A Pirate's Resources

A Pirate's Guide... to discussing literature

Stories have always been an essential part of our lives, whether we are young or old. From bedtime stories to movies, we love to immerse ourselves in a good tale. As a student who loves literature or film (and will have to write papers about them!), it is crucial to understand the various elements of a story and how they come together to create a compelling narrative.

But why is it important for students to understand these elements of story? Not only will it help them in writing their own stories and papers, but it will also make them better readers and thinkers. Understanding how stories work, students will be able to analyze and discuss any book, movie, or piece of literature with more depth and insight.

Gaining a solid understanding of plot, character development, backstory, transformation, and other crucial story elements will better equip you to appreciate and analyze any work of literature or film that comes your way. One significant advantage of having this knowledge is the ability to critically evaluate and discuss a story with others. Rather than just memorizing definitions, A Pirate's Guide t' th' Grammar of Story takes students through progressive exercises that help them to truly understand and internalize these concepts. 

Overall, understanding the various elements of a story is a valuable skill that will serve you well in all areas of life, not just in literature discussions. That said - we know that all students will have to read novels and short stories and write papers on them in middle school, high school, and beyond, so this preparation becomes essential in equipping them to understand and discuss any story with ease. 

Making the Transition to Homeschooling

If you're making the transition from public school to homeschooling, you might be feeling overwhelmed. You're not alone! First of all, welcome! The homeschooling community is wonderful, and when you find your tribe, you'll have support, encouragement, and hopefully, playdates when you need them.

There's a lot that can be said about how to get started. As someone who has homeschooled for 16 years and graduated three students, I've tried many different methods, including Classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Charter, Montessori, co-ops, and "let's just try this and see what happens." But no matter what method you choose, my advice is always the same: figure out what habits you want to establish for yourself and your child, and work on those before diving into the curriculum.

What strengths do you want to develop? What weaknesses do you want to minimize? What character issues do you want to address? Sometimes it's as simple as working on perseverance or establishing a morning routine. Other times, you may need to foster a love of learning or help your child undo negative habits from their previous schooling. By focusing on developing life skills in the beginning, you'll create a well-rounded and wonderful adult. Once those skills are strong, you can focus on the curriculum and achieve excellence in the subjects you choose.

As you begin and continue on your homeschooling journey, be encouraged! It can work, even when mistakes are made (and they will be). Homeschooling provides a unique opportunity to tailor your child's education to their specific needs and strengths, including their creativity and imagination. Encouraging your child's creativity and imagination not only enhances their educational experience but also equips them with important skills for the real world.

To help with this, consider incorporating opportunities for your child to explore and develop their creativity and imagination, whether through art, music, or imaginative play. With your support, your child can thrive academically and creatively as they continue to grow and learn. 

(and of course, here at A Pirate’s Guide, we think creativity is important - and our workbook is a great resource for building creativity, brainstorming ability, and thinking outside the box - all great life skills!)

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.

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
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.

The GRAMMAR of Story

So what on earth is the Grammar of Story?

In case you haven’t noticed yet,
A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story is not about grammar as you probably think of it. While we may reference nouns, verbs, and adjectives from time to time, this is not about learning the parts of speech, or diagramming sentences, or anything that make us think of “English class.” Instead, the grammar in A Pirate’s Guide is the first of the classical stages of learning: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric. In the Grammar stage, students learn the tools of the subject. Complex material is reduced to its basic elements and the goal is both exposure, understanding, and recall. In the Logic stage, students develop a deeper understanding of the basic elements they learned in the Grammar stage. This is when they begin to play with the tools, to see how they work, what they do. In the Rhetoric stage, students analyze what they’ve already learned, and begin to make it their own.

This means that before we write a full story (the logic and especially rhetoric stages), we need to know the basics (or grammar) of Story. The grammar of piano is scales. The grammar of baseball are the rules and regulations. The grammar of a doctor is basic anatomy and biology. And the Grammar of Story includes all the elements that make up a story. Just as a song is made up of various musical notes, a story is made up of various story elements. Learning what the elements are and how they function allows a storyteller (of any age!) to use the tools they need to more easily tell the stories they have to tell.

