Stories are woven into the fabric of Christmas. There’s the ancient story of the Nativity and more modern classics like A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas. So when the Winterval Christmas Festival was introduced to my home town of Waterford, I put forward the idea of Christmas creative writing workshops as part of the festival.
The workshops are for 8-12 year olds, an age when children are a little old for Santa’s Grotto, but are still excited by Christmas and up for a little Christmas magic. The aim is to have them write a Christmas story in two hours. The first of this year’s workshop took place this Saturday, when two sisters produced two sweet stories.
I begin each workshop with a set of warm-up exercises so the children can start gelling with each other and feel comfortable in the environment. They get to try on a funny hat and they talk to each other about the ideal Christmas Day. They also do Christmas-themed 20 Questions.
Planning the Story
We then start to put the story together, step by step. The first step is to assemble the ingredients. The rough outline of the story is that a reindeer who’s a bit of an underdog gets an unexpected opportunity to be the leader of the reindeer pack that pulls Santa’s sleigh. During the flight, the reindeer must avert disaster and save Christmas.
The children do a character sketch of their reindeer based on a picture, create a Christmas country for the reindeer to live in, and write the story behind a headline, which becomes the disaster the reindeer must avert.
The children then combine all these ingredients to make a plan, which is called a story spine. It’s like the skeleton of a story, and like the skeleton of the body, it holds the story together. The story spine consists of sentences with blanks that the children fill in. An example of a sentence would be.
The reindeer wanted to lead the sleigh because ____
The children then decide what the reason is.
Writing the Story
Now the children add flesh to their story spine by writing the story proper, with a beginning, middle and end. I explain to the children that the information in the story spine can be used to write the story. I tell them which parts of the story spine correspond to the introduction, which to the middle and which to the end.
This structure does seem a little cumbersome at first, but it breaks the story down piece by piece, so it’s not so overwhelming for children. Using the story spine gave the story a natural structure, leading to fully-fleshed out stories with a strong beginning, middle and end. I can only hope writing the story gives the children a feeling of achievement. I feel humbled by the thought that these children are able to produce stories with such imagination and flair, within such a short period of time.