember, thinking through these things is hard work, and won’t necessarily come easily or be “fun.” They may want to keep the first place that comes to their head, and that’s okay. Keep it light, make suggestions, and then step back and allow them to be creative in their own way.

In Real Life :: while there are some important real life applications for many of the story elements, setting isn’t a very big one. It is an easy one to start with, though, as you can simply help your student be aware of how time, location, and events affect their daily lives. They can rely upon groceries to the in the grocery store, and animals to be in cages at the zoo. They likely expect cake at a birthday party, but not at the dentist. And if their dentist were at the birthday party, they might be very confused! All of these are simple ways to help them see the value and importance of establishing setting in stories.

Finding it in the Story :: check out the first chapters again - there are lots of obvious examples of location. (The ocean, the pirate ship itself, the bunks). Note that there are not many general time examples (we don’t know “when” this is happening), but you’ll find the descriptions of night to be the most obvious example. As for events, this isn’t happening in a specific event, but challenge your student to pay attention in coming chapters, as there will be many “events” that occur to ground the story in a specific time/event.

Comments

Exercise 4 :: Values :: So, What's Valuable to Your Student?

When your student writes a story, there are all kinds of hidden elements that lurk beneath the surface. Part of the purpose of A Pirate’s Guide is to bring those out into the light so they can be developed and strengthen the story. Here’s an example of something that, at first glance, might not seem like an essential story element. Values. Such a little word for a rather simple concept that can be a real challenge to explain and work through with your student. Values are things that are valuable. Stories are full of things that have perceived value - are believed to be important, worthwhile, or useful. Though it might seem tangential, it is critical to the story. Stories come out of values - that is, stories rise up out of the things that are deemed valuable in the story world.

Values come in many shapes and forms - they are often things that are not necessarily tangible or touchable. Patriotism, love, strong work ethic, science, etc., are all different kinds of values. And these intangible values often have tangible representations of them - like the flag, hearts, muscles, text books. There can even be “values” that we don’t consider valuable in the positive sense (like cheating), but which might be valuable to a character (like a card shark). There are also tangible things that can be useful for the value - like the Constitution, flowers, tools, beakers.

Help your storytellers see that these intangible things that give a story some basis can be demonstrated in the story through very concrete things.

A more detailed explanation and the exercise that digs into the idea of
Values is in exercise #4 in A Pirate’s Guide. Remember, as you go through this exercise, if you are struggling, go back to the story chapter before it, and see if you and your student can find some examples of values in that story itself. Then go through the exercise just one step at a time. If it is taxing, scale back a bit, or do half the brainstorming, and come back another time to finish. And there are no right or wrong answers, we are looking for good effort and a willingness to work hard to both understand and to create these values!

In Real Life :: As a parent, you can get a peek into what your child values by keeping your eyes open in what they are mind storming about, and what goes into their own stories. The values that are important to them will naturally come up in the story. Recognizing them as valuable things, you can subtly ask them more questions, show interest, and hopefully get to know your child better. And they can then add elements that draw that out and give the story depth. Recognizing values (and the things that represent them) in real life also help us to understand the people in our life. Imagine Grandma has a very special vase that she uses on special occasions. This is a significant object, and when you ask her about it, she’ll tell you that it was brought to the United States by her mother when she fled Russia. Her mother had to hide it and keep it from breaking, and it is one of the only things your Grandma has from the old country. Knowing this, you can recognize one of her values - having a tie to her heritage.


Finding it in the Story :: pg 33 :: we can find several values (a tight ship, being on time, no fighting, and being fit, to name a few) that have distinct actions/things that demonstrate them (getting up for routine, doing exercises, etc).

Comments

Exercise 5 :: Significance :: Attention! Attention! This is important

In any story, there are ordinary things that have extraordinary meaning. In Lord of the Rings, the ring - a pretty ordinary object in our world - has incredible significance. It means something very specific, very important. The wardrobe - an ordinary piece of furniture - in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has great significance and importance too. Names are important too - not just any paper, but the Declaration of Independence. Places, as we learned about in settings, can ground your story and give context for who your character are and how they talk and what they do. Even the things that populate your story - wizards, monkeys, or aliens - will help narrow down what you write about. All of these different details are significant in the telling of the story.