A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story gives your student a primer to these essential elements, and helps them play around with those elements until they are natural. Then, when they go to write a story, they are writing from their strengths!


Stuck at Home? Time to Get Creative!

If your state is like ours, you may be experiencing an extended school closure - or you may know a public school family who suddenly has their kids at home. All day. Seven days a week. Unexpectedly. While they are still working. And some of these kids are going to get bored!

Of course, this is the perfect time to engage in more creativity and activities we normally don’t have time for. Read a book aloud, visit a virtual museum, make a painting, learn to play guitar, write a story.

A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story - here’s an easy to use (read: parents who are already stretched thin don’t have to teach) and fun to do (read: it’s a pirate story with engaging brainstorming and story-related exercises) workbook that can help fill some time and grow some creativity. Kids can do it on their own, or as a family (each would want their own workbook, since they write in them), or even do it with a virtual group. You can find out more about the workbook itself on our main page, or read through the reviews on Amazon. This is a fun and easy book - and the benefits are more than just occupying their attention for some time each day.

This is a great opportunity to engage more with our children - and this workbook gives a context for growing as a family. How does a creative writing workbook do this? When we are creative, a little bit of us comes out. The colors we choose when we paint, the notes we make when we play piano, the words and images that we create as we write - all of these are little snapshots of something inside of us. So when your children brainstorm the five worst ice cream flavors they can think of, it tells you a little about them. It gives you something to talk about - “what made you think of booger flavored ice cream?” Or “have you ever tried that?” Simple questions that show you are interested and care about your child. Though very simple, it opens them up to more. So, take some time this week. Ask some questions. Maybe buy the kids some paint, or this workbook, and then over dinner, show you are interested - and see how your family can grow in these weeks together.

For the next few weeks, we are running a special - buy a copy of
A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story directly from us, and get a free copy of Volume One of The Magician’s Workshop - a young adult fantasy novel that will leave you eager for Volume Two!


How to Understand Creative Writing

It’s difficult to teach something we don’t really understand. Creative writing can be one of those things.

After years of reading books, attending lectures, working with story-telling professionals, Chris (the author) realized that writing actually isn’t any different than most things in the world. It’s a very complex thing, like a car, that is made up of many smaller parts.

A car has a frame, an engine, gas, wheels, tires, and so on. If you put them together in the right way you have a functioning car. But if you are missing one the essential parts, like the wheels, then it doesn’t go. If you have everything but the gasoline, it doesn’t go. If it doesn’t have a driver, it doesn’t go. Many times stories don’t come together because they are missing an essential part.

So Chris spent years finding the foundational elements of what stories are made of and began to organize them. This is what we call the grammar of story. The back of
A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story lists more than 30 different elements of story.

Back cover elements

Just like someone building a car needs to know what all the parts are, how they go together, what is necessary and where it goes, before they can build a meaningful car and then add fun extras like cup holders and heated seats, the creative writer needs to know what the basic parts of a story are, how they work, where they go, and how they interact before they can create a functional story.

In the grammar stage of learning, a student focuses on learning how to identify and define the parts of something. If it’s latin, they might memorize the declensions and the parts of speech. If it’s math, they might memorize the times table or simple formulas. If it’s piano, they might memorize and practice scales. For creative writing, learning the foundational parts of a story, what they are, what they represent, and how they interact, gives the writer all the tools and parts they need to make a story that can, like a car, go.

For this reason, we recommend that a parent read ahead or follow along with their students. Even though all of the teaching and exercises are contained in the workbook, and the parent doesn’t need to teach anything (at least for the independent learner), spending some time in the workbook will give you an understanding of creative writing that will give you more confidence, and help you support your student as they learn more about story.


