“Okay George, what did you write in your story plan?”
“Next I kill all the zombies.”
Your heart sinks… why do they always want to write about zombies? Any excuse – fairy tales, adventures, building tension, setting description, no matter – suddenly there are hoards of zombies pouring out from the undergrowth, and sweet little George is blasting them to kingdom come with his pump-action shotgun.
I have no problem with action – in fact, I love stories which move quickly, not giving the characters time to breathe before the next crisis! So then why is it that as teachers, we recoil when we are asked “…can I write about zombies?”
The reason is that we know that it won’t be very well written. Because, as much as George loves the idea of fighting zombies, his real life experience of doing so is somewhat limited. We know that the piece of work will be based solely on a description of how many zombies were killed, and that the story will be sacrificed to this. Also, the idea of a child writing about guns and zombies makes us feel slightly uncomfortable, for understandable reasons. Can we, as adults with a duty of care, encourage such hypothetical imaginary violence?
How can we use this positively? George is dying to write about zombies, and he’s not taken a real interest in writing so far this half term. To extinguish that spark of excitement so early, and tell George he needs to write about something more tasteful is setting George on the path that proves to him writing is something he doesn’t need or want in his life.
George will write badly about zombies because they are very far removed from his reality. However, if we can use George’s real experiences to fuel his work, we might see something better. We need to guide George towards some options that might help him write in a realistic and convincing way.
“George, you can write about zombies, but…
How about putting the zombies in a real life situation? The zombie’s first day at school. What would happen? Having the zombie as the main character? Writing about the zombie who fell off his bike, who was being bullied, who had a birthday party?
“Hi, I’m George, and I’m a zombie. It’s my first day at school. I hope Mum remembered to put brains in my lunch box.”
Stories should be written for the enjoyment of the writer. By basing stories in reality and then twisting it, we can still encourage children like George to write in a way that excites them.