Being able to identify and recognize significant things, and give them the attention they deserve in the story, will make it stronger.

When writing about significant things, details matter.
A Pirate’s Guide is big on details - because they make all the difference between compelling writing (of any kind) and blah. So, for example, we aren’t just talking about a ring, but one that lights up with elvish words when exposed to heat, and turns the wearer invisible, and has been lost for a long time. Those details take it from ordinary to significant, and make it a valuable part of the story. The details can be about the thing, or in the name, or in the place, or in what A Pirate’s Guide calls worldlings. My computer gets upset with the spelling of that, but it’s correct - world-lings. These are types of characters that populate the story world. In most stories, the worldlings are humans. But there are other stories that have talking animals, or wizards, or living stuffed animals. Sometimes a story is populated by particular types of humans, like pirates, or children, or dancers. Being able to identify these will give your child some boundaries in the telling of their story. Because having boundaries helps us to tell the best stories, each significant thing in a story, with its details and meaning, helps the storyteller make decisions about all the other details that make up the story.

In Real Life :: In diving more deeply into this, you can ask your child to think of their favorite story, and there is bound to be some ordinary object that has extraordinary meaning in that particular story. Try finding significant objects in the stories your family tells, real family stories (like Grandpa telling about the huge fish he caught, or Aunt Rose telling the story of how she and Uncle Frank met) - there are bound to be certain things that are important to their story that might be insignificant elsewhere. As we shared in the values section, significant objects often reflect the values the story teller (or someone in the story) has, and this, in turn, helps us to understand them better.

Finding it in the Story :: you’ll quickly realize there is not a story right before this exercise, so encourage your student to think back through the story that they’ve read so far - some significant items would include significant objects :: jelly beans, bananas, treasure map, story grammar; significant names :: ‘scurvy spat’ and each of the monkey names (particularly Norman Nopants, whose name does not fit the pattern), not to mention the silly names for places (Canmerica is one example - this is also an example of rules, which is the next chapter); and significant worldlings :: talking monkeys, pirates, and kraken. As the story continues, you’ll find even more examples of each of these.

Comments

Exercise 6 :: Rules :: The Dos and Don'ts in a Story World

“Take your shoes off in the house.” “No shoes, no shirts, no service.” “Walk, don’t run.” “Shhh. This is a library.” “Remember your manners.” (In a whisper) “don’t do that, you know it’ll upset mom.”

Rules. They are everywhere. Whether they are spoken, posted, or simply understood, rules govern the way that we as people interact with each other and our world. Rules define what is allowed and what isn’t allowed. In a story world, it governs what can and cannot happen. Some rules are explicit - they are regulations that tell us how to behave. Other rules might be more of a cultural norm - something that you just pick up when you are in a certain culture (we moved to Canada for a few years, and even though nothing really changed - signs were in English, people looked just like the people on the other side of the border, stores were even the same - there was a discernible difference, and we quickly picked up on the cultural “rules” that made us realize we were in a different place).

Our definition of rules - “rules govern behavior within the story world” - contains an important word - governs. Rules provide the framework and boundaries of behavior. So, for example, if you set a story in space, there should be certain things that govern behavior - lack of gravity will “govern” how objects are handled and people move around. If your story is set in the wild west, there are definitely other rules that will govern behavior. If your story has a fantasy element, like the CS Lewis stories about Narnia, then there are very specific rules - the animals that are in Narnia can talk. Time is different in Narnia than in England. If you eat enchanted Turkish delight in Narnia, certain things will happen. Each of these rules must be followed (if one of the animals in England started talking, it would pull the reader out of the story and no longer feel like a real story) or the story world isn’t as complete or whole. If the rule isn’t followed (I recall some animals in Narnia who
couldn’t talk), it should prompt the reader to ask why and look for the meaning behind that. Ask your student to think of their favorite story (book, movie, even video game). Ask a few questions about the story world - what is allowed and what isn’t? What about its setting (location/time/event) or values dictates that certain things can or can’t happen? What behaviors that happen in this world cannot happen in ours?