How to Teach Creative Writing when you aren’t a Creative Writer

I recently shared about how to understand creative writing. Lots of parents want to add Creative Writing into their child’s education, but for many reasons, don’t feel qualified to teach it. But even understanding creative writing - learning the grammar of story - doesn’t make you an expert or ready to be a teacher.

That’s why we created
A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story. This curriculum is unique in the creative writing field. Many resources are, honestly, boring. Many resources assume a foundational knowledge that isn’t there, and so frustrate both child and parent. This curriculum is grounded in the idea that the best way to learn creative writing is to understand the essential parts. And the best way to learn about them is not academically, in a dry, sterile way.

So this curriculum/workbook consists of two parts. One is a funny pirate story. The second is workbook style exercises. And the two overlap. We’ve taken this grammar of story, the 30+ story elements, and put it in an order, expressing each part first through the pirate story, and then through exercises. So, for example, the pirate story demonstrates what setting is, and then there are exercises that teach about setting. Setting is not taught in an academic way - it’s taught by having the student do it.

Because we don’t expect the parent/teacher to be or become an instant expert in creative writing, we made sure that all the teaching is contained within the material. Each teaching is just a short portion which contains the definition of what, for example, setting is. Then it goes into questions and exercises. It’s very straightforward. The exercises become more complex incrementally. You don’t need any kind of teaching lesson for how to do each new step, because you’ve done the step before and it’s very easy to add the next incremental step afterwards. Curious what this looks like? Check out our flip through video

Between each element is another portion of the story demonstrating the new element, followed by more exercises, each one building upon the last. Periodically there are reviews and challenges. Though the goal of the workbook is not a completed story, there are opportunities for the student to take all the creativity they are brainstorming and use them to write short stories throughout the book.

It’s incredibly simple for you as a parent, and approachable for your student.


What’s stopping you?

There are many reasons creative writing is rarely taught, but we’ve found that two main reasons dominate. The first is that the student is a reluctant writer - either they don’t enjoy writing (at all!), or they think they aren’t creative and don’t want to write a story. The second is that the parent is reluctant to teach creative writing. They don’t have the right tools. It’s not a core subject, and so there are few resources out there. The parent believes that they aren’t creative, and so can’t teach creativity. They feel ill-equipped, and no one wants to start to build something without the right tools and knowledge. Creative writing, for both student and teacher, can be intimidating. It can be embarrassing to share your attempts - there is a great deal of vulnerability in sharing a story you’ve written. All of these reasons make it easy to say, I don’t have time or I don’t want to, and then the opportunity seems gone.

Wondertale Press has created a curriculum that solves these two problems in one easy to use workbook.

For the reluctant writer who simply doesn’t enjoy writing at all,
A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story breaks the process down into something so simple and fun and non-threatening that most students find themselves looking forward to doing creative writing each day. We’ve had several reviews from homeschooling moms who say that their reluctant writer loves A Pirate’s Guide, and it’s the first thing they pull out in the morning. Because we start with small and easy to do exercises which build incrementally and with the help of pirates and monkeys, students shed their fear of “having to write a whole story” and just enjoy the process of being creative. For the writer who is reluctant because they are think they aren’t creative, we’ve created exercises that draw the creativity out naturally, because, honestly, it’s in there.

For the parent who is reluctant because they lack the creativity or tools, we’ve removed those barriers by creating a curriculum that is self-taught to the independent learner (younger students, or those with learning issues, may require guidance). And since we believe strongly that ALL people are creative, we encourage you to read along and (at least mentally) go through the exercises with your student; your creativity will surprise you!

Nothing need stop you from teaching creative writing, because actually, it’s pretty simple. Unlike most subjects, which require knowledge, or a teacher’s manual, or lots of hands on teaching, our creative writing curriculum requires you to do one thing: to listen. Really listen. Encourage your child as they dive in. Guide them to press on, or take a break. Review their exercises and ask questions that show you care (more on that
here). Be present to them as their creativity emerges, and you’ll both find that creative writing isn’t so hard after all. You might even love it.

So what’s stopping you?


How do you “Practice” Creative Writing?

