A Pirate's Resources


Characters - Who are they?

Describing our main characters should be a fun aspect of building a story. A Pirate’s Guide has exercises to help brainstorm the different ways we can create well-developed characters, using characterization. Characterizations describe things, defining who or what a character is through specific details. You want your characterizations to give a fuller picture of who the character is. This might seem obvious at first, but make sure your child gets this - the specific details about a character teach the reader about who that character is and begins to tell us what they want and how they will act. It makes the character believable.

Before actually brainstorming about their specific characters, ask them to think of a favorite character. Let’s say, Luke Skywalker, just for fun. Have them describe their character: he’s young, good looking, not very strong physically, energetic, sad about his parents and angry at the stormtroopers. He talks very fast. He wears simple peasant clothing at the beginning, but at the end is in a Jedi suit. That’s a simple start. Then ask them to imagine, for a moment, that one of those features changed. Let’s make Luke be really old and blind. How does that change who he is and how he interacts in the story? Quite a lot! Some changes might not matter, some might totally change the nature of the character. That is the importance of characterizations.

As always, we begin this process of characterization by brainstorming. And we can most easily brainstorm by asking ourselves questions and giving ourselves permission to have fun coming up with all kinds of possible answers! Some questions for a writer to ask: what does my character look like (eyes, hair, height, weight, … )? How does my character walk and talk (do they limp? Are they always running? Do they have an accent?) What does my character wear?

Once you’ve got these more physical/outward characteristics of your character, you can ask other questions about who they are inside. What are some activities my character loves to do? What kind of personality is my character (friendly, funny, mean…)? Does my character have special skills or experiences? Who would my character want to spend time with?

Try brainstorming lots of different possibilities - don’t stop with the first one you think of. Many times creativity takes awhile to get flowing, and after we try a few things on, we find something that is really perfect, not just “yeah, that works.” Think about how different choices make your character a slightly different person, and how that might affect your story.

(These are just a few questions to get you started.
A Pirate’s Guide has more questions and brainstorming space to really dig into who and what your character is in exercises #11, 12, and 13).


How to Choose

Let’s say your child needs to write a short story for class. They’ve brainstormed a bit, and now they have to choose ONE story from their brainstorming sessions. For some kids, this is simple - they only managed to brainstorm one or two stories, and one made sense, they pick, and voila, they are off. For others, this produces an entirely new set of anxieties!

So, how do you pick ONE story idea to write about? You (well, your student) should choose the story idea that interests them the most. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. Your student will be living with this story for however many weeks it takes to write the story, so the most valuable thing is that they care about their story.

Yup, that’s it. They pick a story idea they care about - that interests them, that they want to think more about, find out more about, play around in. It doesn’t matter if, at this stage, it doesn’t make sense, or isn’t a “complete” idea, or anything. Have them look at their story ideas, and find one that they want to spend the next ten weeks with. And go with it!

As an aside, this method of “choosing” by interest and what they care about, works for many other decisions they will have to make over the coming weeks. How do they choose which characters to put into their story? Think about who they’d want to spend time with - because they’ll be spending a lot of time with them. Focus/theme - what’s something THEY care about? Want to think more about? Location - where would they like to go? Of course, this is by no means the only way to make choices, and in lots of instances, it isn’t the best way, but for these starting points, finding what interests your students, something they care about, will help all the future moments of diving into this story again and again something they are interested in and excited about doing.


Coming up with a story idea

Remember back in the day, sitting in English class, and the teacher says, “this week, you are going to write a story. It needs to be two pages long, and you have to have an illustration. Go.” How did you react to that? Maybe you were on the of the few who jumped up and down, got out a new notebook and a box of #2 pencils, and went. to town. More likely, you were one of the kids who panicked. Write a story? What about? How do I do that?

Too often, our students are asked to do something that is too big. “Come up with story ideas!” Too big. I’m sure the intention is that having no restraints means greater freedom, but reality is that boundaries are freeing! So if your student is panicking at the idea of “coming up with a story idea,” help them out. Give them some boundaries.

Start smaller. Ask for 5 locations. 5 genres. 5 character types. 5 problems. Make it just 5 of whatever (and honestly, if 5 still overwhelms them, ask for 3). Use A Pirate’s Guide for ideas of different elements about which they can mindstorm 5 ideas. Then use that raw material - put them together in different ways, and start brainstorming these into story ideas.

The whole idea is to help your student find what’s already inside of them. What the specific ideas are matters less than helping them open up and be creative.


Brainstorming - when you've got to write a story

Brainstorming (or mindstorming, as our pirates call it) 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).

Asking questions is often the easiest way to get started. (Put yourself in the writer’s shoes: imagine someone asked you to just “come up with a story”? Without any parameters, there are just too many options!) If your child is struggling, ask open ended questions: Think of a character (anything - an animal, a person, a robot). Then ask - what problem do they have? How could they solve it? Who might help them? Keep it simple at this stage. Come up with a handful of characters and a handful of different problems. Come up with a variety of settings (time and place). What is happening in those times/places? Who is there? What are they doing? Remember, at this point, there are no bad ideas. Steal from other books/movies/stories.

The more ideas you generate (while keeping it fun and positive), the more likely you will get to a point of finding THE idea that you can't wait to write about. Don’t give up. And then take a day off and let it sit. Come back to it tomorrow, and see what strikes you. You are off to a great start!