So, why are rules so important to story? They keep it real and unified. Think of a young child. In your home, they are not allowed to jump on the beds. But they go to a friend’s house, and everyone is jumping on the bed and they feel uncomfortable - “rules” are being broken. There is discord for them. When this happens in story, for example someone in a story about the gold rush era pulls out a cell phone to make a call, there is discord, and the story is broken for the reader. Creating and abiding by the rules of a story world is particularly important in fantasy, where anything could happen, but not everything should happen! More on this in another article. For now, help your child see rules in their own world, and help them to define the rules when they create their own story world.

In Real Life :: I encourage you to ask these kinds of questions throughout your week. When you are at the grocery store, what “rules” are there that you as a family follow? When you are watching a movie, what rules can you detect, and how do they affect the actions of the characters? When your kids are playing together, what rules do they naturally develop between them? When they run too quickly in the hallway and slip and fall, what rules have they broken? Don’t be afraid to point these things out to your child, and help them see that rules are everywhere, even when they are not explicitly rules.

Finding it in the Story :: One boring one is that the story is always italicized, while the exercises are not. This “rule” allows the student to know when they are in the story and when they are, technically, learning. (In a fiction book, this might look like the characters thoughts being italicized, while what’s spoken or understood by all to be regular type). Another obvious one is that you don’t disobey the Captain. But here’s one that’s more subtle, and can help them see how rules govern the story world - Captain LeFossa has TWO wooden legs. How can he walk? The book doesn’t ever address this (though Scurvy Spat mentions his wonder about it on page 66), but it is a “rule” in this story that the Captain can walk, jump, run, and defeat kraken with two wooden legs. It’s a silly rule, but allows the story to function and governs how the Captain can behave. Another subtle “rule” to the story is that all the locations are weird variations of normal places (Gran Brintian instead of Great Britain).

Comments

Exercise 7 :: Symbols :: What's that supposed to mean?

The exercise on symbols should be a fun and hopefully easy one for your child. Symbols are everywhere - they can be words, physical objects, a visual sign. Looking at the world for symbols can be interesting, because we take so many things for granted that are actually very powerful symbols. A stop sign, for example, isn’t something we think about - we simply stop when we see one. But without its power, there would be car accidents all over the place.

In Real Life :: We talked earlier about significance, and the role it plays in story. Many significant objects in a story are actually symbols of something else (often values, or other characters, or memories). I have a friend who has 5 children. When they were younger, she developed the symbol of 2 fingers in the air. They knew, when they saw that, that it was time to go, and they should clean up and get ready. It was subtle, and effective, without drawing a whole lot of attention to them. Carol Burnett, on her TV show years ago, used to tug her ear at the end of the show - a little symbol to her Nanny that she loved her. What symbols occur in your every day world? Help your student to see them, or create them. Sometimes, they need help understanding that, when you bring them a cup of water before they even ask for it, it’s because you love them. It’s a symbol. A red star on their homework means they did a good job. Dad’s thumbs up when they cleared the dishes without being asked mean “I’m proud of you.” Look for them, or create some, decide what they mean, and use them to share something special together.

Finding it in the Story :: clearly, the flags are symbolic of places, as well as intent (the jolly roger shows the intention of the pirates to pirate-y behavior). The white flag symbolizes surrender. Other very subtle symbols that will show up in coming chapters include the jelly beans (which symbolize the Captain’s desire to have good breath and be accepted by others), the bananas (which symbolize our desire to have something we want, even when it’s bad for us), and even the kraken (which symbolizes those things in life that we have to battle and win over, or have a good captain who will battle and win for us).

Comments

Exercise 8 :: Backstory :: Let me tell you about Why or When ...