If your child wanted to learn how to play the piano, and you gave them a keyboard, saying, “there you go, now you can make music!” what would happen? Most kids might play around for a few minutes, but quickly get discouraged, and walk away, believing they “can’t” play and should just give up. Learning to make music takes learning the basics, being trained, and lots of practice. If your child wanted to become a baseball player, you wouldn’t hand them a glove, ball, and bat, and expect them to become a major league player. They would need to learn the rules of the game, how to wear the glove, hold the bat, run the bases, and then it would take practice to become a real player. If they wanted to become a doctor… well, I think you get the idea.

Though no one hands a student a guitar and paper and says, “here, write a song,” students are regularly given a piece of paper and the assignment to “write a story.” No wonder they may be overwhelmed or frustrated! They need tools and practice to help them on their way.

This is particularly true because as our children get older, as their idea of being “successful” changes. As a small child, they think their scribbles on paper are masterpieces. Only they can know what it represents, but they don’t care. They created! They feel wonderful! But as they grow up, something changes. They begin to see that their dinosaur looks like scribbles on the paper compared to the picture in the book that inspired it. Many children get discouraged at this point. They want to give up, because they aren’t able to create what’s in their head. If they took some time to take some drawing lessons, learn a few basic rules, and practiced, they would (most likely) get to the point where their dinosaur looks like a dinosaur.

Stories are the same way. The babbling stories of a toddler give way to more thoughtful stories of a pre-schooler, and gradually dry up, as the desire to tell a story gets outstripped by the realization that they don’t know how to make all the parts fit, or the fear that someone doesn’t like their story. The fantastic story inside a vivid imagination doesn’t naturally come out onto paper in just the right way the first time. It takes practice. It takes learning some tips. It takes having the tools in your tool belt to build it just as you imagine. And then it takes more practice.

Becoming good at something takes time and practice. Not just any practice, but meaningful practice. And that means knowing the basics (or grammar) of something. For stories, that means learning the grammar, or basic elements of story. Here at Wondertale Press, we’ve identified over 30 basic elements that make up stories.
A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story is a primer for those essential elements, not only teaching what they are, but giving the student lots of opportunity to play around with them (like practicing scales, playing catch, or memorizing body parts) until they become natural. Once they are natural, putting them together becomes easier.


Isn’t this creative writing? Where’s the story?

As we speak with parents and students, we are often asked if the end result of A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story is, in fact, a story. Well, the short answer is … no. This curriculum is preparing and priming them to write a story from their strengths. This workbook as a whole is not focused on creating an actual final product in terms of a story or novel or screenplay. However, every few chapters there is a section where they are given the opportunity to write a story themselves. They can use the things that they came up with in their workbook exercises - looking at what they brainstormed, finding what interests them, connecting it with some character they brainstormed in another exercise, grabbing another detail from another exercise, and then write a short story.

The goal of
A Pirate’s Guide is, in one sense, to simply teach students the elements of a story so that they are primed for writing. But another purpose is to open them up - so storytelling is not intimidating. So sharing their ideas is not intimidating. It’s also giving them a foundation so they are able to write stories from strengths.

If you just give a child a blank page to write a story, they can do that, but once they begin, it becomes difficult. Often they can start, but their story will fall apart because it’s overwhelming, or they are missing an element and the story doesn’t seem to progress. This is really frustrating to them. In teaching
A Pirate’s Guide, I’ve found that there are certain pieces that are incomplete or missing and then stories don’t function and aren’t whole. It’s different for different people - one student’s strengths might be another’s weakness. The point of A Pirate’s Guide is to lay that foundation so that you student has all these elements without it feeling like work at all.

Then, with their knowledge of the various elements in place, their practice with how to create and connect these elements, and their experience that creativity can be fun, they can sit down and write a story with strong creativity muscles. If they get stuck, they can go back to their workbook like its a sourcebook, full of ideas and connections and ways to move their story forward.
A Pirate’s Guide is a powerful tool in developing creative writing muscles!