How often does something happen to your student, and they get upset, and the way you help diffuse the situation is to explain what happened before that helps give a reason for what is happening now. I know that this feels like a surprise, but when you didn’t get your work done earlier, it meant that we couldn’t go to the movies tonight. Or you use what is happening right now to explain why something good is going to happen in the future. Because you are doing a good job getting your work done right now, we are going to be able to go to the movies tonight.

These are instances of the power of backstory. Backstory is the string of events that happened
before, that lead to what is happening now, either in a character or in the story world itself. Everything has a reason why it is the way it is, and backstory provides that reason. FYI, it is closely related to plot (which is still 15 exercises away, so you’ll want to refer back to this), in that it is a series of actions. These are just actions that happen before the thing that is currently happening. It might happen before the story takes place, or it might just have happened before the part of the story the reader is currently in. It’s a fun game to see the string of events that led to this moment. Knowing a backstory can help us understand why what is happening now is happening. As an author, backstory gives our characters and the story world depth and meaning. It can explain why our character is doing what they are doing, behaving the way they are behaving.

In Real Life :: This is a powerful tool in the writers tool belt, and in real life as well. Just as it explains a characters behavior, we can help our children understand why a real someone behaves the way they do by explaining their backstory. It can give us a context for giving grace, or understanding how and why something extraordinary happened. Next time your child is hurt by something, once they are calm and recovered, encourage them to ask “what happened before that happened?” (It’s not a bad parenting technique too. I remember reading an article once that encouraged mother to ask, when her two kids came yelling about how one hit the other, “and what happened right before he hit you?” This was not to excuse hitting, but to help both sides understand what motivated the behavior on both parts.) When they get a bad grade, they can look to the backstory to understand why, and hopefully not repeat those actions. Conversely, when they do something very well, they can look back to see what steps led to a positive outcome, and seek to repeat that. Backstory, in real life, is full of life lessons!

Finding it in the story :: First Mate does a good job of demonstrating a backstory on pg 81, but you can also find backstories throughout the chapter on pg 76 - for the monkey slaves, and even for the captain. Norman Nopants’ story will be coming up soon!

Comments

Exercise 9 :: Connections :: HELP My mother's brother's uncle's dog's previous owner

The whole idea of “six degrees of separation” is grounded in the idea of connections. We are only six people away from anyone, it says. Well, that may or may not be true, but the story world is FULL of connections. There are connections between people (relationships), to objects, to places, to activities or hobbies.

Why is this important? Because in a well written story, everything has a connection in some way. Or, as we define it,
connections are all the ways different parts of the story come together. And this is important because all the parts of the story need to connect, relate, and come together. There shouldn’t be characters who don’t have a connection or function to play (needless to say, there are always background characters, but no main character, or identifiable character, should be superfluous). Anything that is not actually connected to the story should be eliminated, as it will be a distraction from the story.

In Real Life :: connections help us link things together, different relationships between characters, actions, objects, and places. We, ourselves, are connected to millions of things, in so many different ways. Understanding these connections is valuable because, like a well-written story, we want to live lives that are whole, cohesive, and meaningful. Knowing what our connections are gives us boundaries and can help us make decisions. If my connection with my friend is love of British literature, then I will not expect to go to a soccer game with her. That could be forcing a connection that might “break” the story. When we do something with someone, it creates a connection, even if we don’t intent it to. And if there are consequences to that, we have to abide by that. We choose things to be in our lives because we have (or want to have) a connection to them, and can eliminate those things that have no connection, or bad connections. We can use this idea to help our children make choices too.

Finding it in the Story :: in this chapter, you’ll see not only connections between characters (Monkey Mo Mo, Mini Mate, and their sister, Monkey Maya), but also connections (and backstory) as to why/how the monkeys relate to Scurvy Spat. In the previous backstory of First Mate, pg 81, you saw the connection between First Mate Manfred and the Captain. A subtle connection was made between Scurvy Spat and the monkeys when they disobeyed the Captain on pg 56. An even more subtle connection (subtle in that your student might not think of this as a connection, yet it is), would be the connection between their actions and the consequences. Challenge your student to keep a sharp eye out for connections and how they bring the story world together, causing characters to relate or things to happen.

Comments